This post contains affiliate links. “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
HENDERSON, Nev. – Super Bowl LVI presented a unique learning opportunity for the Las Vegas Raiders.
In the champion Los Angeles Rams, the Raiders saw the first team they faced in a competitive situation last season in their combat-matched joint training sessions in Southern California. It was the only time their starters took the field against other first-timers in the preseason. And in the Cincinnati Bengals, the Raiders saw the team that end their season just four weeks earlier in the wildcard round of the AFC playoffs.
What exactly might the Raiders have learned on Super Sunday, other than realizing that 50 Cent can still rap while hanging upside down?
Well you asked …
Exciting, to say the least. But the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Coup, Super Bowl MVP, is four inches taller and 23 pounds heavier than Renfrow, so let’s start here. Renfrow is perhaps more of a Wes Welker / Julian Edelman type, given how they were used by Raiders coach Josh McDaniels with the New England Patriots out of place, and how much more similar they are in build. And while Welker and Edelman could have been faster, Renfrow could be faster and more skilled with his route.
Partly thanks to tight-end Darren Waller, who missed five games down the stretch with knee and back problems, Renfrow became Derek Carr’s favorite goal and finished with 103 catches for 1,038 yards and nine TDs. Coup went to 145 / 1.947 / 16 in the regular season. Yes, it’s a high bar.
Most catches Edelman had in a season were the 105 he had in 2013, while the 1,117 receiving yards he had in 2019 were his career-best. His best touchdown production in a season was six, which he did three times. Welker had his best result under McDaniels in 2012, when he caught 118 passes on 1,354 yards. His best TD season under McDaniels was in 2007, when he had eight goals.
The better comparison is Renfrow with Welker and Edelman then, especially with McDaniels calling the plays. Also, is Renfrow his own guy, so to speak, or have you already forgotten the show he did against Ram’s cornerback Jalen Ramsey on day 1 of the joint training sessions? It launched a thousand memes.
What about the defense?
Yes, this is the big mystery, what about a new defensive coordinator coming in who has a history of running a 3-4 schedule like the Raiders last were when Warren Sapp was on the team from 2004-07. But Patrick Graham has already told Pro Bowl defensive MVP Maxx Crosby not to read too much into alignments and such.
Still, the Rams provided a plan for how to deal with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and fast receiver Ja’Marr Chase – getting Aaron Donald to dominate the line in scrimmage. Of course, 31 other teams would like a Donald, yes? Yes. But the Raiders’ inner linemen did a solid enough job of forming DC Gus Bradley’s 4-3 base. Unfortunately, five of the Raiders’ 23 planned unlimited free agents are DTs – Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas, Darius Philon and Gerald McCoy – so some decisions have to be made regarding the interior.
As McDaniels said, most base defenses are now a nickel, and the Raiders also played a lot of it last season, with rookie Nate Hobbs in place. Still, it looks like Las Vegas will have to deal with the young Bengals in the coming years, let alone the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers in their own division. The lesson here is so obvious – win the line of scrimmage to influence the passing player and you control the flow of the game. You h. Consider: Donald had a team-high seven hits and two sacks of 40 pass rushes for a 17.5% pressure rate, according to the NFL Next Gen Stats.
And we insult?
Protect the asset. Yes, obvious. But Burrow was more than keeping to himself and in place to upset him before he was fired for the 27th time by Donald and the Rams (actually he was fired seven times, it just felt like more) and sprained MCL in his right knee.
Although his average throwing time of 2.41 seconds was faster than his normal season average of 2.69 seconds, according to Next Gen Stats. His offensive line did him no favors with the many blows he incurred, and he did not even help with how long he sometimes held on to the ball. Especially with regard to the end of the game. The fact that Cincinnati did not drive a single screen pass to suck in an aggressive Rams front is inconceivable. Have you ever heard of a draw?
The Raiders ran one to near perfection against the Chargers in the season finale, a 23-yard run by Jalen Richard on (checking notes) third-and-23 near the end of the first half. So maybe Cincinnati could have learned something from the Raiders in this case. One blow to Carr since he suffered a broken right ankle in the penultimate game of the 2016 season is that he has shown a reluctance to extend games and improvise.
Burrow and his Rams counterpart Matthew Stafford may not be the most mobile of quarterbacks, but they are also not seen as Check Down Kings. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and as we saw from Bengal’s perspective, if you can protect the QB and give him time, he can find his seats. Yes, even against people like Anders. So expect the Raiders to once again take the offensive line in both free agency and draft, since right tackle Brandon Parker, who became a starter after first-rounder Alex Leatherwood was moved to right guard in Week 5, is a free agent.
It’s just a young man’s (coach) game now, right?
Well, Sean McVay, at 36, became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. Zac Taylor is 38 and both are offensive coaches. Let’s hear it, so for coaches born in (checking notes again) the 1970s! McDaniels were in their shoes way back in 2009 as the cocky, forward-rushing 33-year-old offensive mind that would take the league by storm as the coach of the Denver Broncos.
Except it did not happen.
McDaniels acknowledged his own foolishness by saying he thought he knew about football, but not enough about dealing with people in his first inning as head coach. Now, as a 45-year-old, McDaniels is, let’s say, seasoned. He’s still seen as an elite playcaller, and oh yes, he has six Super Bowl rings to flash around in Las Vegas in general, the Raiders’ locker room in particular in case anyone should need a reminder. And from the Raiders’ perspective, do they just hope 45 is the new 36, you?
OK, so what’s the biggest lesson the Raiders should have learned?
Throw the ball to your biggest, most reliable goal – in the end zone – with the game on the line.
Many are still trying to wrap their heads around the Raiders ‘last offensive possession and had nuances of deja vu as they saw the Rams lined up within the Bengals’ 10-yard line for the match-winning score. The Raiders had first-and-goals on the 9-yard line, and Carr nailed the ball instead of running a quick game that interim coach Rich Bisaccia wanted.
The Rams had first-and-goals on the 8th and – while the referees decided to finally start throwing flags, which helped LA – Stafford eventually went to his guy Kupp to win. Carr? On the second down, he threw an incompletion into the shallow middle of the end zone to Zay Jones, who was almost intercepted. Then, with time to explore the field and climb a bit, he lifted a pass to Renfrow near the left pylon, but Renfrow fell.
Carr never targeted Waller, who on the fourth attempt was on the outside right in single coverage against safety Vonn Bell. Waller had an advantage at seven inches in height. Jumpball? Nothing? Pump fake to the middle and then find a wide open Waller in the right corner of the end zone? Nah, Carr threw a ball to Jones, who was two yards shy of the end zone, and was picked out by linebacker Germaine Pratt. Ball game. Season. New regime.
In fact, while the Raiders were 26th in the NFL compared to point-per-red zone drive last season, McDaniels oversaw the league’s 6th best red zone offense in that category. The Patriots, with a rookie QB in Pro Bowler Mac Jones, were 11th in best TD percentage in red zone drives, while the Raiders were 27. Lesson learned, but can McDaniels and Carr apply that?