Raiders’ Defense can’t hang on in Overtime Despite Marcus Mariota’s Emergency Role

Nicholas Cothrel
Las Vegas Raiders vs Chargers

The Raiders turned to backup quarterback Marcus Mariota with starter Derek Carr leaving with an injury, but the Las Vegas defense did the team no favors for keeping their season alive.

Entering Week 15, the Raiders were held with no choice but to pick up a victory in order to presumably squeak their way into the playoffs. While Las Vegas positioned themselves to grab their second win over the Chargers this season, Justin Herbert scored the game-winning touchdown on a quarterback keeper to win 30-27 in overtime on a night when quarterback Marcus Mariota shined in an emergency role.

Marcus Mariota Las Vegas Raiders Los Angeles Chargers
Raiders backup QB Marcus Mariota played spirited football and performed well in relief of Derek Carr who has a groin injury that could jeopardize the remainder of his season.

The Raiders have been predicated on their high-strung offense all season long. The same could be said about this game, except it was without quarterback Derek Carr under center for three and a half quarters. Carr pulled his groin in what looked like a play he tried changing directions while buying time outside the pocket.

“I don’t believe it’s a real tear,” coach Jon Gruden said after the game. “But obviously, if he can’t finish the game, it’s got to be pretty significant.

Marcus Mariota was then called upon and did nearly everything a backup quarterback could do for an offense. Mariota finished the night 17-for-28, 226 yards, one touchdown and one interception. However, it was the threat of his running ability that made him so dangerous against the Chargers’ defense. Mariota ran for 88 yards and one touchdown as the Chargers had no answers for his running attack.

“If Derek can’t go, we’re going to always try and do what our quarterback does best,” Gruden said. “And this guy can really run. He’s a dual-threat and he proved it tonight.”

Changing quarterbacks in the middle of a game is never easy. But changing quarterbacks when they play a completely different style of football, presents even bigger challenges. At times Gruden was at blame for problematic play-calling — specifically inside the red zone. However, Mariota did apply constant pressure on Los Angeles for the greater part of the contest.

“It just shows the kind of player and football character he (Marcus Mariota) has,” Gruden said. “Our offensive coordinator isn’t here either. You lose Derek and then we change gears offensively and Marcus came in and did a great job. I’m really proud of him. I think this really puts an exclamation point on why we signed him. I just wish we could’ve won the game for him.”

Even as Mariota deservingly received praise for his plug-and-play performance, the Las Vegas defense once again couldn’t stop their opposition.

Herbert finished the night 22-for-32, 314 yards and two touchdowns. Herbert connected with seven different pass-catchers, although it was second-year receiver Jalen Guyton that created the most issues for the Raiders’ pass-coverage. Guyton finished the night with four catches and a team-high 94 yards.

Defensively, the Raiders’ secondary looked all out of sorts. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen had a rough day at the office as it appeared Herbert began throwing to his side of the field by design and had a high success rate when doing so. The Raiders’ secondary was also responsible for the vast majority of team penalties — all of which were flagged six times for 69 yards.

“We have to eliminate the penalties,” Gruden said. “They have a lot of good receivers. They’ve done a nice job collecting those athletes and they made some plays. But the penalties were very hurtful and we have to clean that up, no doubt.”

Not only did the penalties help the Chargers sustain drives on offense, but the rate at which the Raiders’ defense allowed them to convert on third downs did them no favors. Herbert was successful on 58% of his third-down attempts, while tallying a 75% rate inside the red zone.

Gruden mentioned after the game that some of the guys on defense didn’t play their coverage as it’s drawn up. Even in a week where they fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, and now having Rod Marinelli call the plays, the results showed no resemblance of a different outcome.

“I’m not going to point fingers at anybody,” Gruden said. “But we didn’t play the coverage properly. When you make mistakes and you don’t get in the quarterback’s face, usually these guys find the open guy and that’s what happened. We did not play a Cover 2 Zone very well. It’s happened before this year and it’s hard to admit it again.”

The Raiders now fall to a .500 record of 7-7 as they’ve dropped four of the last five games after getting off to a 6-3 start. They’ll play the Maimi Dolphins next Saturday inside Allegiant Stadium for the final home game of the year.

“We did a lot of good things tonight but you got to win these tight games,” Gruden said. “Oftentimes that’s a reflection on the head coach.”