Raiders

Allen, Knapp keep faith in offensive system

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Allen, Knapp keep faith in offensive system

ALAMEDA -- Coming into the season, the obvious question to incoming coach Dennis Allen was this: Why change the offense when it was the team's strength a year ago?

And when the offense struggled early in the year under new and returning offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, the howls only intensified, especially with running back Darren McFadden going from league MVP candidate (when healthy) to, well, a guy averaging a career low in yards per carry.

Staring at a 3-10 record with only one home home game to play, and the very real chance of finishing 3-13 after consecutive 8-8 finishes, Allen is still sold on Knapp's version of the West Coast offense and the accompanying zone-blocking scheme and, truthfully, there has been some improvement recently.

"Yeah, absolutely," Allen said when asked if he still had faith in the system. "Absolutely. There's been a lot of change, and when there is a lot of change, sometimes you don't get the results that you're looking for right away. But when you believe in something, and you stick to it and you know it's the right plan, it ends up working out."

Of course, Knapp is a believer. He was hired to incorporate it by Allen.

"I’ve been to too many places and had too much experience to know it’s a very productive scheme," Knapp said. "Like it is for anywhere you go, when coaching changes occur you want the coaches who are the teachers to teach what they know best. If you do that with the coaches, they’re going to have answers for the issues that come up in the system."

The Raiders last season had the No. 9-ranked offense overall, No. 7 rushing and No. 11 passing. This season's rankings through 13 games? No. 13 overall, No. 30 rushing and No. 7 passing.

"Early on, we couldn’t run the ball worth a lick. Then about middle of the year, we had improvement in the run game. In the passing game we’ve had inconsistency when it comes to protection and catching the ball consistently. But we’ve had some high moments too. There’s been growing pains but it’s a part of the transition, You’d much rather have a coach come in and teach what he knows best then have to try to teach a system he doesn’t know at all. That’s going to take time."

And there it is: Allen wanted Knapp to teach his system to the personnel, to have the players adapt to scheme, rather than adapt scheme to the strengths of the players. So of course there was going to be growing pains. But did anyone expect the cramps to be so painful at times?

"Every place I’ve been to it’s usually going to take at least a year’s transition time to get everything taught and the parts we’ve changed," Knapp said. "You have to remember now, we’ve changed both linemen. We talked about the center and the tackle earlier that played quite a bit. Our top two running backs went down in the same game so then we converted a fullback to running back. Then you have some young receivers who are learning how to play the game at this level as well as learning a new system.

"If you take a business structure and you make those changes it’s going to take a year’s time to process everything and learn it. Once they master it, you can add to it. Right now, it’s taking some time."

So while so many fans are screaming for regime change, so to speak, the Raiders are again preaching patience and perspective.

"It just takes some time to be more efficient," Knapp said. "We made some progress. I’m very pleased with the fact that we’re the top 10 in passing and we’ve improved in the running game the last six weeks. We’re not where we need to be in scoring points. That’s what I’d like to get better at, finishing drives and getting more big plays for touchdowns."

The Raiders are averaging 19.1 points in 2012, after scoring 22.4 points a year ago. And while that is considered a "team" stat -- you can score on special teams as well as on defense -- the point is clear.

More time together in the system should remedy things, Knapp said.

"Hopefully, more consistency and higher scoring points, because we’re not able to keep those drives long enough right now to get the points on the board, so by keeping the system in place and keeping the bulk of the players here, now we keep the drives alive and we get our point total up into the mid-20s, and that’s what we want to be," he said.

"If you’re in the mid-20s to high 20s, you’re going to be in the top 10 of the league in scoring, and that’s ultimately what has to happen because to get 11 guys on the same page you need some reps and experience together and with a year’s offseason work of that and a better offseason system, the performance level usually goes up the next season."

According to the Associated Press, though, in his three previous stops as an offensive coordinator, in San Francisco, Atlanta and Oakland, Knapp's teams' scoring went down in Year 2 by 1.1 points per game and yards gained have also went down by 4.5 yards per game.

Still, Oakland is a different animal, and he even compared it to a "start-up" in the business model in training camp. Many saw this year's Raiders team as an expansion franchise, of sorts, with so many new and moving parts.

Asked if he thought the pieces were in place for the offensive scheme to work well next year, Knapp was sure of it.

"But I think there’s still going to have to be pieces added," Knapp said. "It’s always an evolving process. I was at Houston, right, the last two years, so my first year in Houston we finished, I believe it was 6-10. That was the fifth year in the system. They had just finished, I think, 30th or 32nd in running. Then, all of a sudden, a guy named Arian Foster showed up, undrafted.

"You don’t know who’s going to add, that’s a part of this profession. The system is going to be in place but you’re going to change the pieces because of the salary cap, because of the draft and free agency, and sometimes that guy that comes in fits the system so well it takes off in itself and so there’s always going to be change. We look to help add to the system next year as well."

Will a Gruden-Lynch partnership work? ‘Guys like him interest me’

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AP

Will a Gruden-Lynch partnership work? ‘Guys like him interest me’

Jon Gruden asked to speak with Marshawn Lynch several times but got turned down.

His job title earned an automatic veto. The enigmatic running back doesn’t talk to the press, even a Monday Night Football analyst with Gruden’s street cred. No production meetings, no insight flowing outside the inner circle.

