Downing: Raiders offense found groove, overcame growing pains


Downing: Raiders offense found groove, overcame growing pains

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper lined up in the slot on 2nd-down-and-7, preparing to run five yards before breaking across the field to his right. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr believed his top receiver would be isolated in Kansas City’s zone coverage.

Pre-snap, he already knew where to go.

Cooper ran the route perfectly. Carr waited until he reached a hole in the zone before delivering a 15-yard strike. Cooper caught in stride, turn on the jets and blew through the Chiefs secondary.

Touchdooown, Rrrraaaaaiders.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing reached a fist toward the sky, hopped a few times in celebration.

“Watching Coop light up when he took that (crossing route) and scored while outrunning three defenders,” Downing said Wednesday on the Raiders Insider Podcast, “with good transition by blockers on the perimeter as well, that play kind of fired us up.”

It wasn’t just about a score or an early lead Thursday over Kansas City.

That’s how the Raiders offense is supposed to look. Cooper’s touchdown was a perfect play, from scheme to call to execution. Design created a favorable matchup. Protection provided time. Quarterback capitalized on defensive vulnerability. Playmaker turned and burned.

It was a signature moment for Downing and the Raiders offense. They were Clark Kent a long time, scoring 13.1 points per game during a four-game losing streak. That was a Superman play.

The Raiders stayed in costume during a 31-30 victory over the rival Chiefs, showing their true offensive identity in a crucial Week 7 win.

The offense rolls when four things happen: Protection holds. Backs run hard. Receivers “light up” with ball in hand. Carr comes through in the clutch.

That happened against K.C. Carr pushed the ball downfield at times. Receivers created yards after the catch at others. The rushing attack wasn’t overpowering, but holes were available and backs ran hard. The Raiders took calculated risks, and consistently grabbed yards in chunks. Downing’s scheme helped facilitate those actions. He hopes that’s the end of an offensive slump cause by some early-season growing pains, and that good times will continue Sunday against Buffalo.

“Anytime you’re putting a new player or coach in a prominent position, whether it’s play calling or play making, you’re going to have some bumps in the road,” Downing said. “It’s a matter of how you respond to them. We’ve have far too many bumps the previous four weeks, but we started to find our groove on Thursday night and we were able to highlight some strengths and weaknesses better than we have in the past.”

The Raiders gained 505 yards, averaging 6.9 per play. Carr threw for 417 and led a heroic comeback. The ground game averaged 4.2 yards per carry. They were solid on third and fourth down combined.

Another stat was most important. The Raiders ran 71, after averaging 54 the previous six games. That allowed Downing to find rhythm as a play caller.

“One of the things hindering us the most over our little slump was that we weren’t able to get enough plays,” Downing said. “We weren’t able to sustain drives. It’s hard to stay on schedule with first and second down calls and stay with things you’re trying to set up, whether it’s play-actions or repeating runs you’ve adjusted on the sideline. We were able to run 70-plus plays Thursday, which allowed us to repeat some run adjustments hit some play action that we set up.”

This breakthrough came because Downing didn’t waver. Sure, he made some schematic adjustments. His process didn’t change. He didn’t flip the script, and remained confident improvement would come.

“There was no difference in him,” Carr said. “When we did well, he celebrated with us, when we did bad, he coached it. He didn’t come and demean people or anything like that. He was him. That says a lot about his character and it’s so encouraging going forward knowing that we went through some adversity, but when that good day came we were still the same. We were like, ‘Hey, that was awesome but now we have to move on.’ To see that it didn’t change was really cool.”

Doug Martin ready, willing to mentor Raiders first-round RB Josh Jacobs


Doug Martin ready, willing to mentor Raiders first-round RB Josh Jacobs

Doug Martin has spent most of his career as a feature running back, with some standout seasons to show for it. His career entered another phase last season, when he joined the Raiders knowing full well he’d be a backup.

Marshawn Lynch was the primary option when he signed up, and steady carries proved hard to come by as an understudy even with head coach/offensive play caller Jon Gruden’s propensity for using multiple backs. Lynch deserved the workload he got, and Jalen Richard was a change-of-pace back off the bench.

