It seems as though the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2020 season has had a string of terrible losses, each more gut-wrenching than the last.
The worst one of all took place on Saturday night, with the Raiders taking an incredibly unlikely home loss to the Miami Dolphins. In case you aren’t sure, it’s ok to blame head coach Jon Gruden. The Dolphins were inside their own 25-yard line with less than 20 seconds to go. Teams that were one to three points down since the year 2000 were 0-120 before the ‘Phins’ won that game. It took some very bad luck, the sort of luck Raider Nation has become accustomed to witnessing.
Despite the results of the game, this was a very different Las Vegas team. It was one that actually looked prepared and competent on defense at least in the early going. Rod Marinelli’s influence and preparation were noticeable, but the offense fell flat. Let’s take a look at how each positional group performed in this game.
The Raiders Offense
It’s clear that Derek Carr still felt the effects of his groin injury. Looking at his performance, he was not his usual self in this game. Also, he was limited in the pocket and took three costly sacks. He did score a rushing touchdown and unleash an 85-yard bomb to Nelson Agholor.
On the other hand, the Raiders were 0-10 on third down. Much of that was because of the excellent Dolphins defense, but a quarterback as good as Carr simply can’t allow that to happen. Drives stalled and points came off the board.
Carr was also dreadful in the red zone. This Las Vegas team should have won this game by double digits, but it was close because the offense didn’t execute. Perhaps Marcus Mariota would have done better, but if ‘4’ can play, he needs to play.
The Raiders’ use of the running game against Miami was puzzling. Josh Jacobs was averaging over five yards per carry, and yet they only ran the ball 24 times as opposed to 34 pass attempts. Jacobs and Jalen Richard had some nice runs and they rushed for over 100 yards as a team. However, they didn’t get the backs involved in the passing game as much as they usually do.
The Raider receiving corps had a pretty solid game. They had two 100-yard receivers in the game as Agholor caught five balls for 155 yards and Darren Waller caught five for 112 yards. Henry Ruggs III was targeted twice, but had no catches, as Mami’s secondary did everything they could to slow him down.
One wonders why the Raiders bothered drafting Ruggs if they aren’t going to use him, and one also wonders what on Earth happened to Foster Moreau. Jason Witten was targeted five times, hauling in two receptions for 12 yards.
The Raiders’ line had a pretty good day, even giving up three sacks. Perhaps a fully healthy Carr wouldn’t have taken those sacks, but the Dolphins did an incredible job covering the Raiders’ wideouts in crucial situations. The line could have done a better job opening holes in the run game, but injuries to Denzelle Good and Trent Brown left them thin.
The Raiders Defense
This was actually one of the better games we’ve seen from the front four this year. The Raiders’ three sacks were all from defensive linemen, with one sack each from Kendal Vickers, Carl Nassib, and Johnathan Hankins. The unit pressured Tua Tagovailoa all day and helped keep him under 100 yards passing in total.
It’s just a shame they didn’t have similar success against the much more decisive Ryan Fitzpatrick. The biggest problem was the Miami running game. They ran for 130 yards, with 22 of those coming on a fake punt run. Clelin Ferrell was out, which certainly contributed to their struggles against the run.
What a difference a defensive coordinator makes. Cory Littleton finally resembled the player the Raiders paid out the nose for, leading the team with nine total tackles. Without Paul Guenther mucking things up, the defense looked legitimate, and the linebacking corps was at the heart of this newfound competence.
Raekwon McMillan made his presence felt filling in for Nick Kwiatkoski, with nine tackles including one for a loss. Javin White made an impact as well with two tackles, one for a loss. The talent is clearly there for the Raiders, and good coaching made the linebackers look like a strong group, something we haven’t seen in ages.
Prior to Fitzpatrick entering the game, the Raider secondary had done an outstanding job. ‘Tua’ found nothing open down the field, and hit check-down after check-down. Everything was working to perfection until Miami coach Brian Flores brought in his own personal Mariano Rivera.
‘Fitzmagic’ came in and immediately began clowning the Raiders secondary with intermediate and deep throws, culminating in a desperation heave with under 20 seconds left with Arden Key yanking his head back that resulted in a Dolphins field goal to win.
The quarterback also hit Myles Gaskin with a short pass that resulted in a long touchdown when the Raiders missed several tackles and couldn’t shed their blocks. It was an embarrassing end to an otherwise admirable performance.
Raiders special teams
Typically, Daniel Carlson is as reliable as it gets. In this game, however, he missed an extra point in a game the Raiders lost by one point. He did make a field goal to put the Raiders ahead, so ultimately it’s not his fault they lost, but that extra point could have made this a very different game and outcome. Hunter Renfrow returned five punts for 61 yards, and the coverage units were solid.
Overall, the Raiders played pretty well, unlike in their other recent losses. That’s what makes this loss so much worse as the team fell apart at the end and also had some rotten luck to boot. Nevertheless, not every team has a backup signal-caller on the level of Fitzpatrick, and if the defense were to play like this from week to week, the team will win more often than not.
Overall Grade: C+
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*Top Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Bottari