They say there are no “moral victories” in the NFL. Nevertheless, playing one of the league’s best teams down to the wire on the road sure feels like one. Look at it like this: three weeks ago, you wouldn’t have given the Las Vegas Raiders much of a chance in this one. To their credit, they hung in there—though no thanks to the offensive play calling of Bo Hardegree.
Looking back, there was a lot to react to from the 20-13 loss, so let’s get right into it, starting with what was perhaps the biggest highlight of the game.
The Las Vegas Raiders Have An “Elite” Defense
Las Vegas held Miami’s defense to just 20 points. To put it in perspective, the Dolphins were averaging over 31 points per game heading into this contest. Only the Chiefs, Eagles, and Bills had held them to 20 or less. That is fantastic company to be in.
A key factor in this defensive masterpiece was the Raiders’ ability to generate turnovers. Las Vegas had three takeaways in this matchup, which had only been done to Miami one other time this season. By just about every metric other than yards allowed, the Raiders kept the league’s best offense largely in check.
This isn’t a fluke, either. The Raiders’ defense has been playing lights-out for weeks now. It’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that they have had little-to-no help from the offense. Patrick Graham’s unit is playing some inspired football as of late, and interim head coach Antonio Pierce may have a lot to do with that.
Antonio Pierce’s Head Coaching Career Is Off To A Great Start
That sure didn’t look like Pierce’s third game ever as head coach. He had Las Vegas well prepared and playing great football. That may seem like the bare minimum, but it is important to remember that they were traveling coast to coast to play against a great football team.
The Raiders seemed to handle the time difference better this time due to Pierce letting the players have input on the travel plans. They opted to arrive later than usual. Who knows if that actually helped, but giving the players that type of power is great for buy-in. That buy-in is how you get the most out of your players.
Another way in which Pierce has earned the respect of his players is through some solid in-game decision-making. Early in the game, he made a great challenge on what was originally ruled a Michael Mayer fumble returned for a Dolphins touchdown. That actually saved the Raiders seven points. Also, Pierce made two key decisions to go for it on fourth down late in the game, much to the ire of Raiders owner Mark Davis.
Mark Davis reacts to the bad play call on 4 and 3 to the Endzone by Antonio Pierce pic.twitter.com/vNyMA7X2G1
— McKay (@RaiderMcKay) November 19, 2023
Despite that reaction, it was absolutely the right decision. The Raiders needed a touchdown, and Pierce gave the offense every opportunity.
If Pierce continues to grow as a head coach, he should have no problem securing the long-term job. Of course, that is contingent on Davis being able to stay out of his own way for once. Assuming that is the case and Pierce is retained, he may have to make some adjustments to the rest of the coaching staff.
Bo Hardegree Isn’t The Answer…
Three weeks in, and with a new quarterback, the Raiders offense has not seemed to improve all that much. We didn’t notice it too much last week because the Raiders were playing a great Jets defense and still won. This week, it was clear that the offense is still holding this team back.
Bo Hardegree’s unit had every opportunity to win this game but couldn’t make it happen. Much of the blame for this should fall squarely on the shoulders of the offensive coordinator.
So, Bo Hardegree ain’t it, right?
— Mario Tovar (@_MarioTovar) November 19, 2023
With as much talent as Las Vegas has on offense, scoring just 13 points in a game in which the defense gave them multiple short fields is just unacceptable. Sure, having a rookie quarterback in Aidan O’Connell doesn’t help, but he is still an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo. Yet, this offense still cannot get going.
To be fair, Hardegree has only had the job for three weeks, but his seat should already be hot. Unless he can get things turned around in a hurry, he has no shot of being retained next year. Right now, his unit is the weak link on this team. That cannot happen when you have the kind of weapons that the Raiders have at their disposal.
*Top Photo: Dailymotion