Martin went full-time after Lynch’s season-ending groin injury, and churned out a respectable 4.2 yards per carry. He wasn’t able to find another solid opportunity in free agency, and was unemployed when the Raiders drafted Josh Jacobs and signed Isaiah Crowell’s injury.

Crowell’s torn Achilles’ tendon brought Martin back to the Silver and Black, with zero a second time with zero allusions of being the feature back. He came here to counsel Jacobs, and take over in an unexpected pinch.

He was frank about that fact after Tuesday’s OTA session.

“Josh Jacobs, he’s a good kid, with good character,” Martin said. “You all heard his story, I read up on it myself. I commend him for being as strong as he is, and that being said I came here to mentor, push him, show him that I’ve been in the league eight years, so I am a vet now. I can’t believe it, but that’s the case and so I’m here to just be that role model for him. If he has any questions, I’m here for him to ask them. Like I said, he has good character, but at the same time he looks like he can just run you over, so he’s going to be great for the team.”

Martin definitely wanted a shot at steady carries, especially after leading the team with 723 rushing yards and four touchdowns primarily as a first-and-second-down back.

A Raiders reunion seemed likely at first, though the sides couldn’t agree on terms and Martin remained a free agent deep into the offseason. That was worrisome, but Martin insists it didn’t cause great consternation.

“If something doesn’t go your way, you just have to stay optimistic and, I was being optimistic with the situation,” Martin said. “I knew I was going to be somewhere and do good things, but it’s just crazy how things folded out. I wish happy healing to Isaiah Crowell for his Achilles' (tendon injury), but, when there is chaos you just make a positive out of negative and you just got to stay optimistic about it.”

He’s back with the Raiders, understanding his role as mentor and backup capable of playing well on early downs.

This mentor/protégé partnership could work, considering how much Jacobs and Martin have in common. Both guys were first-round picks, with the Raiders adding Jacobs at No. 24 this year, and Tampa Bay taking Martin at No. 31 in 2012.

They also have similar builds, with Jacobs standing 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and Martin at 5-9, 223. Both guys can slash through the interior, with enough speed to pop good runs outside.

Martin had nearly 2,000 yard total offense (on 368 touches!!) as a rookie, a sum the Raiders would gladly take from Jacobs early on.

Nearly a decade separates them and the Raiders are looking to get younger across the board, making this Jacobs’ time to shine.

This will be the first time Martin has assumed a mentorship role, but he’s ready for it.

“It’s not something I’m used to but it’s something that I want to do,” Martin said. “I’ve been in the league eight years. I’ve been through the whole spectrum of good to bad in this league and, if I can teach somebody, if I can teach Josh on what to do, what not to do, how to stay in on the narrow path and just keep his eye on the goal, then I’m here for that. And, yeah, I’m grateful.”

NFL rumors: Raiders-Packers to play Week 3 preseason game in Winnipeg


NFL rumors: Raiders-Packers to play Week 3 preseason game in Winnipeg

Buckle up, Winnipeg, Jon Gruden and the Raiders are coming to town.

It was reported in March that the Raiders were looking to play one of their four preseason games in Canada and now it appears they have found a site for that game.

The Raiders will play the Green Bay Packers in Winnipeg for their third preseason game, Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press reported Friday.

The Raiders have been looking to move one of their preseason games for some time, to mitigate some of the increased rent from their 2019 lease with Oakland Coliseum, and have honed on playing north of the border. The rent amount will decrease with a game off the schedule, a clause that was written into a new lease agreement with a revenue that is expected to host the Raiders one more season before the team is scheduled to relocate to Las Vegas in 2020.

It makes sense to play the Green Bay Packers in Canada, considering their close proximity to the country.

The Raiders originally looked at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. That deal proved difficult, and the Raiders moved on to other Canadian options. Winnipeg was the best fit, and a formal deal seems to be in the cards.

The Raiders or Packers have not made a formal announcement, despite being less than three months from the game.

Oakland began Phase Three of its offseason program Tuesday when organized team activities began in Alameda.

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Derek Carr vs. Aaron Rodgers in a "dress rehearsal game" isn't bad NFL treat for the fine folks of Winnipeg. Enjoy.