Rory’s Ruminations: Shake Ups Are Coming

Being 1-4 after five games was clearly not the plan for Jon Gruden and his staff.

This team is at a crossroads having now traveled over five thousand miles to play a “home game” in London. If the Raiders lose to the Seattle Seahawks and come home 1-5, there will be a very restless feeling amongst Raider Nation. Coming back 2-4 with the Colts and 49ers on the schedule would breathe some life back into this season.

Raider fans can choose a lot of targets for their blame and ridicule. Many have chosen Derek Carr. Others have chosen Jon Gruden. A few have centered on defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Reality is, they are all to blame on some level.

Derek Carr

After being down multiple scores early in the game, the Raiders finally began to put together a drive in the third quarter of their Week 5 game against the rival Chargers. Down 20-3 with 1:13 left in the 3rd quarter Carr threw a bad interception in the end zone. According to ESPN, Carr’s red zone QBR since 2014 are as follows:

2014: 96.9

2015: 51.1

2016: 41.7

2017: 29.7

2018: 14.8

When looking back at 2017, Derek was 24-47 with 127 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 1 interception in the red zone. In contrast Tom Brady was 56-90 for 358 yards, 26 touchdown, and no interceptions. Not only is there a significant decrease in the same size, but the yardage is the main culprit for the statistical issue.

2014 which was Derek’s best year in the red zone, his QBR was in the end, not very impressive. He went 32 for 53 gaining 185 yards, 18 touchdowns and one interception. Altogether, QBR as a stat in this context does not tell the whole story. It is intended to calculate the quality of decisions made along with play outcomes. Although the QBR tends to constantly trend downward, Carr’s numbers in the red zone are rather consistent which begs the question. Has Derek changed or has another factor changed?

Derek most definitely has changed in several regards. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Carr was one of the least pressured quarterbacks in the NFL especially 2016. This was achieved by using lots of six offensive lineman looks when tight end Lee Smith got hurt, while also maintaining great balance both on play calls and formations. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave at the time caught significant flack for utilizing too many screen plays but he was able to keep defenses guessing.

This is where things get even more interesting:

Jon Gruden

Polarizing would be a very appropriate word to describe Gruden’s return to coaching.

His offense has been extremely effective at times, but more often than not it has fallen under criticism for a variety of reasons. The biggest issue as it pertains to Carr is the number of interceptions and lack of touchdowns. This ties directly into the above Tweet from Austin Gayle. If the Raiders have the second lowest average depth of target and a very high yards after catch then they are completing short passes. But why?

It seems odd that a team who ran one screen play against the Chargers would have the second lowest ADOT. In fact the Raiders rarely ever run screens at all. They never run draw plays. Against the Chargers with two rookie left tackles one of which has a sprained MCL, the Raiders decided to run five receivers on almost every play. Carr was sacked three times and scrambled for his life several more times.

Of course this makes no sense. The Chargers who have two backup tackles, one of whom is a rookie undrafted free agent, used six or seven blockers on almost every play, a ton of screens, lots of play action, and lots of crossing routes. Oakland is choosing to do things that are not what their quarterback did when he had his best season in the NFL.

Most of all, the Raiders do nothing to make opposing defenses think. The reason why the ADOT is the second lowest in the NFL is because the Raiders do not use play action to suck the linebackers and safeties in creating space for the receivers to work and sit into. Moreover, by not keeping the pass rush honest, Carr is not given the time he is accustomed to in order to make the best downfield decision or let routes develop downfield. Thus he is forced to check the ball down.

The reluctance of Gruden to do basic things to help Carr cope with the pass rush and to slow it down schematically makes very little sense. It does make one wonder if Gruden and Carr can really coexist? It is beginning to seem as if they cannot and there will be a breakup between these two in the near future. Whether Gruden wants a scrambling quarterback who will create with his feet or if he wants a Tom Brady type who will always take what he is given and rarely force the ball, Carr is neither.

Carr has a similar skill set to a quarterback like Peyton Manning. That is not to say he is Peyton, but if you put him into a similar situation with those types of concepts, you will most likely get those types of results. Peyton’s Colt offense allowed him to do most reads pre snap, he had line control, there was a lot of play action, lots of designs to cope with a pass rush, and tons of six man blocking concepts.

For the Raiders they tend to be predictable based on their formation especially when there is two running backs on the field they almost always run the ball. The Raiders very rarely use play action, they rely on their running backs to catch, they rarely use extra blockers, and most routes are designed down the field. Right now the Raiders resemble the Steelers without a big quarterback who breaks tackles scrambling and without the screen plays.

Paul Guenther

The only thing worse than the issues facing the offense are the results that have been had by the defense. On the flip side, there is more of a possibility for the Raiders to make some changes and see immediate benefits unlike on offense.

Yes, the linebackers have been atrocious in pass coverage, but the Raiders have been playing more zone in the last few weeks and that means receivers can be attacking spaces between the linebackers and defensive backs. Gareon Conley was effectively benched against the Chargers and it all came down to zone defense. Conley has always been primarily a man press corner and has struggled in zone. Worley came in and performed.

When defenses play zone especially cover two and quarters, the cornerbacks have to be able to set the edge and tackle. It also requires them to view the game a certain way and have consistent eyes. Melvin and Worley both excel here. Conley does not and he is on the border with players like Karl Joseph and Obi Melifonwu who will go down as wasted talents because the defensive coordinator did not want to tailor his defense to make them work.

That said, if Guenther pulls the plug on Leon Hall in the slot and plays rookie Nick Nelson, and also pulls Reggie Nelson from strong safety to play Erik Harris, the Raiders could start producing some decent outings. For years there was a disconnect between the general manager and the defensive coordinator and many times he did not have the right talents to excel. This is much of the same, the difference is this defensive coordinator has the general manager’s ear and that man is Jon Gruden.

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