Raiders still struggling to find their explosive offense


Raiders still struggling to find their explosive offense

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders called a timeout with a second left in Sunday’s first half against Buffalo. The Bills called another to get their house in order.

They were 47 yards from pay dirt.

Coordinator Todd Downing called for three receivers to head downfield and quarterback Derek Carr to launch one up for grabs. The ball was checked down instead. Jalen Richard got 15 yards. The half ended with an opportunity.

It was a low-percentage play, to be sure. Success likely wouldn’t have reversed a 34-14 result that dropped the Raiders to 3-5.

It has been a hot topic this week nonetheless, epitomizing the Raiders lack of offensive explosiveness. Big plays are hard to come by these days, including the Buffalo game. So, seemingly, is their willingness to stretch the field.

There are, however, two contrary examples. They threw all over the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. That explosive offense is in the Raiders somewhere. It’s part of the team’s offensive identity, which requires two things: Physical rushing and skill players lighting up with ball in hand.

Fans saw it in Week 7 against the Chiefs, but didn’t get an encore in Buffalo. The non-Hail Mary at the end of the first half frustrated fans to no end.

Deep shots were called against Buffalo. They just didn’t get executed often.

“We ran some people down the field. It’s not like we didn’t call the shots and run people in those spots,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “They either covered it or their progression may have taken them somewhere else, but it certainly was not a complete change in approach saying, ‘Hey we’re going to take shots against the Chiefs and when we’re in Buffalo, we’re not.’”

Carr defended his decision on that first-half closer, and has repeatedly said he looks vertical first and short second when the progression’s complete. Head coach Jack Del Rio said Carr could be more patient to let big plays develop.

The Raiders rank 13th with 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards, but they expected to be near the top with so many weapons. That hasn’t happened, and criticism has come with a low volume of attempts.

“We’re correcting everything,” Carr said. “I take it all in, ‘Yes, sir, whatever you want.’ But at the same time, I’m going to continue to play the game how I think it’s best for our team.”

Carr liked the game plan vs. the Bills. He hasn’t criticized play calling this season despite opportunities to do so as answers are sought why a talented offense continues to scuffle and play below high expectations. Downing hasn’t singled out his quarterback, saying everybody shares blame from a disappointing first half of the season. They remain together and committed to solving problems.

“Things get blown up when you lose,” Carr said. “When you’re winning and it’s going good, oh yeah, you hit a couple of them; you have to take what they give you. That’s just how it works. I’ve been doing this now a little bit too long to understand that.”

That makes sense. Take the easy yards, especially when the ball remains out of harm’s way. The Raiders haven’t been consistent enough to cash in regularly with that strategy. Too often a long drive goes off track. Offense can dictate tempo, and take even what a defense wants to eliminate with calculated risk.

“I think that is a fine line, and I think sometimes the defense is giving you more than what you may originally think,” Downing said. “So, it’s my job to design a good game plan that attacks the softness in defenses or the vulnerabilities, if you will. And (it’s) also my job or the coaching staff’s job to get people in the right place at the right time so that we can go out and execute. So, we’ll continue to improve in all of those areas and look forward to the second half of the season.”

Jon Gruden disappointed by Khalil Mack's absence, Raiders not distracted

Jon Gruden disappointed by Khalil Mack's absence, Raiders not distracted

The Raiders spent three calendar weeks training in wine country. Khalil Mack wasn’t there a single second.

The Raiders edge rusher is withholding services waiting for a massive, long-term contract extension. He doesn’t have one. Not yet, anyway.

That’ why he wasn’t in Napa when veterans reported July 26 and wasn’t there Thursday when camp formally closed.

Mack’s hold out has captured nationally on sports talk on several mediums – they just love the drama – but Gruden insists Mack’s absence been a distraction. But…

“It has obviously, for me, been disappointing,” Gruden said Wednesday. “You want to have your best player here. This guy is really a great guy, too. I’m disappointed we don’t have him here.

