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Las Vegas Raiders’ horrible start is testing if Josh McDaniels has the skills to build a winning culture

Moe Moton
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Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

We know where Josh McDaniels served as an offensive coordinator before he became the Las Vegas Raiders head coach, but does he have what it takes to put his prints on the foundation of a winning culture?  

Over the past couple of decades, the Raiders have grappled with a cultural issue. They haven’t been able to shake off a losing mentality that’s plagued them since they lost Super Bowl 37. McDaniels has to apply what he’s learned during his time with the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos to raise the standard of owner Mark Davis’ football franchise.

No, McDaniels shouldn’t re-enact the Patriot Way in Vegas, but he needs to tap into the brilliance that he witnessed as part of an NFL dynasty and avoid making the same mistakes from his years with the Broncos. Do you remember what he said during his introductory press conference?

Related: Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders officially hit rock bottom in Week 10 loss

“I knew a little football,” McDaniels said. “I don’t think I was an expert at how to get a group of people to become this successful entity and protect the culture. I feel like I understand how much more important that is now than I did when I left [New England the first time].”

Well, with the Las Vegas Raiders at 2-7, McDaniels gets a chance to solve a problem despite what Davis said about the lead skipper’s “fantastic job” thus far.

Derek Carr was brutally honest about the current Las Vegas Raiders’ culture

After a 25-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a distraught Derek Carr stepped to the podium, removed the filter that he usually wears after defeat, and pointed to a problem in the locker room.

“It’s hard, knowing what some guys are doing. Like I said, just to practice, what they’re putting in their bodies just to sleep at night, just so we can be there for each other. And I wish everybody in that room felt the same way about this place, and as a leader that pisses me off—if I’m being honest.”

– Derek Carr after Week 10

Carr said that nine years of being with the Raiders, and his desire for everything to go right translated to an emotional press conference, but is that really it?

Before Sunday’s game, the Raiders listed Clelin Ferrell, Neil Farrell Jr., and Matthew Butler as healthy inactive players, knowing they had to stop 2021 rushing champion Jonathan Taylor that day. The Colts went on to rush for 207 yards and two touchdowns. And on the next day, McDaniels told reporters that the team handled an issue “internally” and that two young guys are “learning how to do everything the right way.”

In this case, McDaniels felt he needed to establish his voice and discipline a few players. Though Ferrell, Farrell, and Butler could’ve been serviceable against one of the league’s best running backs, the Raiders’ head coach made the right move to set an example.  

As a disciplinarian, McDaniels checked a box there, but is his staff putting players in the best position to flourish on the field?

Josh McDaniels needs to take a page from Bill Belichick’s book

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Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

After the Las Vegas Raiders’ loss to the Colts, wide receiver Davante Adams talked about an inadequate number of teammates willing to make plays throughout the game, which factors into the club’s inability to perform at a high level for 60 minutes.

 “Guys got to play for one another, play a full game—that’s 60 minutes from start to finish coming out starting fast and then closing out games, making plays when you taking on that burden wanting to be the guy…wanting the ball or wanting to shut it down when you’re on defense—just wanting to be the guy that makes the play, and [we] just don’t got enough guys that are fully bought into that right now. And I think people like the idea, but when it’s time to actually execute it don’t turn out that way.”

– Davante Adams after Week 10

In other words, the Raiders don’t have enough guys doing their jobs throughout games. In the most crucial moments, they’ve failed to execute to pull out victories. While the men on the field have to execute the plays, McDaniels can take a page out of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s book, “Do your job.”

Belichick has emphasized this, and camera crews have filmed him communicating that to his players on the sideline.

McDaniels doesn’t have to relay the message in that same fashion, but just as he emphasized ball security this past offseason, the Raiders’ lead skipper can generate a little more urgency with a focus on “doing your job” in critical moments. He can push that message if/when the momentum shifts in favor of the opponent while Vegas is up by multiple scores. At times, coaches need to do the little things to keep guys dialed in for 60 minutes.

Raiders brass must work to change the locker room mentality

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Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead, general manager Dave Ziegler and McDaniels need more self-motivators in the locker room. In a perfect world, grown men who make millions have the motivation needed to play at a high level, but former players will tell you every locker room has guys who don’t do everything possible to put their best on display on game day, and that’s probably what Carr spoke about last Sunday.

With that said, McDaniels has to weed out players who lack personal drive and vet the newcomers along with his brain trust to field a mentally focused football team.

Along with a checklist of roster needs, McDaniels must decide what personalities fit in the locker room and how those players factor into building a winning culture because this club hasn’t bucked its recent trend of mediocrity and a tendency to underachieve in big moments.

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