I realize this may blow up in my face several hours from now, but I wanted to get on the record that Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels (and Dave Ziegler, the former Patriot front office member and current GM of the Raiders, who works in lockstep with the coach) seems to, once again, not understand…to put this delicately…how football teams work.
The duo spent the offseason moving from Derek Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they are familiar with. They also brought in slot receiver Jakobi Meyers, whom they are familiar with. In a vacuum there is nothing wrong with Jimmy G, who can indeed be outstanding in the correct system, or with Meyers, who can be a nice reliable slot contributor. Add in Davante Adams and boom, maybe this all works great!
The problem is that while Jimmy and Jakobi are fine in a vacuum, this is not a vacuum, and the two of them don’t work together well at all. This is just a conceptual mess, a complete lack of understanding of why any of these players are good.
Jimmy found his ideal spot in San Francisco under Kyle Shanahan, where his very good intermediate passing played extremely well. Jimmy is great at hitting his receivers in stride, allowing the YAC-monsters that exist over in the Bay Area to do most of the dirty work for him after the catch. He’s a perfect Shanahan game-manager when he’s actually healthy, and he’s been a top 5 DVOA and EPA/Play guy in that system multiple times. You get yourself a Jimmy, a Deebo, a Kittle, and an Aiyuk, and boom, you’ve got something.
Here’s the thing. Jakobi Meyers is NOT a YAC monster. Neither is incumbent Raider slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Neither is Davante. Don’t get me wrong, Davante isn’t bad at anything, but he’s at his best working the full route tree and making people look foolish before he gets the ball. If I’m counting my rows at NextGenStats correctly, Davante currently leads all Raiders in YAC/Reception at 2.3, which ranks 103rd overall, just a few spots ahead of Meyers. You’ve put one of the best YAC-reliant quarterbacks on a team with no YAC.
The other thing is that Jimmy is awful in the deep game. Terrible. How terrible you ask? Per the FTN Almanac, over the past 3 seasons, Jimmy G has completed 26 passes of 30+ air yards. Seven quarterbacks had more than that in just 2022 alone. Jimmy’s highest-ever Average Depth of Target is 8.9. Neither Adams nor Meyers have ever had an ADOT that low.
None of this would matter that much if running back Josh Jacobs could recreate his 2022 performance, but so far this year he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt on a robust 62 attempts. He may, of course, wake up against Green Bay, as so many backs before him have, but the Raiders’ rushing attack has been dormant so far.
Perhaps the dumbest thing about the Raiders is their use of Hunter Renfrow, one of the league’s better slot receivers. If you’re running a Patriot-style offense, having a pair of slot receivers like Meyers and Renfrow is perfect. They should be able to complement each other in short space and cause all sorts of issues for linebackers, safeties, and slot corners. Renfrow has a history of severe concussions and perhaps that has slowed him down, but he’s only 28 and he has played in every game so far in 2023, yet he’s only been targeted 7 times, with the vast majority of slot throws going strictly to Meyers. Adams, of course, soaks up most available targets, but adding Meyers should have supplemented Renfroe. Instead, Meyers has just replaced him, ultimately adding nothing.
Derek Carr wasn’t perfect, just as Garoppolo isn’t perfect, but there’s a good argument to be made that he is actually a better fit for this personnel. Adams’ yards per reception is down by more than three yards compared to last year, and one of the secrets to efficient slot play is having at least one receiver (and quarterback) capable of keeping the safeties deep.
I’ve often made the case that you can’t really learn from Bill Belichick. He’s a savant, and the only way to be Bill Belichick is to actually be him. Andy Reid and Rex Ryan are kind of the same thing. And here, it looks very much like McDaniels picked a few players for familiarity instead of some strategic reason, as if magic Patriot fairy dust will turn Garoppolo into Tom Brady and Meyers into Wes Welker. The offense has yet to eclipse 18 points this season, and due to the Chandler Jones situation, the defense has no punch whatsoever. Last week, the Raiders offensive line allowed six sacks to Khalil Mack. Just Khalil Mack. On the season, the Raiders’ defense has recorded seven sacks total. Most of those belong to Maxx Crosby, who has been limited in practice this past week (but should play).
I realize the Packers are anything but juggernauts. Like Josh McDaniels, our defensive coordinator doesn’t know what he is doing, and I fully believe the Packers are capable of losing to basically any opponent. All of that said, Adams is banged up with a shoulder (but will play), Crosby is still a bit banged up, and the Raiders, generally speaking, have shown no signs of being good at any facet of football outside of special teams even when healthy.
Las Vegas is favored by one or two points as of Monday morning, depending on the outlet. That is quite the line.