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Gordon: Josh McDaniels is overmatched as a head coach

Updated October 25, 2023 - 5:34 pm

If the Raiders are to regain their national relevance, Josh McDaniels won’t be steering their ship.

The waters he’s navigating are too deep for him to handle.

McDaniels is failing again as a head coach more egregiously than he failed before, his winning percentage through 24 games in Las Vegas (.375) even worse than it was through 28 forgettable games in Denver (.393).

Crafted in his image like the rest of the roster — 39 of its initial 53 players were acquired by McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler — the offense is flaccid and impotent despite Pro Bowl players at running back, wide receiver and experience across the offensive line.

The answers at his news conferences are as vapid as his play calls, as devoid of insight as his offense is explosive.

Said McDaniels on Monday: “We got to coach better, play better, compete better. There’s a lot we can do better. … So, we have a lot to improve on, and that’s what we’re going to do today.”

Bad — and getting worse

Here’s the thing: The Raiders aren’t improving, and nothing tangible suggests improvement is inevitable.

The offense the former Patriots offensive coordinator inherited averaged 364.9 yards per game in 2021 (eighth in the NFL), down to 352.5 in 2022 (12th) and 284.1 in 2023 (27th).

The three quarterbacks he added in the offseason are immobile and turnover prone, accounting for a league-high 12 interceptions.

The Pro Bowl receiver McDaniels and Ziegler inherited — Hunter Renfrow — was signed to a two-year contract worth $32 million and deposited on the bench for his trade value to plummet.

The Pro Bowl receiver they traded for — Davante Adams — has lampooned publicly the situation he’s in as he plays out his prime years in competitive irrelevance.

Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs is mired in the worst healthy season for any defending rushing champion, his average of 2.9 yards per carry reflective in part of the predictable play-calling he’s subjected to.

The Raiders rank last in the NFL in rushing. Repeatedly anyway, he runs into stacked defensive fronts.

Incorporated in his coach’s explanation for the failings of the offense: “There’s a fine line between not doing good enough and really doing well. And sometimes, like I said, it’s six plays or whatever it might be, you change the result.”

Last season, the Raiders couldn’t sit on a lead — blowing five of double digits in the second half of games. This season, they can’t build one — scoring 19 points offensively or fewer in all seven games.

Their only wins are coin-flips over some of the NFL’s other tomato-can teams: The Broncos, Patriots and Packers, whose collective struggles at quarterback have helped buoy the Raiders’ defensive progression.

Their losses are filled with turnovers and mishandled situations McDaniels routinely mangles, a la the late-game field goal against the Steelers or the fourth-and-goal field goal down three scores Sunday against the Bears.

Said McDaniels on Monday: “I’ve kind of been the same the whole way, and we’re not going to lose our mind today.”

Working for nothing?

But his lack of adaptability might be part of the problem.

When polled anonymously in the offseason by the NFL Players Association, Raiders players indicated McDaniels “is less likely to listen to his players and keeps them for longer hours than other head coaches around the league.”

Long, grueling hours to usually lose — situationally or even worse, embarrassingly.

Along with a 6-11 record in one-score games, McDaniels carries with him Sunday’s loss to Tyson Bagent’s Bears and last season’s losses to Baker Mayfield’s Rams and Jeff Saturday’s Colts.

What he doesn’t carry with him — to the news conference podium anyway — is a shred of self-awareness for how he contributes to them.

“I think our guys had energy and juice,” he said Sunday after the lifeless showing in Chicago, denying the Raiders were poorly prepared.

“We were excited for this opportunity.”

His eventual successor should be excited for his.

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

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