Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is often criticized for a conservative play-calling style. What’s been lost in that critique is that the team’s third-down conversions are trending upward.
Led by Gruden, incumbent starting quarterback Derek Carr is expected to take the Raiders offense to the next level in 2020. General manager Mike Mayock has surrounded the veteran signal-caller with a compilation of weapons. Last season’s revelations, Darren Waller, Josh Jacobs, and Hunter Renfrow, will now be supported by a batch of talented youngsters. Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, and Lynn Bowden Jr. will be key to helping the Raiders move the chains, in particular, on third down.
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Assuming the Raiders believe they’ll make noise this year, they have made strides to achieve so. Under Gruden, the Raiders have actually become one of the most efficient teams in third-down conversions. This upward trend can be attributed to the coach reshaping the offense or as he stated, taking it “back to 1998.” In 2018, the team converted 73 third downs for the year, ending with a 37.1% conversion percentage. That year, the Raiders ranked 19th amongst the NFL, which was good enough for middle of the pack.
Slowly Catching Up
Amid last year’s 7-9 record, which fans believe was a disappointment, it’s easy to overlook improvement when it isn’t something sexy as touchdowns. Nonetheless, the growth is evident as numbers don’t lie. In 2019, the Raiders converted 88 third downs, and ended their campaign with a 43.8% conversion percentage. A nice jump from the year before. While some may overlook this increase, it’s actually impressive when you look at another AFC West team. In 2019, Kansas City converted 89 third downs, closing their Super Bowl-winning season with a 47.6% conversion percentage.
While catching up to the Chiefs is no easy task, Gruden has his offense trending in the right direction despite what pundits say. Even baby steps are crucial in team-building and if the Raiders continue to improve on these numbers, 2020 might be a different story after all.
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*Top Photo: USATSI