It’s been almost three weeks since the seismic shift in organizational culture for Las Vegas.
“The players have taken this place over,” a Raiders source shared. “Ownership is fine with it, too.”
Interim head coach Antonio Pierce has guided this team to two wins against the Giants and Jets, empowering his players to be themselves and voice their concerns to coaches.
This openness is working for now.
Another Raiders source described the mood for the last month around the building. “It’s like ‘Ding dong, the witch is dead,’ since Josh McDaniels and (general manager) Dave Ziegler were shown the door” after a year and a half at the helm.
The witch, of course, symbolizes McDaniels’ no-nonsense, often demanding style of coaching and presence in the building. He ran a tight ship and had high expectations for his staff and roster. Almost all the current assistants are McDaniel hires now working for a new boss. A few I spoke to still appreciate McDaniels’ approach but are also adjusting to this post-“Patriot Way” of life.
Raiders’ interim GM Kelly on Pierce, O’Connell, how he got his nickname Champ
Meetings have moved to earlier times to accommodate the assistants’ preferences, and players have more say on how they want to operate as an organization. For example, the team had planned to fly to Florida on Friday and practice Saturday in Orlando for their game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Instead, some team leaders spoke up because they preferred to practice in Las Vegas and then fly to Florida on Saturday. It’s a slight adjustment, but it’s what the players wanted.
A big test awaits them against the NFL’s total yardage leader in Miami, and the Raiders are aware of their limitations. Some want to see how they will respond to adversity as a team. They haven’t been tested yet.
Nobody wants to fail or support the notion that this way can’t work, but many in the Raiders organization wonder if this new player-empowerment style is sustainable or if all the change is just a quick shot in the arm after weeks of misery.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters he fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey because he felt his team couldn’t walk back into the locker room without knowing something had changed. He essentially called Dorsey the scapegoat for the team’s problems without using that term.
You don’t often hear a coach put it that way publicly, but McDermott knows that after taking over the play calling on defense following Leslie Frazier’s departure and now firing Dorsey, the pressure is on him to win. Sometimes change for the sake of change isn’t the answer, but this organization is desperate for a spark as they play host to the Jets on Sunday.
Buffalo has only missed the playoffs once since McDermott took over as the head coach in 2017, and a team source said he is looking for “more energy and juice” in this offense. They want to get off to a fast start and start putting up significantly more points.
How Josh Allen’s lackluster year led to Ken Dorsey’s early exit
While turnovers have crushed this team, the question remains: How will the Bills be different under new play caller Joe Brady? Will they take the ball out of Josh Allen’s hands and look to run the ball more with James Cook? Since Allen joined the Bills, it was always explained to me by coaches in Buffalo and around the league that deemphasizing Allen would never be the way for Buffalo to win games. Though I expect tweaks to be made to the offense, I do not get the sense the Bills believe pulling back on Allen will be the game plan.
The Bills are 5-5 and on the outside of the AFC playoff race looking in. They are desperate, and so are the Zach Wilson-led New York Jets at 4-5.
Can you ever have enough good quarterbacks?
A new week, another starting quarterback out. Two since Sunday, in fact.
A total of six Week 1 starting quarterbacks have had season-ending injuries before I had my first argument with my mother on Thanksgiving.
With so many backup quarterbacks playing, including a record number of rookie starters, there’s been one solution to the injured starting QB problem in 2023: Go get Josh Dobbs. And that’s what the Minnesota Vikings did. For others, it’s going to be an uphill battle to make the postseason with their backup options. It doesn’t mean they can’t, but the season just became much more difficult.
The Jets lost Aaron Rodgers, the Indianapolis Colts lost Anthony Richardson, the Vikings lost Kirk Cousins, the New York Giants lost Daniel Jones, and this week, two top AFC contenders found out they’ll need their backups for the remainder of the year as Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow are both done.
Baltimore Ravens players told me they heard Burrow shout, “I heard a pop!” the moment after pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney came screaming his way. The “pop” sound is never good and can indicate a ligament issue in the wrist, which is what Burrow sustained. Burrow is going to get further evaluations to decide the next steps. Side note, a general manager texted me, “This is why Joe Burrow was never going to step foot on the field without that deal.”
Is punishment piling up too fast for Joe Burrow?
In the preseason, Burrow got his contract extension done, a deal he would probably get no matter what. But it was smart of his camp to seal it while making him the highest-paid player in football.
P.S. Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is in line to be the highest-paid non-QB in football, and he’s on the path to returning from a hamstring injury. He’s not expected to play this week, but he will soon. Seeing all of these significant season-ending injuries, will he still return without a deal in place? He says yes.
Burrow’s injury has a second layer to it. The NFL is investigating the Bengals for possibly hiding Burrow’s wrist injury before the game on the daily injury report. This was all caught by the league after the Bengals posted, and then deleted, a video of Burrow wearing a black soft brace on his right hand coming off the team plane. This seemed alarming considering he was a full participant at practice all week. The league is in contact with the organization and will review photos and practice videos to discover if the Bengals were hiding this information.
Burrow said the wrist injury that knocked him out for the year is entirely new. I would expect a heavy fine headed to Cincy from the league office if they discover the Bengals were treating the hand all week.
The precedent here would be Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Back in 2019, the NFL fined the Steelers $75,000 and Tomlin $25,000 for violating the injury report policy. The Steelers didn’t reveal an injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
A league source said the NFL is not taking this lightly, but it will take some time to decide. We also are still awaiting the results of the league’s investigation into Bijan Robinson and the Atlanta Falcons’ injury report saga.
The hip-drop tackle
As if the Bengals losing Burrow to a devastating injury wasn’t enough for a Thursday night game, Ravens Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews suffered a cracked fibula and an ankle ligament injury. He is done for the season due to a hip-drop tackle.
This form of tackling is getting tons of attention across the league, and it may soon be banned. The NFLPA is publically against outlawing it because it believes the play will be too tricky to officiate.
A league source told me the discussion of banning this tackle is already on “the table of contents of things to discuss in the offseason” with the NFL competition committee. The last time it was discussed, the committee was split on making the change. We’ll see if it gets more support this time around.
Changing the trade deadline?
Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy Garropolo could possibly be playing for different teams right now if the trade deadline were pushed back a few weeks. Teams are desperate for quarterbacks, and the options are limited.
With so many quarterbacks injured this season, many fans want to know why the league doesn’t extend the deadline to November, rather than immediately after Week 8.
A high-level NFL official said that what has made the league so successful is its competitive balance and equality, which are fostered by draft order, salary cap and even the schedule. If they extend the trade deadline, teams could sell players off who are trying to win, or teams could tank for the next season by dumping players once the team realizes it’s not going to the playoffs. Barring a drastic change to the NFL schedule, the trade deadline is unlikely to move again.
Another Vikings player to watch
Dobbs has become the star of the show for the Vikings based on his incredible ability to win games with such little preparation and familiarity with his Minnesota team. But another player who also deserves a look is Vikings running back Ty Chandler, especially this week against the Denver Broncos, who have the league’s worst run defense.
Minnesota’s run game has been a weak area, and finding open space seems impossible at times. But Chandler has the potential to change that. Last week, with Alexander Mattison out with a concussion, Chandler ran the ball 15 times for 45 yards and a touchdown. Mattison is still in concussion protocol, and Chandler could have a chance to shine again.
(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)