Josh McDaniels & Derek Carr

Alex’s Raider roundup: Christmas Eve ends in disaster for Silver and Black

Josh McDaniels and the Raiders head into halftime with a lead; what can go wrong?

Saturday’s contest between the Las Vegas Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers was a special day – and not just because the game took place on Christmas Eve. This matchup fell on the week of the 50th anniversary of the famed Immaculate Reception, where Steelers’ running back Franco Harris miraculously caught a broken-up pass on the final play of the game to steal a victory from the Raiders. What’s more, Franco Harris passed away during the week, giving an even bigger spotlight to this prime-time contest on the eve of Christmas.

We can’t forget Davante Adams‘ birthday, either.

Such a special contest was greeted with 10-degree weather at kickoff. Derek Carr went into the day with an 0-6 record in cold-weather games, and after four quarters of football, that record expanded to 0-7. Here’s what Raider Nation should take away from Las Vegas’ crushing defeat in Week 16.

Raiders Week 16: Observations from 50th anniversary of Immaculate Reception vs. Steelers

Josh McDaniels continues to struggle with adapting

Under first-year Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels, the Silver and Black are historically in a league of their own when it comes to second-half football – not in a good way, either. The 2022 Las Vegas Raiders are responsible for losing more contests after possessing a double-digit lead at halftime than any other team in the history of the league, and nearly added another loss of this variety to their total after blowing a 14-point lead against New England in Week 15 prior to Chandler Jones’ miraculous walk-off touchdown.

16 weeks into the team’s ’22 campaign, second-half adjustments remain a problem.

On Christmas Eve, the Raiders went into halftime with a 10-3 lead against Pittsburgh. Two quarters later, the scoreboard read 13-10, with the Steelers walking away victorious. The biggest reason for this was McDaniels’ inability to adjust down the stretch.

The Raiders scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, then went the rest the contest adding only three more points. The team’s first drive was a healthy mix of runs and dink-and-dunk passes, with Hunter Renfrow eventually taking a short-yardage catch to the house after making a defender miss. In 10-degree weather, this was the only game-plan that made sense, and it proved to be successful after putting up six points immediately. Then, the Raiders’ ship changed course.

A change in the game-plan

After the first drive of the contest, there was no longer a priority on shorter throws and runs. The new plan was for Carr to attack both downfield and outside of the numbers, with Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs not receiving many carries for the remainder of the game. 33% of all Jacobs’ rushing attempts came on the Raiders’ first drive alone, as Carr finished the 10-degree temperature contest with twice as many passing attempts (30) as Jacobs had carries (15).

As you probably could’ve guessed, precision passing in such weather doesn’t work out well – and neither does catching the football. Carr threw three interceptions against the Steelers on Saturday, with two-of-three coming off of the hands of his receivers. Yet, the plan was still to attack downfield without giving Jacobs the football out of the backfield.

Receivers had trouble finishing catches due to poor playing conditions, leading to back-to-back interceptions off the hands of a Raiders’ pass catcher. Finally understanding a passing attack couldn’t be established, McDaniels turned back to the run game for a short while. Jacobs had a huge play on the team’s third drive of the second half, but a penalty by tight end Foster Moreau negated the 36-yard run, ultimately forcing Las Vegas to punt.

The Moreau penalty leads us to the next observation: the 25-year-old’s major regression.

Raiders’ Moreau, Hobbs continue to struggle

The 2022 NFL season hasn’t treated Foster Moreau kindly, and Saturday’s contest against the Steelers is certainly no exception. Not only was the LSU alum responsible for a turnover on the Raiders first drive of the second half following a Denzel Perryman interception, but Moreau committed a facemask penalty two drives later that erased a 36-yard run by Josh Jacobs and forced the offense to punt.

Moreau’s 59.4 grade via Pro Football Focus ranks 59th-highest among tight ends, and his 85.0 QB rating when targeted ranks 80th. The fourth-year tight end has yet to record 45 yards in a game this season.

Foster isn’t the only Raider struggling this season. Since returning to the action in Week 13, Nate Hobbs has also had a difficult time on the field.

On Saturday night, Hobbs allowed 85.7% of passes his way to be completed, surrendering an opposing passer rating of 153.5 – 5.0 shy of a perfect passer rating. The second-year corner was given a coverage grade of 45.4, making him the lowest-graded defensive back for the Raiders in Week 16.

Since returning in Week 13, Hobbs has given up a completion percentage of 76% with an opposing QB rating of 122.2.

Raiders still mathematically alive, but the white flag is out

Las Vegas isn’t out of the postseason yet, but Josh McDaniels decided to call it quits regardless by announcing Jarrett Stidham as the starter for the remainder of the season. Undrafted free agent Chase Garbers will be Stidham’s backup, with Carr being inactive during both of the two remaining weeks.

According to McDaniels, this is a direct result of the Raiders’ season being all but over. Giving both Stidham and Garbers playtime during the season allows McDaniels to get a good look at his young quarterbacks’ mid-game, further being able to evaluate them.

It’s hard to believe this isn’t the end of an era, though.

Shelving Carr prevents an injury to the 31-year-old, which would guarantee him his full salary in 2023 and $7.5 million in 2024 should one occur. McDaniels insists this move guarantees nothing in the future, and all options remain open.

“There’s a lot to be sorted through once the season is over,” Las Vegas’ head coach stated. Onto San Francisco.

*Top Photo: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun

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