SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders called a timeout with a second left in Sunday’s first half against Buffalo. The Bills called another to get their house in order.
They were 47 yards from pay dirt.
Coordinator Todd Downing called for three receivers to head downfield and quarterback Derek Carr to launch one up for grabs. The ball was checked down instead. Jalen Richard got 15 yards. The half ended with an opportunity.
It was a low-percentage play, to be sure. Success likely wouldn’t have reversed a 34-14 result that dropped the Raiders to 3-5.
It has been a hot topic this week nonetheless, epitomizing the Raiders lack of offensive explosiveness. Big plays are hard to come by these days, including the Buffalo game. So, seemingly, is their willingness to stretch the field.
There are, however, two contrary examples. They threw all over the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. That explosive offense is in the Raiders somewhere. It’s part of the team’s offensive identity, which requires two things: Physical rushing and skill players lighting up with ball in hand.
Fans saw it in Week 7 against the Chiefs, but didn’t get an encore in Buffalo. The non-Hail Mary at the end of the first half frustrated fans to no end.
Deep shots were called against Buffalo. They just didn’t get executed often.
“We ran some people down the field. It’s not like we didn’t call the shots and run people in those spots,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “They either covered it or their progression may have taken them somewhere else, but it certainly was not a complete change in approach saying, ‘Hey we’re going to take shots against the Chiefs and when we’re in Buffalo, we’re not.’”
Carr defended his decision on that first-half closer, and has repeatedly said he looks vertical first and short second when the progression’s complete. Head coach Jack Del Rio said Carr could be more patient to let big plays develop.
The Raiders rank 13th with 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards, but they expected to be near the top with so many weapons. That hasn’t happened, and criticism has come with a low volume of attempts.
“We’re correcting everything,” Carr said. “I take it all in, ‘Yes, sir, whatever you want.’ But at the same time, I’m going to continue to play the game how I think it’s best for our team.”
Carr liked the game plan vs. the Bills. He hasn’t criticized play calling this season despite opportunities to do so as answers are sought why a talented offense continues to scuffle and play below high expectations. Downing hasn’t singled out his quarterback, saying everybody shares blame from a disappointing first half of the season. They remain together and committed to solving problems.
“Things get blown up when you lose,” Carr said. “When you’re winning and it’s going good, oh yeah, you hit a couple of them; you have to take what they give you. That’s just how it works. I’ve been doing this now a little bit too long to understand that.”
That makes sense. Take the easy yards, especially when the ball remains out of harm’s way. The Raiders haven’t been consistent enough to cash in regularly with that strategy. Too often a long drive goes off track. Offense can dictate tempo, and take even what a defense wants to eliminate with calculated risk.
“I think that is a fine line, and I think sometimes the defense is giving you more than what you may originally think,” Downing said. “So, it’s my job to design a good game plan that attacks the softness in defenses or the vulnerabilities, if you will. And (it’s) also my job or the coaching staff’s job to get people in the right place at the right time so that we can go out and execute. So, we’ll continue to improve in all of those areas and look forward to the second half of the season.”