Everyone knew most of what Jon Gruden uttered in his introductory news conference was coming. Yet, once you became numb to his repeated mentions of his love for Oakland, the Raiders, the Black Hole and owner Mark Davis, it was possible to mine a few nuggets.
Of note, Gruden provided some much-needed reasons for optimism in regard to fixing Oakland’s ailing offense. In doing so, he also gave an indirect answer to the most prevalent question from this season: What happened to the Raiders explosive offense?
Gruden said the fact quarterback Derek Carr broke three bones in his back against the Denver Broncos four games into the season is reason enough to explain the precipitous drop in Carr’s performance in 2017, one year after he was a legitimate MVP candidate in a breakout season.
Carr’s injury came on a play in which he was sacked during a Denver victory. He missed the tail end of that game and all of the next game but returned for the final 11 games. To his credit, Carr never used his injury as an excuse.
If Carr’s back wasn’t as much of a hindrance as Gruden surmised, then it’s easy to point the finger at first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing. He was promoted to coordinator by Jack Del Rio in favor of Bill Musgrave, who was allowed to find another job.
It was apparent that the Raiders offense wasn’t the same under Downing’s guidance, even before Carr’s injury.
The run game lacked continuity, with Marshawn Lynch being underused in games where he had been effective. Lead wide receiver Amari Cooper went from back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to playing like someone unsure what his role was in the new offense. Carr went from a fearless, confident quarterback to one who panicked at the first hint of pressure, routinely dumped off the ball well short of the first-down marker and misfired more than he had been accustomed to doing.
Carr’s stats paint a different picture. However, those who watched him play 15 games don’t need to be convinced that Carr wasn’t right this season.
To that end, Gruden offered fans the elixir they have screamed for all season.
Gruden said Tuesday that he is going to call the offensive plays in 2018 – imagine the gap between Gruden and Downing calling plays – and that his scheme will be tailored to suit Carr’s strengths.
In fact, Gruden said that he and new offensive coordinator Greg Olson are confident that their system is going to “unlock the greatness in (Carr).”
They got a jump on that process Tuesday, as Gruden and Carr spoke before the news conference. That discussion already yielded a few new plays, Gruden said, and he likely wasn’t kidding.
Things can’t get much worse than last season, given the Raiders talent on offense and the tens of millions invested in players such as Carr, Michael Crabtree, Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson.
The Raiders tied for 17th in average yards per game, with 324.1. That placed them 70 yards behind the New England Patriots, the team the Raiders expected to supplant as the AFC’s dominant team this season.
More telling is the fact the Raiders averaged only 18.8 points per game. Only nine teams fared worse.
By comparison, the Raiders averaged a seventh-best 26 points per game in 2016 and 373.3 yards per game, which was sixth-best in the league.