Don’t blame Reggie McKenzie for Oakland Raiders woes.
Yesterday, the news from fellow NFL reporter and All-Things-Baltimore-expert Jason LaCanfora over at CBS Sports is that Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie will be let go at the end of the season.
While it’s was a good idea to take a wait-and-see view of this what really is rumor at that point, let’s also point to what must be seen as fact: the Raiders 2 and 10 record and now 3 and 10 record at this point of the 2018 NFL Season is the fault of one man: Head Coach Jon Gruden.
But, as the Raiders under owner Mark Davis do, there must be consistently mindless front-office tinkering. Consider that working backward, Davis brought in Gruden in 2018, swiched offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators in 2017, left the team leadership alone in 2016 after first bringing in Jack Del Rio in 2015, and..you get the idea.
Each year, we’re promised that the Raiders will be better because changes were made. It’s the ultimate fooler: get a name here or there to mask the fact that there’s no confidence in the plan that’s in place. The latest chapter in the Raiders book of “let’s get rid of someone and bring in a name” is the one called “Jon Gruden.” As I’ve said before, all of us love Jon Gruden and believed his Return to the Raiders (cause that’s how it felt) would be the difference maker. Then, reality hit.
To make a long story short, the fact that Jon Gruden’s coaching methods have seen better days was evident against the Rams in the first game. Adjustments to a game plan make the difference between winning and losing. Not adjusting to what the opponent does during the game has been the Raiders problem on offense and defense.
Against Los Angeles, the Rams consistently presented a defensive front with no middle linebacker. The Raiders never once changed plays to take advantage of this obvious weakness up the middle. One would think there would be a way to change the play, but the coaches have to tell the quarterback to do that – the player’s not encouraged to do that on his own. So, Derek Carr’s placed in the position of handing off to Marshawn Lynch on off-tackle plays away from the obvious between the guards weakness. The Rams played the entire first half that way, and managed to get into the halftime unharmed; they corrected the issue and closed the hole with Ndamukong Suh in the second half.
With all that, it’s easy to explain the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers: the Raiders on Defense played toward the more aggressive game plan that should have been in place from game one. On offense, their was greater use of read-option-style passes, but even then, the running game produced just 55 yards, and that was due to bad play design on Gruden’s part.
That is but one example in a season full of them that could form a long book. Considering that Davis committed to spend $100 million on Gruden, one has to ask what he expected? The simple answer is “wins,” but my answer is this: innovative offense and defense. Gruden teased that would come when he made comments that implied Derek Carr would run the ball more this year. I didn’t expect Carr to be the next Michael Vick, but a series of plays and an approach that moved him around often was welcome.
Instead, what we got was that kind of offense on rare occasions, and Carr left to be a sitting duck more the norm. Overall, there was, and has been, nothing new: formations and approaches that cause one to say “That’s new, cool, and it works.” No attention paid to time-motion studies. And, in all, a sad performance.
And then there was Defense. Paul Gunther’s to be credited with a more aggressive scheme but even then, there’s a lack of attention paid to gap control. That written, overall, the Raiders Defense has been more effective, more often. But it’s not designed to be a unit that can take over a game, and that’s the fault of the design: it’s one thing to have a 4-3 single-gap system, but another to not blitz out of that approach. There are many times where a “Bear-look” front, a cornerback blitz here or a strong-safety or rover blitz there, would have stopped an opponent’s drive. But the Raiders personality wasn’t to do that a lot, and it cost them.
In this update, Reggie was officially fired from the Oakland Raiders about an hour-and-a-half ago.