Raiders

Downing will make subtle changes to Raiders offense, looking for greater efficiency

Downing will make subtle changes to Raiders offense, looking for greater efficiency

New Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing  has been given the keys to a Corvette, not a clunker.

He understands that fact. That’s why he won’t start from scratch in his first season running the show.

He doesn't see a reason to change much from a Raiders attack that scored 26 points per game last season and was productive on the ground and through the air.

“I believe in efficiency. And if we’re efficient in a concept, I am not going to go changing it just for change’s sake," Downing said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call. "If we’re inefficient or we failed to live up to expectations in a certain concept, then I am going to figure out a way to tinker with it and make it work. If I can’t make it work, we simply won’t do it anymore.”

Downing is currently evaluating what worked in 2016, and what didn’t. He’ll search for ways to improve a talented unit without losing the continuity key to offensive progress with a personnel group expected to remain largely the same heading into the 2017 season.

Franchise quarterback Derek Carr and a hulking offensive line led last year’s efforts and will do so again next season. Carr will continue having freedom at the line of scrimmage and will have input in the game plan. Downing says there will be differences from last year’s offense, but they won’t be major.

“It will be very subtle,” Downing said. “We’re going to keep the same system terminology. There’s no reason to change any of that stuff. All we’re doing right now is finding the ways that we can all individually do our jobs better, prepare our positions better and how we can just quarter turn a couple things to make the offense as efficient as possible.”

Efficiency doesn’t always mean high yards per play. At times it’s about getting first downs and vital yards, areas where head coach Jack Del Rio was critical of his offense. He wanted to play “big boy ball” at times, using old school tactics in the run game to pick up important yards.

The running game was productive as a whole with 120 yards per game, but it could be consistently better and Downing said it might need some tweaks.

Del Rio thought his offensive staff needed some tweaks as well. That's why he let Bill Musgrave leave on an expired contract. He wanted to keep Downing in silver and black, especially as his young offensive mind drew interest from other clubs. Downing had a year left on his contract, which included a clause allowing him to interview for offensive coordinator jobs outside the organization. 

The Raiders didn't want Downing to leave, especially considering his strong relationship with Carr. Del Rio made a switch shortly after a playoff loss at Houston that caught some off guard. 

"I wouldn’t characterize it as a surprise because I’m ready for anything that comes my way in this profession, but I was looking forward to the opportunity to run an offense somewhere in the NFL in 2017," Downing said. "I just feel really fortunate that Coach Del Rio has the trust in me, moving forward, to have that opportunity be here.”

 

Downing’s transition from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator has been smooth thus far. The offensive staff remains intact save Musgrave – he’s now Denver’s quarterbacks coach – which has helped Downing hit the offseason evaluation hard.

“It’s an incredible blessing to have my first opportunity come this way,” Downing said. “I know everyone on the staff very well. I know how to communicate with them and what makes them tick, which gives me a great head start in that vein. We’re going through offseason cut-ups from last year, and we’ll able to have real and honest conversations about that without them feeling like I’m taking shots at their position. They know I was in the trenches with them.”

Scott Linehan isn’t in the trenches with Downing anymore, but his teachings certainly are. Dallas’ offensive coordinator was Downing’s mentor during stints in Minnesota and Detroit, and helped shape his philosophy in regard to game planning and play calling.

“He’s really my mentor in this profession,” Downing said. “He raised me, taught me how to coach quarterbacks. He taught me how to put together a game plan, so I certainly will use a lot of what he taught me.

“I think what’s unique about the situation here is I’m not installing an offense from the ground up. There is already a system in place and there is a lot about this system, to use a phrase before, that’s not broke. So, there will be things that we do a little differently than I did in my time with Scott, but he certainly is probably the biggest shaping influence in terms of how I will play out as an offensive coordinator.”

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

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USATSI

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

ALAMEDA – Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has a good feel for Tom Brady. He faced New England’s legendary quarterback three times as Seattle’s linebackers coach, with some positive results. The Seahawks won two regular-season games and lost the Super Bowl at the last second.

He knows what worked then, and believes that should help prepare the Raiders defense for what’s coming Sunday in Mexico City.

“I played Brady a couple years ago in the Super Bowl with Seattle. We played very well against him,” Norton said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve had some success against him so I have a good feel for what can be done and what cannot be done. It’s just a matter of having the right emphasis and the ability to make the plays.

“Having a guy like (Brady) on the team who’s capable at any point of throwing a deep ball, capable at any point of getting it to the right players at the right time. He understands who is around him. He understands how to get the ball to the guys. He’s got a long resume of doing it well.”

