Todd Downing

Downing: Raiders offense off track, answers exist ‘in our scheme’

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AP

Downing: Raiders offense off track, answers exist ‘in our scheme’

ALAMEDA – Todd Downing has friends with fantasy football teams. Those faux general managers, like many across the roto world, took Raiders with high draft picks.

They would like to know why Derek Carr isn’t throwing touchdowns in bulk, Amari Cooper’s in a slump and Marshawn Lynch isn’t getting more carries.

“I have friends that have him on their fantasy team that are mad at me for that,” Downing said after Wednesday’s practice. “That’s part of the business.”

Ah, the life of an NFL coordinator. Players get credit when things go right. Play callers sit over a Bunsen burner the rest of the time.

Downing understands that part of this gig.

“I welcome the responsibility that this job has afforded me,” he said. “I understand that I’m going to have to deal with negative comments and consequences when things aren’t going well. I’m looking forward to standing up here in a more positive fashion some time soon.”

Positives were expected right away. He was given the keys to a Lamborghini with a franchise quarterback under center, 1,000-yard receivers on each flank, an older back considered among the best of his generation, and the NFL’s biggest and most expensive offensive line.

The Raiders ranked No. 6 in total offense before adding Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency. Now they’re 30th heading into Thursday night’s game against Kansas City.

The mob is lighting torches, armed with pitchforks. After six weeks.

Everyone has an opinion on what’s wrong and how to fix this offense. More interior runs, less outside zone. More play action, please. Go deep, a lot. Have Derek hold on to the ball longer. Have Derek get rid of it quick. Do all that at once. Do it now.

Downing’s going to stick with his system. The Raiders will stick with their process, thank you very much, with faith that things will turn.

“When you look at the tape, you can see that we’re so close on so many things,” Downing said. “I know that sounds cliché and I know that sounds like someone sitting up here and trying to give you the rose-colored glasses, but it’s the truth. We know that we’re just this close to making a couple more plays each game and being able to come out on top and feeling like we put together a good product.

“…We’re looking for answers right now, but we know those answers exist in our room and in our scheme. Once we hit our stride, we’re excited to see what it looks like.”

There’s reason to believe that can happen. Take the season’s first two games, for example. The Raiders scored 71 points in that span. There’s talent everywhere in the starting lineup and behind it.

That’s why concern reigns during a four-game losing streak where the offense is averaging 13.1 points. They can’t sustain drives, come through on third down or block consistently in the run game. Their play count is dismally low. According to the Associated Press, the Raiders aver averaging 54 plays per game. Every other team has at least 60. The 2005 49ers were the last team that averaged such a sum. The Raiders haven’t had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher or a 100-yard receiver.

Offense is blamed for a dismal 2-4 start. Even the universally beloved Carr has taken some heat for lackluster performances.

“I don’t think there’s a single guy that can look back over the last few weeks and say, ‘You know what, I’m really pleased with how I’ve played over the last three weeks,’ or, ‘Called the last three weeks’ or, ‘Coached my position the last three weeks.’ We all own this together,” Downing said. “There’s no one guy that is going to save it or break it or anything in between. We need to do this as a team and everybody needs to make the plays they’re afforded the opportunity to make and I need to call the right plays when afforded the opportunity to call them.”

The Raiders can and must do better before falling further. Righting the ship too late to reach the season’s goals might hurt as much as a completely dismal campaign.

Pressing, however, isn’t the answer.

“You do have to stay patient,” Downing said. “I tell the offense this every week, but it’s never been more true than where we’re at now as an offense. We have a belief in what we’ve done this far, and the system we’ve put in place, and the playmakers we have in that room, and the coaches that are up in the room with me, and you will never see me waiver in my belief of any single one of those guys, including myself. If I did, and I started acting different or started calling games differently, then that would mean I didn’t really believe in the first place.”

Downing: Raiders offense a 'Swiss Army knife,' players will have input

Downing: Raiders offense a 'Swiss Army knife,' players will have input

ALAMEDA -- Todd Downing has made tweaks to the Raiders offense since becoming its coordinator. They’ve already been installed during the offseason program, and players are adjusting to them during OTAs.

Downing has implemented ideas on how to improve a productive system run by Bill Musgrave in two previous seasons, and players will execute that scheme as directed. They’ll also have some input in a system that's still evolving some. 

Much has been made about quarterback Derek Carr’s influence and freedom at the line of scrimmage. He’s always had that, even as a rookie. He will have more say in game plans, and be allowed to operate concepts where he feels comfortable. A quarterback, Downing says, is "an extension of the play caller."

