Patriots vs. Raiders

Alex’s Raider roundup: McDaniels duels Belichick at home, ends contest with sixth win of season

For the second time since 2008, Josh McDaniels went head-to-head with Bill Belichick on the football field as equals. And, for the second time since ’08, McDaniels walked away the winner.

Before arriving in Las Vegas as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, McDaniels spent a decade in New England as the offensive coordinator under legendary head coach Belichick. McDaniels had a deal ready in 2018 to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but soon got cold feet and elected to return to the Patriots with Belichick. Then, in 2022, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis and newly hired general manager Dave Ziegler were able to convince McDaniels to come to Las Vegas, where the second chapter of his head coaching career would begin.

15 weeks into his first season with the Raiders, McDaniels and company hosted Belichick and the Patriots at Las Vegas. After four quarters of football, the Raiders walked away with a 30-24 victory, and McDaniels advanced to 2-0 in his career against his former teacher.

Here’s what Raider Nation should take away from this contest.

Raiders Week 15: Observations from Josh McDaniels’ duel with his former head coach

Las Vegas walked away the winners in their Week 15 matchup against the Patriots, but not everything worked as a well-oiled machine. Select players continued to struggle, and per usual, the game-plan was far from perfect.

We’ll get to the good soon, but let’s knock out the negatives early.

Nate Hobbs continues to struggle since return in Week 13

In 2021, during what was Hobbs’ rookie season, the Illinois alum made his mark in the NFL. Not only was he the highest-graded cornerback for the Raiders, but Hobbs’ 81.5 grade via Pro Football Focus was the highest league-wide among cornerbacks when lined up in the slot.

Hobbs suffered an injury five weeks into his 2022 campaign, which led the 23-year-old to miss two months of action before returning for an important divisional game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13. Since this moment, the Raiders’ second-year defensive back has struggled often.

Hobbs has a grade of 55.5 since Week 13, ranking 105th out of 155 cornerbacks who have played at least one snap during this time period. This is also the second-lowest grade among cornerbacks on the Raiders, landing only above Sidney Jones. In coverage, the former fifth-round draft pick has a grade of 55.9, tying him for 92nd place league-wide among the same 155 players. Hobbs has surrendered an opposing passer rating of 104.4, allowing a completion percentage of 72.2%—the latter being the worst in the Raiders’ CB room, with the former being second-worst behind Jones.

Hobbs’ 46.3 grade against the Patriots was the 15th-lowest among all 116 cornerbacks who played at least one snap in Week 15.

McDaniels’ conservative play calling with a lead continues to be problematic

The 2022 Raiders already own the record for most losses in a season when heading into the half with a 10+ point lead (4) and have tied the record for most games lost in a season when possessing a 17+ point lead at any point in a contest (3). Even with these feats set, McDaniels still hasn’t learned not to take his foot off the pedal when going into halftime with a lead.

The Raiders ended the first half with a double-digit lead over the Patriots, then went into their shell until they fell behind in the fourth quarter and were forced to come out. At this point, the entire league has noted the Raiders’ lack of urgency when the team is up in the second half, and Patriots’ safety Kyle Dugger proved that true when he read a screen call to notch a pick-six in the third quarter.

If it wasn’t for a late touchdown scored on a pass by Derek Carr to Keelan Cole, followed by a miracle snatch-and-score touchdown from former Patriot Chandler Jones, Las Vegas might have padded their record of losing games after having a 10+ point lead at halftime. Truthfully, it’s astonishing that breaking the record for most games lost after possessing a double-digit lead at the half wasn’t enough to make it click that something has to change in these situations. The Raiders were 0-4 in this scenario prior to Sunday’s win against the Patriots and could’ve easily been 0-5 had it not been for a gift from Jakobi Meyers.

For the group that doesn’t want to see Derek Carr get away without criticism, yes, Carr absolutely came out of the half flat, looking much different than he did through quarters one and two.

Now, onto the good.

Our hero, Chandler Jones

How do you begin the good section of takeaways from Week 15 without starting off by mentioning Chandler Jones? You don’t, and that’s why he’s up first.

To be blunt, there’s a legitimate chance Jones is the reason McDaniels and the Raiders aren’t 0-5 this season when enjoying a double-digit lead at the half. Jones missed a tackle on Patriots’ running back Rhamondre Stevenson during the final play of the contest, but more than made up for it when he snatched a lateral out of the air and returned it for six points against his former team. As per Jones, once he saw the initial lateral, Stevenson to Jakobi Meyers, he located the nearest player, Mac Jones, and stayed close to him in an effort to prevent any additional laterals that could lead to a miracle.

A miracle did happen on that play, but not in New England’s favor. After Stevenson lateralled the ball to Meyers, Meyers tried to keep the final play alive by throwing the football to Mac Jones as opposed to going down to head into overtime. Jones did catch it, but not the one Meyers was targeting; instead, Chandler Jones snatched the ball from the air and ran downfield for six, sending Mac Jones to a different dimension in the process.

According to Meyers, he didn’t see Chandler Jones standing there when he made this throw. The Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, commented on the play, stating he told the team prior to the snap to simply go down and head into halftime. Per Meyers, he was “trying to be a hero.”

In the last three weeks, Jones has recorded four sacks, three padded down passes, and two fumble recoveries. The veteran edge rusher has earned a grade of 70.3 in this time period.

Overall defensive improvement for the Raiders

Jones has stepped up these last few weeks, but he isn’t the only one—the entire defense has collectively kicked it up a notch.

Through weeks 1–12, the Raiders’ defense allowed 25.1 points per game. In the last three contests, the defense has surrendered an average of only 20.3 points. To put this into perspective, Las Vegas allowed under 20.3 points just twice during their 11 games through Weeks 1–12, while this Sunday was the first time the Silver and Black gave up 20 or more since Week 12’s match against the Seahawks. On the season, the Raiders allow the 10th-most points per game, but their average over Weeks 13–15 would put them at 10th-least.

There’s been plenty of improvement, but there’s still ample work to be done as well. Las Vegas proved things are still far from perfect by allowing a 98-yard game-winning drive at the hands of Baker Mayfield, who had been with his new team for 48 hours. The following week against New England, the Raiders once again allowed a fourth-quarter drive that started from the opposite 2-yard line to end in points, although this time it was only a field goal.

Sidenote: This trend of opponents starting their fourth-quarter drives inside their own 2-yard line shouldn’t go unnoticed. Punters deserve love too, and none more than A.J. Cole in recent weeks.

*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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