As the Silver and Black prepare for their inaugural season in Las Vegas, the pressure is mounting on a member of the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has received widespread scrutiny for the team’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball the past two seasons.
This offseason, the front office has injected a high dosage of young defensive talent for years to come. With former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli joining the staff, Guenther’s future hangs in the balance.
Paul Guenther Has Only Proven Incompetence
Do you remember when and where the above photo was taken? It was captured during one of the worst losses in Jon Gruden’s entire 13 year head coaching career.
— Fallon (@FallonSmithTV) November 2, 2018
Despite the abysmal scoreline, both the Raiders and the 49ers were one-win teams at the time. In that game, San Francisco’s starting quarterback was Nick Mullens. The Hoover, Alabama native made his first career NFL start against the Raiders and managed the following stat line against Paul Guenther’s defense.
- 16/22 Pass Completions
- 220 Passing Yards
- 3 Passing Touchdowns
- 0 Interceptions
- 0 Sacks
Both teams had clear deficiencies in talent, but the 49ers utterly outcoached Guenther with an equally bad offense. Since then, the 49ers reached the Super Bowl and boasted one of the league’s best defenses in 2019. The same cannot be said about the Silver and Black. In fact, the woes that bewildered the Raiders defense in the last Battle of the Bay still remain today.
The Definition of Insanity
The below quote was the consummate description of the Silver and Black’s defense under Paul Guenther in 2019.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Time after time, the Raiders’ back defense was in a state of disarray. Constant breakdowns in coverage are a sign of either players not understanding their job, or a defensive scheme that is too complex. Both can be true, however, the latter is more than likely the case for the Raiders. Below you see one example of how opposing offensive players running in motion exploited coverage breakdowns more often than not last season.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2019
Leaving a team’s most explosive receiving threat in single coverage is questionable.
RYAN TANNEHILL THROWS FOR 391 YARDS AND THREE TUDDYS, KING HENRY HAS ONE HAMSTRING AND STILL SCORES TWICE, AJ BROWN DOES AJ BROWN THINGS, THE DEFENSE SHUTS OUT THE RAIDERS IN THE SECOND HALF AND THE TENNESEE TITANS ARE THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE pic.twitter.com/tCBht6WLKo
— 2nd & Victory (@2ndandVictory) December 9, 2019
Plays like the one above, contributed to the Raiders ranking in the bottom 10 pass defense for the third consecutive season per Pro Football Outsiders. Plain and simple, Guenther’s defense has a plethora of deficiencies.
Slotting the 2019 fourth overall draft pick at a position he’s never played at before is one of them.
DE Clelin Ferrell (@Cle_Missile) lined up inside at DT next to DE Arden Key. DC Paul Guenther drops him into coverage here and brings pressure with CB Lamarcus Joyner off the edge. DE Benson Mayowa (91) beats the RT to get Raiders 1st sack of 2019. #Raiders #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/6fCKxzRvYR
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) September 11, 2019
Or how about leaving the worst pass coverage linebacker in the league in man-to-man coverage on premier tight ends and slot wide receivers?
Tahir Whitehead, the league's worst coverage LB, in man coverage against the best TE in football through Week 8… Love the call, tbh. pic.twitter.com/m4bIOPPBrE
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) November 2, 2018
Last but not least, Guenther’s trust of veteran players who have no business being on the field was just another head scratching observation.
Sorry to bring this back up Raider fans… But at what point do you think Reggie Nelson thought, 'I probably should have turned and started running sooner.' pic.twitter.com/gBZy5Ee2GU
— Josh Cohen (@JCohen_NFL) November 28, 2017
There is perspicuous mismanagement and lack of proper utilization with players on the defense, and that comes directly from the defensive coordinator. Moving forward, it is a cause for concern whether Guenther will maximize the full potential of all the young players. Should he continue setting up players for failure in 2020, a midseason coaching change is not out of the question.
Reluctantly, the team has one of the best interim options at the ready should the team desire to move in another direction.
Interim Option: Rod Marinelli
The two former colleagues (Jon Gruden and Rod Marinelli) from the 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reunited once more. This time in Las Vegas.
