Week 10 was a clash of the Indianapolis Colts’ present and a timeline that could have been. In 2018, Josh McDaniels briefly accepted, then reneged on, the Colts’ head coaching position in order to remain Bill Belichick’s top assistant with the New England Patriots. Instead, the franchise turned to Frank Reich, a reasonable second option who won 55 percent of his games with a revolving door of underwhelming quarterbacks over the last four-plus seasons before being fired last week.
On Sunday, the Colts saw McDaniels again. And beat him with a former offensive lineman cosplaying as head coach. In Las Vegas.
It would be truly difficult to encapsulate the embarrassment of the Josh McDaniels era for the Raiders in a single sentence. “Lost to Jeff Saturday, who’d never been a coach at any level above high school, at home” would come close. McDaniels’ team is now 2-7, already matching last year’s loss total. Las Vegas has a better record than exactly one NFL team; a Houston Texans team with few interests beyond its own rebuild.
This wasn’t supposed to be how 2022 went. When team owner Mark Davis hired his new head coach he was coming off a 10-7 season. The Raiders were a surprising playoff entrant and only bowed out after a Wild Card loss that went down to the wire against the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. The offseason brought Davante Adams and Chandler Jones and the promise of an again-rising head coach who helped lift Tom Brady to greatness and who’d certainly learned from his disastrous year-plus stint with the Denver Broncos.
Instead, McDaniels fails to live up to even the most modest expectations on a weekly basis. In Week 8 he was shut out by the New Orleans Saints. In Week 9 he proved his inability to make adjustments in-game was a baked-in, unremovable feature after giving up a 17-0 lead for the third time in eight games. And then Week 10 happened.
The Colts game offered a fairly straightforward showdown with a 3-5-1 team spinning its wheels and looking toward next spring’s draft. Matt Ryan was a late replacement for Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, which is a lot like replacing Puddle of Mudd with Hoobastank on your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot — slightly better, but ultimately meaningless.
Ryan’s issue all season was with waning arm strength left him with one of the shortest target distances among all starting QBs in 2022. Limiting his pass game is as simple as crowding the short and intermediate ranges and daring him to throw deep.
Instead, McDaniels’ defense allowed him to thrive there:
Ryan only threw five passes that traveled more than 10 yards downfield and still roasted the Raiders for 222 yards and a 109.5 passer rating — his second most-efficient mark of the season. And somehow this was not the most egregious thing Las Vegas allowed Ryan to do. Here is a thing that should not be allowed to happen on a professional football field.
Matt Ryan 39-yard run? Matt Ryan 39-yard run! @M_Ryan02
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2022
That’s 37-year-old Matt Ryan outrunning his age on third down and giving the Colts new life on a drive that ended with the game-winning touchdown.
This did not sink the Raiders, however. Vegas had 5:07 and two timeouts with which to turn a 25-20 deficit into a win in a game in which it was a four-point favorite. Derek Carr drove his team to the Colts’ 17-yard line with 1:48 to play. From there, it was:
blown-up screen pass
handoff for three yards
dropped touchdown from Foster Moreau
and finally, an end zone corner route to Davante Adams that peaked at roughly a 15 percent chance of success:
Nothing about this suggested a mastery of offensive concepts that once boosted a legendary quarterback in New England and made Mac Jones a Pro Bowler as a rookie. McDaniels, admittedly without two key weapons in Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller (each of whom had their own struggles to begin the season under Josh McD), attempted to brute force his way to victory with a low percentage isolation play. It failed, and Vegas was left to deal with the fact they lost to the interim head coach NFL veterans have spent the past week bashing.
The Las Vegas defense was always going to be a work in progress. The offense, however, was supposed to level up with Adams and an extended Carr reunited for the first time since they were teammates at Fresno State. Instead, the Raiders’ passing offense has dropped from 17th in passing offense DVOA in 2021 to 20th this fall. They fare better in expected points added (EPA) on passing plays at 11th-best after Sunday, but still rank behind non-prolific offenses like the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars and only slightly ahead of Jared Goff’s Detroit Lions.
There’s no path back for McDaniels. He is only capable of trending downward, drilling into bedrock each time it appears clear he’s reached his nadir. As an excavator he’s efficient and productive. As Raiders head coach he’s neither of these things.
All Las Vegas will get from this season is a top five draft pick. At that point it can hem and haw over Derek Carr’s future and, if the franchise’s recent history of first round choices is any indicator, select a player who won’t be on the roster in five years.
It might be unfair to lay the draft sins of the past at the feet of new management, but it’s tough to give Vegas the benefit of the doubt when the McDaniels hire has gone this poorly. This was supposed to be the year that proved the Raiders could sustain success. Instead it’s only made 2021 look like a bigger outlier.
That’s McDaniels fault. He’s gotta go.
Aaron Rodgers appeared to yell a loud F-bomb at Matt LaFleur after awful two-minute drill