In a season that started with so much promise after a gritty win over the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders are now 1-2 and struggling. Sunday night's winnable home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers felt like a road contest in an Allegiant Stadium packed with black and yellow.
The Raiders moved the ball effectively on offense. Unfortunately, a few untimely mistakes and ineffective coaching decisions resulted in another tally in the loss column. Following that disappointing defeat, here are two Raiders to blame for the Sunday Night Football loss to the Steelers.
The big moment from Sunday night's game was Josh McDaniels' decision not to go for it on fourth down deep in Steelers territory late in the fourth quarter. It was a fourth down and four at the Pittsburgh eight-yard line with the Raiders trailing by eight points and just 2:25 remaining. Per the very helpful 4th Down Bot, the Raiders had a 15 percent chance of winning if they went for it versus just a 10 percent chance if they decided to take the field goal. Converting that fourth down would have upped Vegas' winning odds to 28 percent.
Instead, McDaniels went the safe route, and it backfired. The defense could not hold the Steelers on third and short, allowing Pittsburgh to bleed the clock down to just 20 seconds left Vegas burned all of its timeouts. The Raiders got the ball back at their own 15-yard line with just 12 ticks left on the clock.
Fourth-down decision-making was the key talking point from Sunday night's game, but what about McDaniels' continued refusal to run the ball? Josh Jacobs had his most effective game of the season and was clearly getting better as the game wore on, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on nine second-half runs (well above his season average of 1.6 yards/carry through the first two games). Yes, the game script dictated pass, but Jacobs is Las Vegas' second-best offensive weapon. He cannot be effective if he is not receiving touches.
This was a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that gave up 188 rushing yards against the San Francisco 49ers and 198 yards on the ground against the Cleveland Browns. Josh McDaniels chose to eschew that option and instead face the wrath of the Pittsburgh pass rush and its swarming secondary. It was a baffling decision. Jimmy Garoppolo is not a quarterback who should be throwing the ball 44 times a game, especially in a contest that was never out of reach. It was also a decision that hurt the Raiders more than that fourth-down call.
Before continuing, let's note that Jimmy Garoppolo played pretty well overall. The Steelers were unable to contain Davante Adams, and Garoppolo repeatedly took advantage of that. Should he have spread the ball around more? Probably. 32 of his 44 targets went to Adams or Jakobi Meyers, with a staggering 20 going to Davante. The issue is that the few mistakes Garoppolo did make probably cost his team a victory.
Jimmy G threw three interceptions on the night. The last one came when Las Vegas had just a 0.1 percent chance to win, but the first two were both thrown in Pittsburgh territory on drives where the Raiders were moving the ball. The second one in particular was especially poor. Given ample time in the pocket, Garoppolo is eventually pressured and, instead of throwing the ball away, tries to force a pass to a double-covered Jakobi Meyers on the sideline. The result is an easy interception for Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Garoppolo demonstrated the difference between a good quarterback and a great quarterback. He consistently led Vegas down the field but often lacked the final product and succumbed to poor decision-making. The Raiders QB now leads the NFL with six interceptions this year, and questions about his play are growing.