Lynch must honor the next request. Gruden’s his boss, after all.

“I’m anxious to sit down with Marshawn and meet him,” the new Raiders head coach said Tuesday during his introductory press conference. “We’ll talk about his future and the Raiders. I can’t wait. He came back to the Raiders for similar, I think, reasons that I did. I think he loves Oakland. I think he loves the Raiders and guys like him interest me, so I’m looking forward to talking to him.”

The veteran running back and Oakland native has a year left on a two-year deal struck last April. The 2018 payouts, per overthecap.com, include a $4 million base salary, a $250,000 workout bonus, a $1 million roster bonus and $750,000 in per-game roster bonuses. There are also significant performance-based incentives.

Marshawn is under contract, but also has some say in this matter. He could post an image of cleats hanging on a telephone wire like he did after the 2016 Super Bowl and call it a career. Lynch made it clear in a rare press conference that he didn’t miss football. He returned for the opportunity to play in front of a East Bay community he champions and bring attention to his significant charitable efforts.

There are several possible outcomes from the Gruden/Lynch tete-a-tete. Gruden might not consider him worth the while. Lynch may walk away, for good this time. Or, the two could traverse 2018 together.

Predicting Marshawn’s movements is a fool’s errand. We can, however, make an educated pros and cons list. Let’s take a look at some factors influencing the ultimate outcome.

PROS

-- The phrase in Gruden’s last sentence above may have tipped his hand: “Guys like him interest me.” Lynch is an intense presence, one of his generation’s most physical runners. Gruden can use on-field talents like him, though it’s uncertain whether he’s a perfect fit in an offense that has certainly evolved during nine years in the broadcast booth.

Also, Gruden loves Oakland. Lynch loves Oakland. That may be a good starting point.

-- Marshawn still has it. The 31-year old was the Raiders’ most productive skill player in 2017’s second half. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the last season games, totaling 625 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also had at least 92 yards total offense in five of those contests. When he’s motivated and healthy – he didn’t miss a single practice with injury – Lynch can be a force on the ground

-- Gruden reportedly hired Tom Cable as offensive line coach a few days back. That’s probably a plus from Lynch’s perspective. Cable was Seattle offensive line coach, and heavily involved in the running game, during Lynch’s best seasons. He ran a system that fit Lynch well, though Gruden said schemes will be based around team strengths. Lynch and Cable reportedly get along well, and could be a major reason why Lynch finds it appetizing to return.

-- Lynch carried locker room clout. Last year’s coaching staff didn’t love him, but player certainly did.

CONS

-- Lynch comes with some baggage. He’s an eccentric sort who does his own thing, at times without regard for small rules. That may rub Gruden and staff the wrong way. It certainly bothered Del Rio’s crew, especially when he seemed to have his own set of rules.

The Raiders tolerated Lynch’s choice to sit during the national anthem all year, despite being vocal against such actions the year before. He also had a production crew following him around quite often, especially in camp.

He got suspended for sticking up for the other team in Week 7, protecting great friend, Oakland native and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters in an on-field altercation. He then practiced with his old high school during the suspension.

Gruden may not love the prospect of dealing with extra weight, depending on how strict he plans to be during this coaching tenure.

-- Lynch turns 32 in April. While Lynch might be an exception, running backs often fall off a production cliff in their early 30s. Can the Raiders get good value from Lynch at that age, knowing full well another running back might be added to the roster?

-- Lynch may simply not be into another year in Oakland. He enjoyed taking 2016 off, travelling the world and increasing charitable and business endeavors. Is his drive still strong?

Report: Former Raiders head coach returning to join Gruden's staff

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AP

Report: Former Raiders head coach returning to join Gruden's staff

Jon Gruden isn’t the only Raiders head coach returning to the Silver and Black.

Tom Cable’s on the way, albeit in a lesser role. Gruden already has the top job. Cable’s coming back, NFL Network reported Saturday afternoon, as offensive line coach.

He occupied that role in Oakland from 2007 until he assumed the head coach role when Lane Kiffin was fired five games into the 2008 season. The interim tag was lifted in 2009, and he coached the Raiders to an 8-8 record in 2010.

He followed that feat with the now famous quote, “We’re not losers anymore.” The Raiders had seven straight losing seasons before finishing .500 in what would be Cable’s last season with the club. He was 17-27 in two-plus seasons as Raiders head coach.

He went to Seattle after that, and spent seven seasons as Seahawks assistant head coach in charge of the offensive line. He also worked extensively with Marshawn Lynch during the rusher’s salad days in Seattle.

Cable returning to the Raiders seemed highly unlikely after late owner Al Davis detailed Cable’s misgivings in a post-firing press conference. Cable was allegedly involved in a 2009 incident where then Raiders assistant Randy Hanson was left with a broken jaw. ESPN also aired a report where three women accused Cable of domestic violence. One of Cable’s accusers sued Cable and named the Raiders as a co-defendant. Davis docked Cable’s pay in relation to that litigation.

Cable is a respected position coach, though the Seahawks offensive line has fallen on hard times. He and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were fired after a disappointing season where the Seahawks missed the postseason.

Offensive line coach was a top priority as Gruden built a staff. Cable is known for using a zone blocking scheme, though it remains uncertain what he’ll use in Oakland with a powerful, expensive offensive front locked in place save the right tackle spot.