Having success against Brady, however, is a relative term. He still produced against a loaded Seattle defense far better than this year’s Raiders unit. He will produce again Sunday, even if most goes right. Limitation, however, if key.

Norton believes certain things are essential when facing a Patriots team. Sure tackling. Impacting the quarterback.

The first is vital, something the Raiders have done well save a Week 9 win over Miami. The Raiders have to limit explosives and keep the ball in front of them, especially with the way Brady likes to play.

“The Patriots do a really good job of underneath coverage,” Norton said. “They have guys that catch and run really well. The backs, the tight ends, the matchups underneath, they catch and make people miss. They try to match up with your linebackers and safeties. They feel like their guys are pretty good. Tackling is something we’ve been really outstanding with all year but this last game against Miami we didn’t do so well and it kind of stands out, especially when it’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.

“I really feel like our emphasis and what we do well matches up well with that they try to do.”

There are some problem spots. One is limiting deep shots, something Brady has unleashed with startling efficiency. He’s 19-for47 for 410 yards and four touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards, with speedsters Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett able to haul them in. The Raiders have proven vulnerable to track-star receivers. 

Impacting Brady is mandatory, but also difficult given his excellent pocket presence. He’s especially good at feeling pressure off the edge, where reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack typically lines up opposite Bruce Irvin.

Brady has proven vulnerable to interior pressure, which is why Mario Edwards Jr. will be an X-factor on passing downs. He has four sacks this season and needs to break free in the backfield to force difficult decisions or, at the very lest, disrupt New England’s timing.

Brady gets rid of the ball fast at times. Raiders rushers can’t get frustrated by that, especially Mack.

“If the quarterback is going to throw the ball in less than two seconds, it’s going to be tough to get there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “So when the quarterback is throwing the ball quick like that, we’ve got to tackle and have their punt team come out. They’ll get tired of punting or turning the ball over and they’ll sit and hold the ball a little bit and Khalil can get there. If they’re throwing the ball in two seconds or less, it’s going to be hard to get sacks.”

The Raiders only have 13 sacks this season, second worst in the NFL. Getting a few could swing a tight game. Norton’s Raiders believe they have a solid plan to mitigate somewhat the Patriots ferocious attack, that features versatile tight ends allowing them to do different things from one personnel package.

Don’t expect a shutout, or anything close. The Raiders understand that, but believe they can mitigate some damage.

“If you go back to the New England Patriots five, six, eight years ago they’re doing similar things,” Norton said. “They do what they do really well. They’re a fine-tuned machine. Everybody knows exactly what their role is. Guys know exactly what’s expected of them. Obviously the quarterback is the heart and soul and the one that makes that train run. Really, really good players that really understand what their role is and play well against leverage, run after catch, tough and they make plays.”

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

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AP

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

The Raiders gave quarterback Derek Carr a massive contract extension last June. Right guard Gabe Jackson got paid later that month.

Khalil Mack’s big deal is coming, likely this offseason. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a deal getting done, and hopes Mack’s agent feels the same way.

Mack’s rep and Raiders contract folks will work out details of a massive contract extension. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have interest in all that. He has one preference above all.

Mack doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants to stay with the Raiders long term.

“Of course. That’s not even a question,” Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, which airs in this week's episode of "Raiders Central." “That’s a no-brainer for me, especially when you think about coming into this organization and try to build something special, that’s something you want to be a part of for a lifetime”

Mack has plenty of money, top-5 overall draft picks often do. The No. 5 selection in 2014 considered that first deal life-changing money, enough to help his family.

“That has been a treat for me so far,” Mack said.

He doesn’t daydream about signing a nine-figure contract. He doesn’t long to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player (although that might be in the cards, anyway).

“I’m not really even thinking about that,” Mack said. “I’m thinking about the Patriots, that’s just my focus that’s just my mindset – anybody who talked to me about that matter, whether it be my best friend, my mom, my dad, I tell them the same thing. I’m thinking about the Patriots and sacking Tom Brady.”

That, unlike signing a record contract, was a career a goal. Mack said in a post-draft press conference he wanted to sack legends. Peyton Manning and Brady topped the list.

Manning retired before Mack could check his box. Mack will have a second chance at Brady Sunday when the Raiders play New England in Mexico City. He had eight tackles and two quarterback hits against Brady’s Patriots in 2014, but didn’t bring the quarterback down.

Mack considered his third regular season game a welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

The University of Buffalo alum has accomplished a ton since then, with 34.5 sacks and last year’s top defensive honor to his credit. He’ll need a Herculean performance against the Patriots to help the Raiders win a pivotal game. A sack would certainly help, but Mack isn’t calling his shot.

“Yeah, I’m not one to talk,” Mack said. “I’ll express that when I get on the field, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to play against him.”