“We’re going to try to get him here as soon as we can. In the time being, you got to move on. You’ve got to get up and go to work. That’s one thing I’m very proud of what we’ve done here.”

The Raiders hope Mack reports soon, and nothing has changed regarding their desire to sign him to a long-term contract extension they know won’t be cheap.

And, no, they don’t currently have plans to trade Mack.

Mack’s an elite edge rusher, excellent against the run, remains in impeccable and never, ever gets in trouble. He’s the type of player teams want to pay, especially those ready to enter a new market.

The Raiders understand that and want Mack with the team posthaste.

"Mack's the best player coming off the edge in football. That's our opinion,” Gruden said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL radio. "We're determined to find a way to get him in here, get him a contract, and get on with life.

“This is a negotiation. Joel Segal is Khalil’s agent. They’ve got their plan. General manager Reggie McKenzie and the people negotiating on our end have a plan. I’m coaching the team. At this time, he’s not here, and we have to focus on what we can control, and that’s just working.”

Mack is currently under contract, set to make $13,846 million on a fifth-year team option of his rookie contract applicable only to first-round picks.

Derek Carr has shown mastery of Jon Gruden’s scheme in short time

Derek Carr has shown mastery of Jon Gruden’s scheme in short time

Jon Gruden heaps responsibility on his quarterback. That’s true of most NFL schemes, but the Raiders head coach challenges his signal callers know all the terminology and concepts and adjustments and variables built into most every play.

He tests them constantly, changing defensive looks in practice, forcing quarterbacks to recall details on call in front of team meetings. It’s hard to handle by design.

Few can handle it well. Rich Gannon was one. Derek Carr is another.

The Raiders current franchise quarterback’s comprehension rate and recall under pressure has been welcome, but his insatiable desire for more might impress Gruden most.

“I think he’s one of the best, in terms of processing information,” Gruden said. “I think he craves new things. He wants more… ‘What do we have today? What are we doing today? What’s new? What do we got?’ He has a photographic memory. It comes so easy to him. He’s got the offense mastered more than I do.”

That last part’s hyperbole, but his exaggeration’s meant to make a point. Carr is pushing hard to get Gruden’s scheme down cold and apply its rules like his coach would.

Carr’s mastery is evident in practice, where he seems in complete control of the first unit. That has combined with his arm strength, quick release and accuracy that gives many confidence Carr will thrive this regular season and beyond working with Gruden. It might not have come quite so easy.

“There’s a lot of hard work for sure, a lot of hours spent trying to master it,” Carr said. “You think like he thinks, which has been fun and interesting for me to learn.

“In order to do that, the time you have to put in is a lot. It’s a lot. And both of us worked really hard on getting on the same page. I think we’re always going to continue to grow together and think about things differently and then figure it out. The main thing is when we hit the field, that’s us, that’s what he and I are putting on the field, the product at the same time. We didn’t want it to look like we’ve only been together for a short period of time. We wanted it to look like these guys have been around each other, it seems, like forever.”

Carr and Gruden have come a long way in a relatively short time. Learning a system like this takes time and includes several stages, starting with root concepts and terminology. The quarterback said the early days were spent cramming for a test, memorizing a ton early on. Gruden is constantly teaching new things, but continues to review and repeat to help quarterbacks learn.

“He does a great job, his teaching, progression for quarterbacks, the system, every single day he’ll hit on the new things but he’ll always remind you of what we did the past couple days,” Carr said. “So, you’re hitting it about seven to eight times before you really move on, to where it really becomes repetition and you become used to it.

“It has been a lot of work to get to the point to where it’s not just, ‘yeah, I memorized something on a paper.’ Well, I have to memorized every detail of it, and then know it inside and out and still know the defense inside and out and how do we beat it, how do we get to certain things? Initially, it was just, ‘what can I remember?’ As you continue to reference it and go back over it, it just becomes who we are.”