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Hill: Metric offers red flag about approach of new Raiders coach

Updated January 22, 2024 - 11:36 am

Only one of the 35 men who was a head coach in the NFL this season fared worse in one particular metric than former Raiders coach Josh McDaniels.

That was Antonio Pierce.

I’m not saying this to be a buzzkill for a fan base that seems as excited and optimistic as it has been since the team’s move to Las Vegas. It’s not meant as a critique of the removal of Pierce’s interim tag and his promotion to head coach.

But in all the excitement about how inspirational Pierce has proven to be as a leader and how beloved he is in the locker room, it’s important to remember those things do tend to calm down. His success or failure is going to be determined by how his teams perform on the field, not by how much he is loved and respected.

McDaniels finished 34th in the Aggressiveness Index, an annual report that is based on a formula developed by Aaron Schatz, formerly of Football Outsiders and now with FTN Fantasy.

It’s a metric that is based not on analytics modeling, but on a scale of when NFL coaches actually go for it on fourth down.

Pierce was behind McDaniels in 35th. Based on how NFL coaches generally operate — which is already far too conservatively — there was an expectation Pierce would have gone for it on about 9.2 attempts. He actually sent his offense out there six times for a score of 0.65.

The formula was designed on a scale in which 1.0 is the average coach historically and excludes obvious situations when a team is trailing by multiple scores or by any amount in the last five minutes of a game, as well as the last 10 seconds of the first half.

So what does this mean? It will take some time to know the answer. Pierce didn’t select his offensive staff and was handcuffed by an immobile rookie quarterback, so perhaps he just had such little trust in his offense that he defaulted to a conservative approach, especially with a good kicker and punter.

It’s an easy answer, but one that reiterates just how important it will be to get it right with his selection of offensive coaches and a quarterback this offseason

Pierce is defensive-minded by nature, however. So it’s also possible this is what he wants to be as a coach.

That could be a problem in today’s NFL.

It’s not just fourth downs, either. Pierce showed a remarkable dedication to conservatism in several situations.

For example, the end of the first half against Miami. In a game in which the Raiders were big underdogs, they recovered a fumble at the Dolphins’ 32-yard line with 1:03 remaining in the first half. After a first-down run, the Raiders let the clock run all the way down to 16 seconds before a short incompletion and showed no sense of urgency to convert the turnover into seven points instead of three.

It was troubling. Again, it’s one thing if you have no faith in your quarterback, and perhaps that was the only reason.

But if this is a long-term philosophy, the honeymoon period with the fans and players could be shorter than expected.

National shoutout for UNLV

It’s not often the UNLV football program gets a positive mention during an NFL playoff broadcast.

Sure, the occasional alum will make an appearance in a game, and former quarterback Shane Steichen got a lot of love last year as a coordinator on the Eagles’ Super Bowl run and will probably take the Colts to the playoffs in the future as a head coach.

But there was a pretty cool moment during the radio broadcast of the AFC wild-card game last week between Kansas City and Miami.

The Dolphins lined up in an unorthodox backfield formation that analyst Ross Tucker immediately recognized.

Tucker said the Dolphins were taking a page out of the playbook of UNLV offensive coordinator Brennan Marion’s Go-Go offense, and he credited the Rebels for a successful season.

That is major progress for Barry Odom’s program as the Rebels try to put themselves on the national map.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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