There probably is a case to be made that NFL head coaches go for it on fourth down too often now. They went from almost never going for it to being too aggressive over the past few seasons.
McDaniels made a very conservative call, kicking a a short field goal with a little more than two minutes left and trailing 23-15 instead of going for it on fourth-and-4 from Pittsburgh's 8-yard line at Allegiant Stadium. The situation called for the Raiders to go for it, especially deep in Steelers territory. McDaniels kicked.
The Steelers ran out most of the remaining clock, picking up one crucial first down just ahead of the two-minute warning, and beat the Raiders 23-18.
McDaniels was asked about the decision after the game but didn't give much of an explanation.
"Those are the decisions you've got to make," he said. "I thought we put ourselves in third down there the next series with the defense to try to have a play to get off the field, and we just didn't handle that play very well. ... You're going to need another possession anyway, you know what I mean? So it's not a lack of confidence. We went for it [on fourth down] multiple times."
Josh McDaniels explains field goal decision pic.twitter.com/Pu5R2Gjnzk
— Gifdsports (@gifdsports) September 25, 2023
McDaniels hasn't impressed as Raiders coach. Nobody, other than the Steelers, will be happy with his decision to not go for it Sunday.
Raiders offense struggles
The night started well for the Raiders. They went for a big play on fourth-and-1, and Garoppolo hit Davante Adams downfield for a 32-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. But that's the last we'd hear from the Raiders' offense for a while.
T.J. Watt was doing his best to disrupt everything. He overwhelmed right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. The Raiders couldn't get anything going on the ground — Josh Jacobs stayed away from the team through the preseason, unhappy with the franchise tag, and he has gotten nothing going through three weeks of the season — and that put the offense on Garoppolo's shoulders.
After Adams' touchdown, here was the output from the Raiders' offense: punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, interception, turnover on downs. The interceptions were bad. Both were right to Steelers defenders. The second one was a throw lofted indiscriminately into the secondary and was an easy, uncontested interception for Patrick Peterson.
The Raiders finally started moving it in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Minkah Fitzpatrick. Adams got his second touchdown of the night with 5:41 left. The two-point conversion cut Pittsburgh's lead to 23-15. Then the Raiders forced a three-and-out.
The Raiders tried to give the Steelers a break by kicking a field goal on fourth down with 3:15 left instead of going for it. However, a leverage call on defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, when he pushed off a Raiders lineman to jump and try for the block, cost the Steelers 15 yards and gave the Raiders a first down. Then, a few plays later in a situation that screamed even louder to go for it, the Raiders kicked the field goal.
The Raiders were in the red zone, and Garoppolo had to throw it away on third-and-4 at Pittsburgh's 8-yard line. Instead of going for it on fourth down, McDaniels opted for a short field goal. With 2:22 left, the Raiders hit the 26-yard field goal but trailed 23-18.
Las Vegas had three timeouts and the two-minute warning on its side. And they didn't have to make a two-point conversion to tie the game. But they also had to get the ball back. Kenny Pickett hit a 6-yard pass to Allen Robinson to pick up a huge first down just before the two-minute warning, and McDaniels' field-goal decision looked even worse.
McDaniels got the field goal, but he also didn't get the ball back until only a few seconds were left on the clock.
Steelers' offense does enough
The Steelers' offense has had its issues. It started slowly Sunday, though a 72-yard touchdown to Calvin Austin III kept the team afloat.
Then Pickett warmed up. He started hitting George Pickens for big gains. Chris Boswell hit a few field goals to give the Steelers a 16-7 lead. Then Pickett hit tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown. Given how well the Steelers' defense was playing, a 23-7 lead seemed fairly safe.
The Raiders made a run at it, when the Steelers bogged down a bit again. But when Pickett needed to make a play, he hit Robinson for the crucial first down on third-and-2. The Steelers played it conservatively after that, but the Raiders had no timeouts left and only 12 seconds to get a miracle touchdown. Garoppolo threw an interception with five seconds left, and the game was over.
The Steelers will take the win. They played well on defense and did enough on offense. But mostly they should thank McDaniels for not putting too much pressure on them at the end, when he should have.