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Gordon: It’s obvious Raiders coaches don’t trust rookie Aidan O’Connell

Updated November 19, 2023 - 7:50 pm

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.

Anticipating a high-scoring affair Sunday against the Dolphins and their prolific offense, Antonio Pierce said last week the Raiders were “getting our track shoes on.”

After a 20-13 loss, it would seem — yet again — their spikes are stapled to the starting blocks.

With Pierce as their interim coach, the Raiders remain one of the NFL’s most impotent teams, failing for the 10th time in 11 games to top 20 points by way of an offense armed with two reigning All-Pro first-team selections. Backed Sunday by a defense that kept the Dolphins at Biscayne Bay, the offense couldn’t muster a first down in the second and third quarters or a point in the third and fourth.

Rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell added three more interceptions to the running league-high 17 thrown by careless Raiders quarterbacks, who have been hampered all season by conservative coaching. Be it from fired coach Josh McDaniels or interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree, responsible Sunday for successive drives totaling 3 yards, 2 yards, 3 yards, 8 yards, 0 yards, 9 yards, 10 yards and 19 yards.

Sending a message

Said Pierce in the aftermath with the candor and swagger that galvanized the Raiders in victories over the Giants and Jets: “It’s a learning lesson for me, for Bo, for Aidan. We’ve got to do a better job managing the game, not put him in those situations where Aidan has to win the game.”

Instead, they put him behind the sticks with early-down runs that went absolutely nowhere but into their line. A rushing offense that ranked last after eight weeks — then topped 100 yards apiece against the two New York teams — was limited to a season-low 36 by the Dolphins.

Yet it was run, run, run, anyway with a fresh set of downs amid a 14-10 deficit with 2:22 to play in the first half.

That possession didn’t cost the Raiders the game, but it certainly sent a message: The coaching staff isn’t confident in O’Connell, who to that point was 9 of 10 for 108 yards — including a perfectly thrown 46-yard touchdown to Davante Adams.

It doubled down 1:24 later after recovering a fumble at Miami’s 32-yard line with 58 seconds to play and two timeouts.

How about some tempo? A shot to the end zone? An actual attempt at scoring a touchdown?

Nah, a 3-yard run into the line instead.

“Just wanted to protect the young quarterback,” Pierce said of the possessions that ultimately netted a field goal. “Wanted to get points on the board if we had that opportunity. Didn’t want anything that would happen to be negative for us. I just felt it was in our best interest going into halftime.”

Any answers?

But the damage was already done, the timidity having trickled into the second half — and perhaps the psyche of the soft-spoken, 25-year-old O’Connell. If I can see from the press box that his coaching staff isn’t trustful of him, then surely he can from his spot on the sideline.

His second pass of the second half was a staredown gone awry, intercepted — like his final pass — by Dolphins standout cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Said O’Connell: “It’s really on us at the end of the day to do our job better. Me in particular.”

Added Pierce, who declined to offer detail when asked to assess how his quarterback played: “We’ve got to do a good job with the football … Again, that starts with the coaches, prepping him, making him understand situational football. But again, young player. Will get better. And we’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”

Hard to know at this point if they’ve been at all to the drawing board before.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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