Welcome to the Silver and Black.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) February 5, 2020
Marinelli brings 12 years of NFL coaching experience and has already made a strong impression with the organization.
@Raiders GM Mike Mayock said new DL coach Rod Marinelli had big input in Raiders signing DT Maliek Collins, "Rod obviously coached him last year and Rod jumped up on the table in support of what this kid could be."
— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) April 15, 2020
It is clear Rod already has a firm role with the organization and the writing may be on the wall for Paul Guenther.
The 70 year old may be the quintessential interim, but not per se the answer as the long term solution as the Raiders defensive coordinator. With that being said, there are two young collegiate coaches that the organization has familiarity with and could fill the void.
Long Term Option #1 – Derrick Ansley
A familiar face arises as the top candidate for the Raiders defensive coordinator position should Paul Guenther be fired next offseason. Volunteers defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley was hired as the Raiders defensive backs coach in 2018. Fresh from an impressive collegiate coaching stint at the University of Alabama, Ansley witnessed tangible improvement from young players under his tutelage once more at the NFL level.
CB Gareon Conley (21) @_gconley8 has shown ability to be a top cover CB. Fluid hips, length to frame, and can stay with WRs down field. Plays this ball perfectly, gets head around, tips ball into air for S Marcus Gilchrist (31) @mgilchr INT. #Raiders #All22 #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/Wv5fRSx8Bm
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) November 28, 2018
Ansley tapped Gareon Conley’s potential. The coordinator showed that the former first-round pick is more than capable of becoming a serviceable cornerback in the future.
In addition, safety Karl Joseph also had an impressive campaign in 2018.
Raiders in a 2 man coverage here. Rashaan Melvin (22) @Rmelvin30 makes a great break on the throw and gets his hand in to knock ball up in the air. Karl Joseph (42) @_IamKJ8 hustles across the field from the opposite side to make a diving INT. #Raiders #Raidernation #All22 pic.twitter.com/Ny3y8u6M29
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) November 21, 2018
The future of the secondary was in good hands until Ansley accepted a job offer to become the University of Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. The man that Jon Gruden spoke highly of will not be forgotten in future endeavors should the defensive coordinator vacancy arise once more.
“I think Derrek Ansley is going to be a star in this profession. Going to be a great secondary coach. Really excited to get him.” ~Jon Gruden in an interview with the Mercury News upon Ansley’s hire with the Raiders in 2018.
The thought of a 38-year old potentially being groomed by one of the best defensive coaches in all of football, Rod Marinelli, makes for a seemingly irresistible reunion for Gruden yet again.
Long Term Option #2 – Jeff Hafley
General manager Mike Mayock undoubtedly has ties with Jeff Hafley. The Boston College head coach is the man rookie Damon Arnette credits for the catalyst of change in his life and football career while at Ohio State University. Jeff served as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach in 2019.
Ohio State CB Damon Arnette, who acknowledged immaturity early in his college career, said Jeff Hafley (now head coach at Boston College) was a key part in the change he made in his life and career https://t.co/2QDpAMPXpO pic.twitter.com/otn2XdG1Fq
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) February 28, 2020
The 41-year old has 18 years of assistant coaching combined at both the collegiate and NFL level. He now enters his first head coaching role at Mike Mayock’s alma mater in 2020. If the team feels strongly about him joining the organization, they could make an offer he would have a hard time refusing.
As the Raiders embark on their 2020 campaign, there is no reason for the defense to carry on with their subpar play. The run defense has been stout, and with the multitude of additions in the secondary, coaching would be the only reason for poor play to continue. It’s a pivotal time for Guenther, as he has been entrusted with the delicate task of putting young players in the best position to succeed moving forward. Should he not be the man for the job, there is an interim ready to take the reigns of the defense in a heartbeat. As the Gruden and Mayock partnership moves forward, look for them to fill coaching voids with familiar candidates that have a proven track record combined with potential. The future of the defense is now, and the organization has unofficially placed Guenther on the hot seat before the season even begins.
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Top Photo: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press