There could probably be an argument that NFL head coaches are going for it on fourth down more often now. They’ve gone from never doing that to being very aggressive over the last few seasons.
But what Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels did on Sunday in his team’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t make much sense.
McDaniels made a very conservative decision, kicking a short field goal with just over two minutes left in the game and trailing 23-15 instead of going on fourth-and-4 from Pittsburgh’s 8-yard line at Allegiant Stadium. The situation called for the Raiders to push forward, especially deep into Steelers territory. McDaniels kicked.
The Steelers ran out most of the rest of the time, getting a crucial point first before the two-minute warning, and beat the Raiders 23-18.
McDaniels was asked about the decision after the game but did not offer much clarification.
“These are the decisions you have to make,” he added. “I thought we set ourselves up on third down there on the next series with the defense trying to make plays to get off the field, and we didn’t handle that play very well. … You’re going to need to make another play on the ball anyway, you know what I mean? So, this is not a lack of confidence. We did our best to make this happen [on fourth down] many times.”
McDaniels was not impressed as Raiders coach. No one, except the Steelers, will be happy with his decision not to go for it on Sunday.
Raiders Attack Struggles
The night started well for the Raiders. They went for a big play on fourth-and-1, and Garoppolo hit Davante Adams down the field for a 32-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. But that’s the last we heard of the invaders’ attack for a while.
TJ Watt was doing his best to disrupt everything. He overshadowed right tackle Jermaine Elimonor. The Raiders couldn’t get anything going on the field — Josh Jacobs remained away from the team during the preseason, unhappy with the franchise tag, and didn’t get anything through three weeks of the season — putting the offense on Garoppolo’s shoulders.
After Adams’ touchdown, here was the result of the Raiders’ offense: punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, interception, turnover on touchdown. The interceptions were bad. Both were right for Steelers defenders. The second was a throw that was haphazardly lofted into the secondary and was an easy, uncontested interception by Patrick Peterson.
The Raiders finally got their act together in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to a questionable penalty on Minkah Fitzpatrick. Adams caught his second touchdown of the night with 5:41 to go. The two-point conversion cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 23-15. The Raiders then forced a three-and-out.
The Raiders tried to give the Steelers a break by kicking a field goal on fourth down with 3:15 left in the game instead of making it happen. However, a leverage call on defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, when he prompted one of the Raiders’ linemen to jump and attempt a block, cost the Steelers 15 yards and gave the Raiders a first down. Then, after several plays in a situation where the screaming was even louder, the Raiders kicked the field goal.
The Raiders were in the red zone, and Garoppolo had to throw it away on third-and-4 on Pittsburgh’s 8-yard line. Instead of going for it on fourth down, McDaniels elected to kick a short field goal. With 2:22 remaining, the Raiders hit a 26-yard field goal but trailed 23-18.
Las Vegas had three timeouts and a two-minute warning of its own. They didn’t have to make a two-point conversion to tie the game. But they also had to get the ball back. Kenny Pickett hit a 6-yard pass to Allen Robinson for the first big snap before the two-minute warning, and McDaniels’ field goal decision looked even worse.
McDaniels got a field goal, but he also didn’t get the ball back until there were only a few seconds left on the clock.
The Steelers offense is doing enough
The Steelers offense had its problems. It started out slow Sunday, though a 72-yard touchdown run to Calvin Austin III kept the team afloat.
Then Beckett warmed up. He started beating George Pickens for big gains. Chris Boswell hit some field goals to give the Steelers a 16-7 lead. Pickett then hit tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown. Given how well the Steelers defense was playing, a 23-7 lead seemed fairly safe.
The Raiders made a run at it, when the Steelers faltered a bit again. But when Pickett needed to make a play, Robinson struck out for the crucial first down on third-and-2. The Steelers played it conservative after that, but the Raiders had no timeout remaining and only 12 seconds left to get a miracle touchdown. Garoppolo threw an interception with five seconds left, and the game was over.
The Steelers will take the win. They played well in defense and did enough in attack. But first and foremost they should thank McDaniels for not putting too much pressure on them at the end, when he should have.
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