‘I enjoy solving problems’: Raiders QB O’Connell shows development

Raiders rookie Aidan O’Connell displayed a high-level understanding of some of the finer points of playing quarterback in the NFL during his second career start Sunday.

Not only did his play help the Raiders snap a two-game losing streak and complete their most lopsided win since 2020, it also slowed down the Giants’ pass rush under defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, one of the most creative blitz-package thinkers in the game.

That part of the position is right up O’Connell’s alley.

“I enjoy solving problems,” he said.

O’Connell’s ability to recognize the Giants’ pass-rush pressure points as he surveyed the line of scrimmage and then articulate protection instructions to his offensive line was next-level stuff. Doing more of the same, beginning with the Raiders’ game against the Jets at Allegiant Stadium on “Sunday Night Football,” will go a long way toward the Raiders building on their 30-6 win against the Giants.

“He’s very poised,” Raiders running back Josh Jacobs said. “He came in, you could tell the moment wasn’t too big for him. … He just goes out there and he does what he needs to do.”

That development began all the way back in organized team activities in May when, as O’Connell tells the story, Raiders offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree, then the quarterback coach, challenged O’Connell on what he would do if a certain run or pass play were called and he went to the line of scrimmage and discovered the opposing defense was showing a “blitz zero.”

“Back then, I didn’t know what the heck he was talking about,” O’Connell said Wednesday.

He has come a long way since then.

A case in point was the second-and-11 situation the Raiders faced in the second quarter Sunday from the Giants’ 34-yard-line.

Working from the shotgun, O’Connell picked out Giants inside linebacker Bobby Okereke as the blitzer and alerted his offensive line. Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who was lined up in the slot to the left of Raiders tackle Kolton Miller, was also on notice that a blitz was coming and intuitively knew to run a quick slant pattern — a hot route — to give O’Connell a target to turn to against the rush.

Sure enough, Okereke was the blitzer, and at the snap of the ball, he looped around outside linebacker Boogie Basham to gain the edge. Miller opted to help right guard Dylan Parham, as it initially appeared two Giants were rushing at his point of the line of scrimmage.

That meant Okereke was a free rusher, but it didn’t matter.

O’Connell made a quick three-step drop, completely negating the fast-rushing Okereke. O’Connell delivered a laser to Renfrow, who broke to his right three yards into his route to find open territory. Renfrow picked up 19 yards on the play, then added 13 more on the next play to set up a 2-yard touchdown run from Jacobs to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead.

Problem solved.

“It’s cool to see that it’s come full circle,” O’Connell said. “And the coaches trust me, and they’ve shown confidence in me as well.”

The confidence of his teammates grows every day, too.

“Just calm and collected out there with a nice presence about him,” Renfrow said. “From a game management standpoint, it was impressive to see.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

Up next

Who: Jets at Raiders

When: 5:20 p.m. Sunday

Where: Allegiant Stadium

TV: KSNV-3

Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)

Line: Pick’em; total 36

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