So Chris Simms thinks not re-signing Bill Musgrave was one of the bonehead moves of the off-season? There were much worse moves made around the league this off-season, and actually the Raiders letting Musgrave go might end up being amongst the best. Let me tell you why letting Musgrave, master of the 3rd down screen pass, leave the club was the right call.
King of the Screen Pass
When Musgrave first came aboard, I’ll always remember a Vikings fan saying to me, “get used to screen passes and draw plays on every 3rd-and-long”. That couldn’t have been more accurate. With the dust and grit of the season in the rear view mirror, it’s easy to forget the play-by-play detail. The macro view is that the Raiders had one of the best offenses in the NFL. Statistically that’s true, but it could inarguably have been better if Musgrave wasn’t such a conservative coach.
Sometimes to get a view of the problem, you need to look at the real minutae. From the first game forward, promising drives stalled due to conservative and negative play-calling.
Remember the incredible leap Derek Carr made over the head of De’Vante Harris during week one’s game against the Saints? Sure you do, it was frikkin’ awesome right? Remember what happened to end that drive? No? Three plays later, on a 3rd-and-9, and Musgrave calls a screen pass that never develops. The team has to punt.
Throughout the season, there were examples of Musgrave’s conservative play-calling killing momentum his own team had created. Yes, the Raiders went 12-4, but remember how close so many of those games were? When teams were on the ropes, it was Musgrave’s conservatism that let them back into games.
Derek Carr’s Development
When the Raiders offense clicked, Carr was usually at the centre of it. As the season progressed we started seeing more and more examples of Carr audibling out of the called plays. Changing plays called as runs or short passes into longer passes that often that resulted in points. Carr was the architect behind multiple scores in this manner, including a touchdown to Amari Cooper against the Bills and a touchdown to Crabtree against the Chargers.
Blunty, we all saw what happened without Carr. In week 17 and in the playoffs, the offense looked completely inept. It was unable to move the ball, and Musgrave was unable to adjust. As Del Rio himself said, “We didn’t run it enough. Latavius ends up with five carries. How’s that happen?”
The Playoff Loss
These two traits combined in Oakland’s first drive against Houston in the playoffs. Musgrave’s conservatism reached an all-time high. An unimaginative run and short passes to the left side of the offense had seen an early 3-and-out. Then on the interception, it was so obvious Musgrave would call a screen the entire Texan’s starting defense was over in that area of the field. Sure Cook shouldn’t have thrown the pass, but you’re not giving your rookie quarterback any help by calling obvious plays that may as well be telegraphed directly to the opposition. Musgrave’s inability to adapt to life without Carr cost the Raiders what little hope they had.
And it’s worth remembering that Musgrave wasn’t fired, his contract was just not renewed. One of the reasons for that was that the Raiders had a ready-made replacement for him already on the team, in the form of Todd Downing. According to league reports, their QB Coach had become a target for multiple teams so this might have been a straight-forward choice. Re-sign Musgrave or promote the young talent you have in Downing. The question faced by Del Rio might have been as simple as, who would you rather go to an opponent – Musgrave or Downing? I believe Del Rio made the right choice.
Letting Musgrave Go Was A Fine Move
This isn’t meant to completely lambast Musgrave. Certainly the Raiders developed into one of the league’s most talented offenses whilst he was the OC. But there’s a difference between correlation and causation and whilst Musgrave played a part, success certainly wasn’t solely because of him.
The team got rid of one of the most conservative offensive coaches in the league, and at the same time chose to keep a rising star in Todd Downing to work with an offense he knows well. Far from it being a boneheaded move by the Raiders brain trust, letting Musgrave go was almost certainly an excellent idea. It will pay dividends in 2017.