While player input starts with the trigger man, it certainly doesn’t stop there. Downing’s ears are open to all suggestions.

“The players we have in this building garner a certain respect,” Downing said. “We have a great group of veterans and some really hard working young guys. I like taking feedback from them on ways we can adjust things. We were talking about adjustments to the system or little tweaks, sometimes it’s their idea.

“There’s no pride in authorship from me on how we’re going to do things. If there’s something that’s better suited to our players, I want to hear about it. It’s my job to digest that and be the filter or the funnel from all the broad scope ideas to see what fits our offense. As a whole, I just want our players to have confidence in what they’re doing. I think you can play faster when you’re confident. If you have a sense of ownership in the scheme, you’re going to play even faster.”

That open-door policy played out during Tuesday’s OTA session, when Downing talked shop with running back Marshawn Lynch during some downtime. It’s common practice during Downing’s interaction with players.

“I like to kind of be a walk-around guy that gets feedback during practice,” Downing said. “Sometimes it might be a downtime during special teams period or it might be in pre-practice when they’re stretching, but I certainly like to get every opportunity I can to get their feedback and make sure they feel like they have a voice.

“I tell the guys in the offensive meeting, there’s a sliding scale to that. If you’re a rookie and you’ve never taken a snap in the NFL, my attention span might not be that long, but if you’re Donald Penn or Rodney Hudson or one of those guys, I’ll listen.”

Downing has been given keys to a Ferrari, and wants to make it hum. He has an MVP candidate at quarterback, a power rusher in Lynch, one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and dynamic players in the passing game. He has great tools to exploit opposing weaknesses, and must continue finding the best ways to do so.

“I think I like to just look for matchups and try to exploit those matchups and let guys go win their one-on-one battles,” Downing said. “I think that the roster that (general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio) have put together gives us the ability to kind of be a Swiss Army knife and use whatever tool we need to. I’m excited about creating those matchups against the Raiders’ defense for a few more weeks here and into training camp, but then as we game plan as well.”

 

Raiders OC Todd Downing: New weapons will 'make me look good'

Raiders OC Todd Downing: New weapons will 'make me look good'

STANFORD – Todd Downing has long been responsible for intently analyzing college quarterbacks entering the NFL Draft. He certainly did so during two seasons as Raiders quarterbacks coach, adding input to personnel department evaluations on young signal callers.

This offseason, he’s using a wide-angle lens. Downing is the Raiders offensive coordinator now, promoted to the position after Bill Musgrave was allowed to leave on an expired contract.

Coaches enter the draft evaluation process relatively late – they have a season to coach, after all – but Downing prides himself on working hard in evaluating talent. Working with general manager Reggie McKenzie’s staff, coaches feel like their voice is being heard.

That’s important to a coordinator especially, who must make a scheme work with talent around him.

“Reggie and his staff have always done a tremendous job of listening to our vision for the offense or the defense,” Downing said Thursday at Stanford’s pro day. “It’s been a joy to work with those guys over the past three years.

“(Head coach Jack Del Rio) really expects us to be accountable for our position group. Now that I’m the coordinator, there’s more of a broad scope when looking at offensive talent in the draft. When you work that hard (evaluating players), I think the scouts know that your opinion is well grounded, and that validates it a little bit.”

Downing is always on the lookout for weapons, especially while making tweaks to the Raiders offense. The Silver and Black found a few, adding tight end Jared Cook, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, offensive lineman Marshal Newhouse and quarterback EJ Manuel.

Quarterback Derek Carr helped him get some. The full-time East Bay resident has been active recruiting free agents, trying to improve an already strong Raiders offense.

“You guys know how passionate he is about this game, and about this team and backing up this franchise,” Downing said. “(His involvement in recruiting) didn’t surprise any of us. He’s pretty hands on when it comes to football. He lives in the area, so he hopped in when we needed it and it paid off.”

Cook and Patterson especially could add dimensions to a well-rounded Raiders attack. Cook has made some big plays in the past, and should be a reliable receiving tight end the Raiders have lacked in recent seasons.

“He has a skill set that will be fun to play with (schematically),” Downing said. “We’re excited to see what he can do, and I know Derek is excited to add him. He has a history of making plays in this league, and that’s something we’re excited to have.”

Patterson’s primarily known as a kick returner – he’s a two-time All Pro on special teams – but the Raiders hope he’ll be active on offense.

“With guys like that, you just find a way to get them the rock and let them do the rest of the work,” Downing said. “They make me look good. I can call a simple play and he takes it the distance and it looks like I designed something special.”