Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham (3) slides after running for yardage as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal (54) defends during the second half at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas Sat Jan 7, 2023 (AP News photo)
by Marko Ukalovic
LAS VEGAS — It was a season that never was for the Las Vegas Raiders.
The team known for its slogans such as “Commitment to excellence” and “Just win baby” did that exact opposite during their 2022 tumultuous football campaign.
Out was Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. In was new general manager David Ziegler and new head coach Josh McDaniels, both came from a winning culture and organization that is the New England Patriots.
Owner Mark Davis, wanted to mirror what the Patriots had done for the past two decades and that is have a team that contended for the Super Bowl. New free agents were brought in to help the defensive side of the ball such as Chandler Jones. Pairing him with All-Pro defensive end Maxx Crosby was supposed to give the Raiders a formidable pass rush.
Ziegler made the ultimate splash of the off season when he traded for All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams for two first round draft picks. He reunited Adams, who has always wanted to play for the silver and black, and his college quarterback from Fresno State, Derrek Carr.
The offseason brought hope to a franchise for the first time since the 2017 season where there were high expectations back then. This was the year the Raiders were supposed to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West, but instead they finished 6-11, with almost half of those losses they blew a double-digit lead in the second half.
So, what went wrong for Las Vegas? I believe the biggest issue with Las Vegas was the coaching staff led by McDaniels. This was McDaniels second stint as a head coach after being an offensive coordinator for many years with New England.
McDaniels just did not have the ability to prepare this team to play for 60 minutes. The first evidence of this was in the second game of the season where Las Vegas led the Arizona Cardinals 23-7 in the second half. Not only did the Raiders not score any points in the second half, but they also allowed quarterback Kyler Murray to make an improbable comeback which the Cardinals eventually won in overtime.
They also had double digit leads on Kansas City, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, only to fail to protect the lead and allow those team to make triumphant second half runs to come back and win the game.
A big factor of why the Raiders weren’t able to hold those second half leads was the conservative play calling and not utilizing the talents of Adams and running back Josh Jacobs.
When asked what kind of grade McDaniles think he should have given himself with all the second half failures during the season, the first-year head coach didn’t want to look in the mirror and decided not to point fingers.
“I’m not going to grade anybody. But look, I mean, we are what we are. I know there’s things I can do better and I’m going to evaluate myself first and do a better job of what I’m doing, what I’m responsible for. I’m going to try do that with our entire team,” McDaniels said.
The Raiders became the fourth team in NFL history to have a wide receiver to have with over 1,500 receiving yards and a running back rush for over 1,500 rushing yards in the same season. Quite a feat, which would be an occasion worth celebrating if not for the way they limped out of the playoff race.
The Raiders defense was a bent but not break outfit that kept the team in games all the way up till the end. The offense sputtered it chances in potential game winning drives. Many factors could be blamed on the play calling, the lack of quality of play from Carr toward the end of the season, the offense line that was inexperienced and would miss assignments that would result in sacks or interceptions of Carr.
Speaking of Carr, in case you wanted even more drama from this organization, he was benched for the final two games of the regular season. Carr decided to leave the team for good and the organization also feels the same way as they look for their next starting quarterback once the offseason begins.
Players such as Adams were visibly frustrated about the team’s lack of success this season.
“Sure, anytime you don’t make the playoffs, this is my third time not making the playoffs, so at the end of the day…I’m not here to put a label on, a title, as the most frustrating (season), but it’s always frustrating when you don’t win the whole thing. I’d love to have a shot at trying to get into it (the playoffs) than what we did this year,” Adams said.
The Raiders left many questions needing to be answered at the end of 2022 than it did at the end of last season, where they won their final four games to make the playoffs with an interim head coach. Some of the key questions they will need to answer this offseason include:
If they are truly done with Carr at quarterback, do they bring another veteran to replace him? Will they be able to trade him and get something in return or just out right cut him and eat up those final years of his contract? Does Jarrett Stidham deserve a chance to be the number one QB? Do they go out and draft one and groom him to eventually be the new franchise quarterback?
Will they want to keep Jacobs and possibly have to overpay him to stay? Will Jacobs want to test the free agent waters and see if the best season of career can parlay into a big pay day?
Will the coaching staff stay intact, and does it deserve to be or do changes need to be made?
How much of a lease will Davis have McDaniels as the head coach in 2023?
Those are just some of the issues Las Vegas will have to deal with and it’s going to be a very steep mountain to climb in order to get the Raiders from being pretenders to contenders.