Does Raiders’ defense deserve blame in loss vs. Rams? Sure, but look first to offensive woes

The Las Vegas Raiders hit a new low.

In a season that has seen them blow big leads against the Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars and also lose to the struggling Indianapolis Colts and inexperienced head coach Jeff Saturday, the Raiders outdid themselves — again.

Oh, and getting blanked by the New Orleans Saints under former Raiders coach Dennis Allen surely didn’t help matters in a disappointing season.

Fast-forward to Thursday and the latest collapse. The Raiders built a 16-3 lead on the Los Angeles Rams, only to lose 17-16 when Baker Mayfield —who had the shortest of weeks to get ready after being claimed off waivers — hit Van Jefferson for the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining at SoFi Stadium.

The loss sends the dejected Raiders to 5-8.

“If you want to point a finger, point it at me,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said on Friday. “We’re going to try to go back to work and fix the things that aren’t being done well enough to close out these close games.”

But was the defense primarily at fault after committing two huge penalties on the final drive and also lining up in press coverage with 15 seconds left? Not really.

The Raiders’ offense had plenty of opportunities to score more points and put the Rams away, which would have made Los Angeles’ final drive meaningless.

They didn’t under McDaniels, whose scheme dialed up 38 rushing plays compared to 20 passing.

Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels talks with quarterback Derek Carr during the second half of an NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.
Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels talks with quarterback Derek Carr during the second half of an NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.

And in the final 3 minutes, the Raiders couldn’t pick up a first down to run more time off the clock, electing to punt the ball away instead of leaning on running back Josh Jacobs or turning to Derek Carr, who earlier in the game converted for a first down on a sneak.

The Raiders also went 1 for 4 in the red zone.

One of those red-zone misfires came when Carr threw an interception just before halftime, as he was tripped by one of his offensive linemen and the ball floated to a Rams defender. The Raiders were up 13-3 at the time.

“I don’t know if I got tripped,” Carr said. “I don’t know what happened. Something happened, but I was throwing it to Mack (Hollins) in the back of the end zone. The safety took Foster (Moreau) and I was going to throw it to Mack and something happened as I was throwing it. So, something happened but Mack was open. I was trying to give him a ball for a touchdown, and that’s the hard part, because that’s points, that’s the difference in the score.

“It’s tough, it was that close to having a touchdown and, you know, everyone’s feeling better about today.”

Instead, no one was feeling better after another collapse.

Here were the other Raiders’ chances:

The Raiders got the ball down to the Rams 13 and ended up settling for three points on a field goal by Daniel Carlson that made it 13-3 in the second quarter.

A Carr pass to Ameer Abdullah in the fourth quarter only went for 4 yards on third-and-7. The Raiders kicked another field goal.

What’s next for the Raiders?

The Raiders were looking at the season’s last five games with a one-game-at-a-time/see-what-happens approach in an attempt to climb back into postseason contention.

Now, hopes of landing a playoff berth for a second straight season are on life support.

“There are things we could have done in all three phases that would’ve put us further ahead in games,” McDaniels said. “I mean there’s a lot of things that go into a result in the National Football League and I’m thinking of six or eight or 10 of them right now that could’ve changed some outcomes and drives either way.”

Entering the game, the Raiders offense was ranked eighth, averaging 361.9 yards per game.

It wasn’t even close to that against the Aaron Donald-less Rams. Las Vegas only had 302.

That’s inexcusable against a depleted Rams roster.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” McDaniels said. “I mean, we didn’t finish the game. That’s the reality. I thought we were ready to play. We obviously need to do a better job of coaching and trying to get us to play better.”

This late in the season, the Raiders can only hope to finish 9-8, but inconsistencies in the offense that can be traced to McDaniels’ play-calling may prevent even that from happening.