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Las Vegas Raiders’ hyperfocus on details could solve their perpetual penalty problem

Moe Moton

If you’re someone who believes the NFL actively tries to sabotage the Las Vegas Raiders with penalty calls, this early takeaway from the team’s training camp serves you no purpose. You’ve already made up your mind about why the Silver and Black have issues with infractions every year. Anyone outside of that group should feel encouraged by the coaching staff’s emphasis on details.

Las Vegas Raiders preach accountability under Josh McDaniels

NFL: Scouting Combine
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Josh McDaniels and his staff have added a wrinkle to practices, which underscores the focus on details and accountability. Whenever players make mistakes, they have to take a lap, and no one is above that rule.

Quarterback Derek Carr, who’s had to take a lap himself, talked about the stipulation at practices.

“It doesn’t matter whose fault it is: If it happens between two people, hit it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was. ‘Let’s go.’ It’s an accountability thing. It’s a learning lesson because we can’t beat ourselves.”

Derek Carr on accountability

In a game of inches, many coaches and players around the league would agree with the gist of Carr’s statement. A team that beats itself has little chance of winning football games with consistency against the best athletes in the world. So, McDaniels and company want to make sure the Raiders have fewer self-inflicted issues during the regular season.

Center Andre James, who committed six penalties last year, talked about the laps as well.

It’s all about the details. These coaches are super detail-oriented, and we love that. Yeah, we need to clean up some of the snaps. You know, first day back at it, you got different QBs, different centers doing exchanges, so it’s just something we need to clean up and something we’re going to continue to work on.

I think (the laps) would be a good picture to just show you what’s going on here. … We’re not going to let little things slip. There’s accountability for everything that we do and that’s just something that this coaching staff has brought in and something that’s going to be a part of practices.”

Do you remember how many snaps James botched as a first-year full-time starter last season? He didn’t settle into the center position until the second half of the campaign, and the new coaching staff will expect him to build on that momentum following an offseason with a sharp eye on the intricacies of the game.

Incoming safety Duron Harmon echoed some of James’ points about the coaching staff’s approach.

Mistakes cost you, so at that point in practice, it might not cost you the game, but it’s going to cost you a lap. And if you ask those guys after you run that lap, you are a little tired and then you have to go back and still have to focus. Like you said, it’s just a part of the accountability we want to have amongst this team.”

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Raiders hoping to put penalty problems behind them

Though running laps at practice may come off as an elementary way of getting a point across, the Raiders needed a regime that would hold players accountable for routine mistakes.

In two of the last four years, the team has ranked top 10 in total penalties and yards penalized:  

2021: Penalties (No. 2 with 124), yards penalized (No. 1 with 1,104)

2020: Penalties (No. 9 with 98), yards penalized (No. 11 with 856)

2019: Penalties (No. 3 with 128), yards penalized (No. 2 with 1,138)

2018: Penalties (No. 17 with 110), yards penalized (No. 11 with 965)

For those who believe the NFL targets the Raiders with excessive whistles, it seems as though the officials gave the team a break in 2018, Jon Gruden’s first year back on the sideline as a head coach. On a more serious note, other fanbases will make the same claim about unfair treatment on judgment calls.

Under McDaniels, the Raiders will focus on accountability more than the validity of a conspiracy.

Those coaches watched last year’s games as the offensive line racked up infractions week after week. Alex Leatherwood (15), John Simpson (12) and Brandon Parker (11) combined for 38 infractions alone, which accounted for about 31 percent of the team’s 2021 penalties.

Because of those miscues, Vegas had long first downs, points shaved off the scoreboard and stalled drives in the red zone. That’s how you beat yourself in a close game.

Because of their detail-oriented practices, the Raiders may transition away from an identity that’s tied to high penalty rates. While McDaniels isn’t interested in copying the “The Patriot Way” over in Las Vegas, he’ll likely bring over some foundational principles that can work for any team.

Here’s something to think about—even for the people who believe the NFL has an axe to grind with the Raiders: a disciplined squad makes it difficult for referees to make bad judgment calls.

Related: Josh McDaniels draws praise from NFL insider, Las Vegas Raiders outlook promising

Being more detail-oriented should lead to more wins

For the foreseeable future, the Raiders can make it much harder on opponents if they rarely beat themselves and know where to be on the field at the right time. Yes, a team that uses its high football IQ and understands what to do in every situation. That alone will help them win a lot of battles. From there, it falls on the offense, defense and special teams to execute game plans, which also reflects the team’s attention to detail.

This all sounds so simple, but as defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said Saturday, football isn’t as complex as many people view it. Once you’ve been around the game for years, you’ve seen just about everything.

Aside from a gap in roster talent, the basics can separate upper-echelon teams. One false start or a pass interference call can mean the difference between going home and heading to the playoffs. A detail-oriented club comes out on the right side of those calls more times than not. McDaniels understands that, and he’s started the process of ingraining that into his players.

If the Raiders drop to the bottom of the league in penalties and yards penalized in 2022, that would be a sight to see and evidence that McDaniels identified and rectified a basic issue that’s plagued this franchise.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.