The Las Vegas Raiders find themselves at a crossroads. Life comes at you fast in the NFL. Losers of two consecutive contests, Vegas' offense has gone stagnant down a crucial stretch of their 2021 campaign. Sunday night's haunting primetime loss to their AFC West division rival Kansas City Chiefs was truly embarrassing. A Week 9 defeat suffered at the hands of the lowly New York Giants wasn't any less concerning. The Raiders averaged a measly 15 points per contest across those two defeats, and the inevitable finger-pointing has begun as Vegas must navigate through some difficult waters offensively.
Star tight end Darren Waller has struggled in recent showings. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo effectively eradicated Waller from Vegas' offensive attack in Week 10. Waller secured just four-of-seven targets for a season-low 24 receiving yards. The Athletic's Vic Tafur recently took a deep dive on Waller's lack of production as of late, pointing to the loss of Henry Ruggs III as a large reason why opposing defenses have had success minimizing Waller's impact.
Secondaries are using bracket coverage against Waller on a more frequent basis. A deep dive into the situation signals that the loss of Ruggs has indeed had a negative impact on Waller and Vegas' offense as a whole. Albeit a small sample size, Waller has played in two games since Ruggs was rightfully released—the losses to the Giants and Chiefs. Waller has averaged 5.5 receptions in those contests for an average of 58 yards per game. Furthermore, Waller has failed to find the end zone in either match, and his longest reception went for 24 yards.
To be clear, Waller does not have a target share issue. The former sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech is averaging a healthy 8.87 targets per game this season, which awfully resembles last season's target share mark of 9.1 per game. Even when shrinking that sample size down to the last two games that have been especially problematic, Waller still received 18 targets in those contests. Starting quarterback Derek Carr continues to look for Waller in the passing game on a relatively consistent basis and will continue to do so.
What Waller truly needs in order to be more effective is what Vegas' passing game requires as a whole: other receivers to step up and make plays. It's unfortunately straightforward for opposing defenses to largely focus their attention on Waller while Vegas' Ruggs-less receiving corps fails to make plays. Waller is currently seeing double, and in some instances, triple teams on a regular basis, and he recently acknowledged as much.
“Whenever I’m out wide, there may be somebody underneath me, somebody outside of me, and somebody inside,” Waller said.
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson will continue to work through these issues while attempting to get Waller more involved and productive than he's been in recent weeks. After all, Vegas doesn't have another choice. They lack top-end talent at the receiver position and Waller is a supremely talented athlete that possesses the skill-set you happily build your passing offense around. But in order to truly maximize what we all know Waller is capable of, somebody else has to step and instill fear in the heart of defenses. Until that happens, defensive coordinators will continue to zone in on Waller with great focus.