Now before Raider Nation comes to burn down my home and runs me out-of-town on a rail, please hear me out. First let me start off by saying I never wish injury on any player (yes Raider fans, even Tom Brady) especially a member of the organization I’m very passionate about. Do I want Derek Carr back? Yes! Is he better than E.J. Manuel? Most definitely! Should Carr start even if Manuel goes 5-0 including a win over the Chiefs? Ok let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It’s no secret the Raiders are struggling on offense. But in my opinion it has more to do with scheme than personnel. Oakland has the talent, and though Cooper is struggling with drops, he isn’t the reason Oakland has only scored 20 points over the course of two weeks. This team is too talented across the board to be producing at such a low-level. So this is what I mean by, “Exactly what Oakland needs”.
I believe Todd Downing is like a kid in a candy store. Here, this young, first year coordinator is surrounded with weapons at every position and I believe he’s getting too creative with his play calling. But now with his star quarterback out, what is the first thing offensive coordinators do with backups? They simplify the playbook.
Now I’m not calling for a “dumbing down” of the play calls. In fact, many believe the Raiders play calling is too predictable. But Oakland needs to get back to their bread and butter, which is power football on the ground and that’s exactly what the Raiders were so good at in 2016. And I believe with Carr out, this is going to force Todd Downing into running more.
The two things that help a young or new quarterback in a system that they aren’t running week in and week out are a strong running game and getting tight ends involved in the pass game. This just happens to be exactly what the Raiders need to be doing anyways! Once again, this is why I’m saying that Carr having to sit out a few weeks may be good for Oakland in forcing Downing into rediscovering the talents we all know are there. The Raiders have maulers in the trenches and a running back that can plow through arm tackles and defensive backs when he reaches the second level. But perhaps most importantly a fullback that needs to be utilized.
Olawale is not only a stellar run blocker but also a juggernaut that defenses have to account for because of his explosive playmaking ability. Also, formations that include Jamize will allow the Raiders to attack defenses in more of a power running scheme and then open up the play action for Manuel.
As mentioned previously, getting tight ends involved in the passing game is not only key to helping a new quarterback settle into a starting role, but again I believe it’s exactly what the Raiders need to be doing anyways! As we saw last week, Cook had a beautiful touchdown pass in the end zone slip through his hands, which would have brought the Raiders to within two of Denver. The fact that Manuel was looking to his tight ends for help was not only the smart thing to do as the new guy under center, but also what Todd Downing needs to be dialing up week by week.
As we have seen, Cook isn’t the only tight end with good hands. Lee Smith has had his share of solid catches and should be utilized more. In fact, with two tight ends on the field that are good at both run blocking and catching passes, Oakland’s offense could become lethal. Pair that with a fullback that can open up holes in the run game and catch passes out of play action, the Raiders should have opposing defenses guessing all afternoon.
With Carr out, I believe it will force Todd Downing to settle down and simplify the playbook for Manuel. In doing so, Mr. Downing could discover that though power running schemes and play action may be old-fashioned, this team will just out execute the defense and become the bully we saw glimpses of last season. Bullies don’t care if you know what’s coming, they are just bigger and tougher and can impose their will. And that’s what Oakland needs to build again: a team that imposes its will on the field. But it has to start with the run game.
Rest assured, Raider Nation, I too eagerly await the return of Derek Carr. But perhaps we will look back on this as a blessing in disguise. The jumpstart the offense needed when it appeared to be stalling in the mud. Time will tell.