The Raiders' Week 16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers might have torpedoed the team's chances of reaching the playoffs, but there are plenty of lessons the players and coaches can take from the defeat. The miscues and near-misses from the close loss are part of a trend that has troubled the team from the start. Fixing those issues will be priority No. 1 heading into the offseason.
After reviewing the tape and compiling some notes on what I observed, here are some thoughts from a former NFL scout…
Derek Carr has another off day
The ninth-year pro has been an outstanding leader for the Raiders, but the gritty gunslinger couldn't quite get it going against the Steelers. Carr completed just 16-of-30 pass attempts for 174 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
The disappointing performance is part of a four-game slump in which the veteran has posted a 53.3% completion rate with a 6:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In addition, Carr has thrown for 250 or fewer yards and posted a passer rating below 90.0 in each of those contests.
Although there are plenty of contributing factors to a quarterback's production and performance, it is hard to ignore the numbers from a passer viewed as a top 10 player at the position. Given the all-star supporting cast around Carr that includes four former or current Pro Bowlers (Davante Adams, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow and Josh Jacobs), the subpar performance could prompt the coaching staff to re-evaluate the playbook and call sheet to see what can be reworked for No. 4.
Carr will dig into the tape to assess whether he made the correct reads while working through his progressions. In addition, the veteran may evaluate his footwork and mechanics to ensure that he regains his fundamental focus as a player.
Close but no cigar
The Raiders' 13-10 loss to the Steelers is the eighth time the team has lost by eight points or fewer this season. The spate of narrow defeats suggest the Raiders have not mastered the art of finishing out the game despite the wealth of experience on the roster.
Considering most of the team's stars come from winning programs (SEE: Davante Adams and Chandler Jones) or were significant contributors to last season's playoff squad, the Raiders' inability to close out games is not only disappointing, it has been one of the season's biggest surprises.
Whether it is making a crucial sack on a third down or coming up with a pivotal red zone interception or finishing a four-minute drive with a score, the Raiders have enough seasoned playmakers with skills to deliver a knockout blow with the game on the line. Coaches can talk about coming through in those moments, but great players know when to take the game over.
McDaniels and his staff will comb through the tape to see how they could have put players in a better position to make plays, but it is on the players to make the Xs and Os come to life.
The defense is making strides
Lost in the Raiders' gut-wrenching defeat to the Steelers is a solid defensive effort from Patrick Graham's troops. The clever defensive architect has pushed the right buttons to help the unit finish strong down the stretch.
Since Week 13, the Raiders have held opponents to 17.5 points per game while limiting the mistakes and miscues that have lead to big plays and explosive runs against the unit. Versus the Steelers, the Raiders controlled Najee Harris (16 rushes for 53 yards) while also throwing a blanket over the passing game that resulted in Kenny Pickett connecting on just one "chunk" play (George Pickens' 25-yard reception) on the day.
Despite the "L" in the win-loss column, the effort and execution from the defense are exactly what a defensive coordinator wants to see from his unit. While the game-winning drive may undoubtedly drive Graham crazy due to some of the mental lapses that had not popped up for most of the game, it is hard to point the finger at a unit that held the opponent to 13 points.
With the defense making gradual improvements over the last month, Graham has his troops heading in the right direction in the offseason.
View director of photography Michael Clemens' top picks of black and white photos from the Raiders' Week 16 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.