HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels knew his team was in trouble even while holding a 17-3 halftime lead over the New England Patriots last Sunday.
The Raiders didn't have either of their starting guards, and McDaniels' concerns proved to be well-founded as the Patriots shut down Las Vegas' offense in the second half and forced Derek Carr to pass quickly or scramble, sacking him three times.
New England rallied to take the lead before the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 32 seconds of the zany 30-24 victory topped by Chandler Jones' return of the Patriots' ill-advised lateral.
The Raiders won despite starting Hroniss Grasu at right guard in place of Alex Bars, who injured a knee on Dec. 8 against the Los Angeles Rams. Grasu is the backup center and hadn't played guard since 2018.
Then, in the second quarter against the Patriots, left guard Dylan Parham went out with a knee injury. Jordan Meredith, signed to the practice squad just last week and promoted Saturday, had to finish the game at that spot.
“It’s a little difficult having guys you aren’t familiar with being next to you and being able to communicate with them properly what they need to hear and not being sure what they’re familiar with as far as play-calling,” center Andre James said. “I feel like the main thing is just communication and having everyone on the same page.”
That was a struggle against New England.
After gaining 176 yards in the first half and picking up 12 first downs, the Raiders had just 51 yards and two first downs afterward before going on an 81-yard drive to tie the game in the final minute.
“Really had a harder time blocking them in the second half there and really trying to establish ourselves at the line of scrimmage,” McDaniels said. “They got some pressure on us in the pocket, too, so didn’t really get a lot of rhythm and positive plays in the second half and we’re fortunate that we were able to put together the two-minute drive there at the end to tie it.”
The Raiders had no choice but to be aggressive on that last drive, but until then, they played cautiously in the second half given the situation at guard and wound up punting five straight times.
“You never want to say that it’s OK to punt the ball on offense," McDaniels said. “But there are times where the game dictates that you've got to be smart versus trying to do too much.”
McDaniels said he would have a better idea Thursday when the Raiders practice on their outdoor grass field if Bars and Parham will play Saturday at Pittsburgh.
“So, hopefully, if we can have a few good days here, there’s a shot,” McDaniels said.
The Raiders will need their guards to return or hope Grasu and Meredith, with a full week of practice together, will be better prepared.
“You've just got to be ready for whatever's asked of you,” Grasu said. “Even when I was a little banged up and not on the 53(-player roster), I always prepared mentally like I’m playing that game. So that’s what I kind of recommend everybody to do to get started — prepare like you’re starting so that when your number gets called, your routine throughout the week doesn’t change whatsoever.”
The high temperature is predicted to be 13 degrees Fahrenheit for the Steelers game. That means the Raiders would love to rely heavily on Josh Jacobs, who leads the NFL with 1,495 yards rushing.
If the Raiders can establish an effective run game, that could create play-action opportunities later and remove some pressure on the linemen to hold up in protection.
“I think as an offensive line, we always want to set up the run game early,” James said. “The earlier the better to be able to run the ball as much as we can, and having the confidence from the coach to be able to call those runs is very important to us.”
Carr said he didn't want to limit the playbook.
“I think everything’s open — speed option, triple option, flea flickers, reverses, big passes,” Carr said, a little tongue-in-cheek. “I think everything in the playbook is open when anything is going on on the front.”
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