The Pittsburgh Steelers moved to 2-1 on the young season with a 23-18 win in Las Vegas over the Raiders on Sunday night in a game that featured one of the most baffling and, for Raiders fans, infuriating end of game coaching sequences we are likely to see all year.
After scoring a touchdown and getting a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 23-15, the Raiders forced a 3-and-out and got the ball back, once again marching into Steelers territory. With just over three minutes on the clock, they faced a 4th and 1, but a snap infraction backed them up to a 4th and 6. At that point, Josh McDaniels made the rather surprising move to try and kick a field goal to cut the lead to five and lean on his defense again to get a quick stop and allow for a game-winning TD, rather than a game-tying one.
It was a questionable at best choice that got bailed out when Pittsburgh got a personal foul penalty for leverage on the kick block attempt — which, why they were in a full kick block and not kick safe on a 4th and 6 up 8 is an entirely other question for the other coaching staff. From there, the Raiders would work the ball inside the 10 yard line with under three minutes to go, but after back-to-back incompletions, they faced a 4th-and-4 from the 8, but this time had just 2:22 on the clock and were much closer to the end zone but again trotted Daniel Carlson out for the field goal.
Carlson would make it, but even with all their timeouts and the two minute warning, the margins were razor thin for the Raiders, as a first down would effectively ice it. After two solid inside runs from Najee Harris, the Steelers went empty on 3rd and 2 and the Raiders, for some reason, went with an all out blitz, sending the slot corner and two linebackers, while also playing off coverage on the outside allowing Kenny Pickett to very calmly roll left and hit Allen Robinson wide open for the first down.
Big 1st down conversion for the @steelers as the clock winds down
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2023
Going with an all-out blitz in that situation is truly insane, because they needed such short yardage that forcing a hot throw doesn’t help you at all. If this was 3rd and long, sure, but just conceding the short throw is the worst possible thing you can do in that situation, and not only was Robinson wide open on the left side, but had the play been run to the right, George Pickens was wide open on the slant because, again, the corner was 8 yards off the line at the snap for reasons passing understanding.
From there, the Steelers would run the ball three straight times and punt, with Pressley Harvin III sending a bomb to the 10 that got muffed and recovered by Vegas with 12 seconds left in the game, which Jimmy Garoppolo promptly followed up with a woeful interception up the sideline.
It was a truly dreadful coaching sequence, with the first field goal attempt being bad but borderline understandable given where they were on the field, time remaining, and how they’d stopped them twice in a row. The second one was flat out dreadful being on the 8-yard line and having let another minute run off the clock to get there. From there, they made a horrific defensive call on 3rd and short when they absolutely had to have a stop — Cris Collinsworth rightly said on the broadcast they couldn’t have called a worse defensive play if they tried — and gave up any hope of a miracle. McDaniels tried to explain the kicking decision in his postgame presser, but didn’t have anything approaching a decent answer.
Josh McDaniels explains field goal decision pic.twitter.com/Pu5R2Gjnzk
— Gifdsports (@gifdsports) September 25, 2023
As you’d expect, the comment section on the Raiders livestream of his presser was almost entirely people telling the team to fire him.
McDaniels now moves to 18-30 as a head coach and we have a pretty good sample size of him just not being very good at the job. Calling plays and making game management decisions are two very different skillsets and for all his success doing the former in New England, his efforts doing the latter in Vegas and Denver have been rather disastrous, with Sunday night being his magnum opus of head-scratching decisions.