The Raiders are trending in the right direction with a 16-12 win over the New York Jets. The gutsy effort was not pretty, but the coaching staff should be encouraged by the team's performance on offense, defense and special teams.
After taking a closer look at the All-22 coaches film, here are some thoughts and observations from a former NFL scout.
Josh Jacobs is the straw that stirs the Raiders' drink
It is not a coincidence that the Raiders are back on track after making a concerted effort to make Jacobs the offense's focal point. The 2022 NFL rushing champion is a dynamic runner with strength, power and competitive stamina to handle a heavy workload as an old-school RB1.
This was apparent in 2022 when he totaled 1,653 rush yards on 340 carries with 12 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. Though he stumbled out of the gate this season, he has picked it up since Week 9 with 214 rush yards on 53 attempts with a pair of scores.
Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree seems to have built his call sheet around the Pro Bowler's favorite runs to ensure the veteran is comfortable executing touching the ball on runs where he can see and feel holes opening up between the tackles. Jacobs' combination of power, wiggle and explosion makes it hard for defenders to size him up in the hole.
The 5-foot-10, 223-pounder also possesses a "dawg" mentality where he embraces contact and physicality, and the Raiders feed off his energy and straightforward approach. As the Raiders reinvent themselves as a gritty, hard-nosed team built on toughness, relentlessness and physicality, Jacobs' re-emergence as the offensive focal point has helped the offense get back on track.
Aidan O'Connell is the right guy for the job
Despite his inexperience as a rookie starter with just four appearances (three starts) on his resume, O'Connell displays the confidence, composure and game to thrive as a "game manager" for a squad that needed competent and consistent play from the position.
Moreover, he understands how to play "winning football" by sticking to the script and playing within his limitations as a player. While the numbers are not eye-popping (63.5% completion rate, 2:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 76.4 passer rating), the Purdue standout has made good decisions with the football while ensuring the Raiders' top weapons get enough touches to make an impact on the game.
Part of O'Connell's success can be attributed to Hardegree's player-centric gameplanning, which emphasizes getting the ball to the blue-chip playmakers early and often. As a quick-rhythm passer with a nice touch and anticipation, the rookie shows flashes of high-end talent as a playmaker. His seven-yard touchdown pass to Michael Mayer is the perfect example of the first-year player giving one of his pass catchers a chance to make a play on a 50-50 ball.
Though O'Connell will eventually need to progress from game manager to playmaker to help the Raiders climb the ranks, the rookie has shown the potential to produce explosive plays from the pocket. He connected with Davante Adams on a deep crosser following a deft play fake that froze the second level of the defense, creating a huge void for the All-Pro pass catcher.
The combination of ball handling, timing and anticipation suggests O'Connell can thrive as a playmaker in a system designed to set him up for explosive plays on complementary action. With the rookie poised to get more downfield chances as opponents focus on stopping Jacobs with eight-man boxes, the Raiders' young quarterback is progressing nicely as an emerging QB1 with the talent and intangibles for the job.
Raiders special teams make the difference
Dominating on special teams is critical to playing complementary football in the NFL. The best teams find ways to flip the field or produce points in the kicking game, with explosive returns or air-tight coverage setting up the offense or defense in favorable positions. Against the New York Jets, the Raiders gained an advantage in the margins by overwhelming Gang Green on special teams.
DeAndre Carter set the Raiders up for a score with a 32-yard punt return that flipped the field with the team facing a three-point deficit in the third quarter. The sixth-year pro fielded the kick on the run before tip-toeing down the sideline behind a wall of blockers. The return enabled the offense to start on the Jets' side of the field, leading to a 40-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson that tied the game.
Carter later returned a punt for 11 yards toward the end of the third quarter, setting the Raiders up near midfield. The favorable field position eventually led to Mayer's game-winning score following Josh Jacobs' 40-yard run on the drive's second play. Considering the timely punt returns set up the offense in prime field position, resulting in 10 points, Pierce's vision of the Raiders playing complementary football was one of the keys to the team's success on Sunday night.
With Carlson coming through with a three-for-three effort on field goals, including a 54-yard conversion, the Raiders' kicking units were a deciding factor in a one-score game against a competitive AFC rival.
Get an exclusive look at the gameday entertainment from the Raiders' Week 10 victory against the New York Jets at Allegiant Stadium.