There is only so much tweaking Bo Hardegree can do to a Raiders offense he took over two weeks ago.
But he is trying to put his stamp on it by making incremental changes each week as he starts to settle into the job as offensive coordinator.
“There’s a twist here and there, but our core is our core,” said Hardegree, who took over after Mick Lombardi was fired along with coach Josh McDaniels. “We’re in this part of the season, and it’s advantageous to stick to the terminology that we know. But it’s purely the execution and the confidence within that to do that.”
His first week on the job was filled with chaos and drama as the coaching staff was shaken up just days before the team took the field against the Giants. The result was an emotion-fueled blowout victory in which the offense produced by far its highest point total of the season.
The second game didn’t go as well, as the passing game was disjointed and quarterback Aidan O’Connell again looked much like the rookie he is, though they did make one big play that proved to be decisive in a victory over the Jets.
Hardegree was pleased mostly with O’Connell’s ability to work with the offense to bounce back and find a way despite the struggles against an elite defense.
“They were poised,” Hardegree said. “Still had confidence. They knew, and I was proud of them for that. I told them I’m going to stay aggressive, and I’ll stay patient as well for them.”
One area the offense has shown significant improvement under Hardegree is the run game. The Raiders have posted their two highest rushing totals of the season the past two games, going over 100 yards both times after failing to in the first eight games.
They racked up a season-high 148 yards Sunday, as Josh Jacobs eclipsed the century mark for the first time with 116 yards.
“That’s great for everybody,” Hardegree said. “It starts every week up front with those guys. They played really physical and did a really good job. Obviously, the halfback and the receivers were very involved in the run game.”
After the game, Jacobs sung the praises of Jermaine Eluemunor for being adaptable enough to flip from right tackle to left tackle in place of injured Kolton Miller, a move that is much more difficult than it sounds.
Another tidbit brought to light by Jacobs was the impact right guard Greg Van Roten had on the longest running play of the season. Van Roten advised Jacobs to try to take the next run up the middle instead of bouncing it outside because the Jets were trying to funnel everything to the sidelines.
On the next play, Jacobs burst down the middle of the field for a 40-yard gain.
It’s the kind of collaborative effort Hardegree is trying to foster. He sought input from several players before his first game about what plays they would like to run more and which they didn’t think were working, then incorporated their preferences into the game plan.
Now players are offering thoughts to one another during the week and even in the huddle during the game.
“I think that’s what it’s all about,” Hardegree said. “It’s just constant communication even when everything’s going good or when you face adversity.”
That communication also extends to the coaching staff. Interim coach Antonio Pierce made a big decision to keep his offense on the field on fourth-and-short in his own territory with a four-point lead in the final minutes. Pierce said Monday part of his reasoning was he knew Hardegree had a play for that situation that he felt good about.
“I was saving it for a fun time,” Hardegree said. “We were 5-for-5 in short yardage, whether it was third or fourth down, and they did a great job executing.”
The offense will have to be at its best Sunday when the Raiders play at Miami, which is averaging an NFL-high 31.7 points a game.
Who: Raiders at Dolphins
When: 10 a.m. Sunday
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Dolphins -12; total 47