Who to Blame for Oakland’s Offensive Struggles

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Let’s be real, while the defense of the Oakland Raiders has been mediocre at best this season, that’s not why they’re 6-7 right now. If you compare Oakland’s defense so far this season to what they put on the field last year, it’s actually a little better. They give up fewer yards and points per game. Thanks to a recent push, which may or may not be thanks to new defensive coordinator, John Pagano, the team has already registered more sacks than they did last season. No, while Oakland’s defense isn’t great, it’s not the reason they’re bad this year.

The reason the Oakland Raiders are far, far from the playoff contender we thought they’d be is the mind-boggling ineptitude of the offense. After being one of the NFL’s best offenses in 2016, they’ve been completely mediocre. Who is to blame? Here’s the answer.

Who to Blame for Oakland’s Offensive Struggles

In order to really explain this problem, you have to look at what Oakland’s offense did in 2016. Last season, the Oakland Raiders averaged 26 points and 373 yards per game, and while that’s impressive enough as is, you have to remember that they also played a devastating week 17 game without their quarterback, Derek Carr. Speaking of Mr. Carr, he was phenomenal last season.

In 2016, Carr was a bonafide MVP candidate. He was on pace for 4,200 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. Carr set the NFL record for most game-winning touchdown passes in a season. No matter what the adversity was, as long as number was in the game, Oakland had a chance, and no game epitomizes that more than the week 11 game against the Carolina Panthers.

With a healthy Carr, the Raiders were up 24-7, punctuated by a pick-six from Khalil Mack that basically locked up his defensive player of the year award. However, Carr injured his hand on a botched snap and temporarily left the game, allowing the Panthers to roar back, scoring 25 unanswered points. Carr rushed back into the game, and hastily threw an interception. However, when the game was on the line, Carr matched down the field, helped the Raiders score 11 points, and Mack sealed the win with a strip-sack.

That sums up what the 2016 Raiders were like. They weren’t perfect, but they were fun to watch. They were explosive, and as long as Carr had a clean pocket, anything was possible. Remember that? Those were the days, and those days are gone. 2017 is a completely different story.

A Good Dream

Some people hate nightmares, but I’ve always argued that waking up from a good dream when reality sucks is much harder. When you see the 2017 version of the team, they look like a rookie Madden player using All-Madden for the first time. They can’t seem to get any rhythm, there are virtually no explosive plays, and if you’ve watched five minutes of film, you can predict pretty much any Raiders drive.

When you compare the numbers, it’s disgusting. They average five fewer points and nearly 50 fewer yards per game. After being near the top ten in plays run last year, only the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals have run fewer plays than the Raiders this year. They’re terrible. Outside of the first two games and a random Thursday night miracle against Kansas City, the offense has been completely mediocre.

Let’s look at the reasons why. Because if you’re part of any Nation community, you’ve seen a lot of people getting blamed, and it’s time to get down to business. Here are the usual suspects, the people who have received the most blame and why.

The Usual Suspects

Public Enemy #1- Todd Downing

What’s the biggest difference between the two teams? The offensive coordinator. Last year, the offensive coordinator was the much maligned Bill Musgrave, who the Nation couldn’t stand because he was “too conservative” and they felt like he was holding Carr and the Raiders back. For the record, I didn’t feel that way, and here’s the proof.

His replacement? Derek Carr’s quarterback coach, Todd Downing. Downing hasn’t been a coordinator on any level, but it was believed that other teams were interested in bringing “Coach TD” in as their coordinator, and his relationship with Carr made him seem like a good choice.

In hindsight, he was not. Downing hasn’t shown that he was ready or deserving of this job. From the film, it doesn’t seem like he’s ever put a gameplan together. The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the NFL’s worst secondaries and they were without their best corner last sunday, and yet Downing stuck to the same formula he’s been running all year long.

Pete Repeat

His quarterback has a cannon for an arm, and with speedsters like Amari Cooper, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Seth Roberts at receiver, you’d think his offense would revolve around taking deep shots and allowing the run game to dominate weaker defensive fronts. But that’s not what we get. Instead, we get runs out the shot gun, several screens, and dump-off passes on third and long.

And when he does go deep, he doesn’t run crossing routes, he just sends everyone down the field. Jack Del Rio says Downing won’t be fired until the after the season, but to me, that’s just a way he can protect his own job. Speaking of which…

Public Enemy #2- Jack Del Rio

Last year, head coach Jack Del Rio was hugely popular in the Raider Nation. An Oakland-native, he set the tone for the 2016 season in week one, when he went for two to take the lead against the New Orleans Saints instead of settling for the tie. That’s the Jack the Nation loved. He was aggressive, carried himself with a certain swagger, and had the team believing they could win it all.

This year? Not so much. He’s been apathetic. He refuses to take accountability for losses, and seems to shed the blame like opposing ball-carriers shed Reggie Nelson tackles. While Del Rio is a player’s coach, he’s not an X’s and O’s guy. He makes the team better by making them believe they can win, but they haven’t been winning, and people are starting to think it’s because he’s holding the team back.

Same Old Jack

Dating back to his time in Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio has never won a division title. In fact, he recently broke the record for most games coached without winning a division title. Now, it’s fair to remember that Del Rio coached the Jags at the same time Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts were historically good, but at a point, you have to wonder if Jack Del Rio isn’t just buff Jeff Fisher.

The reality is that while we may end up 8-8, and this is hardly the worst the Raiders have been in recent memory, this is the best Raiders team we’ve seen in 15 years. There’s no reason a team should be this bad while also being this good. Jack Del Rio will be back in 2018, whether the Nation wants him to be or not, but he’ll likely have new coordinators, at least on offense. Should the mediocrity continue, his days in the Silver and Black will be numbered.

Public Enemy #3- Derek Carr

While you might’ve gotten whiplash from how quickly the Raider Nation turned on Del Rio, your head might’ve been knocked off by how fast they turned on Carr. Despite being nicknamed “the chosen one” only a year ago, an admittedly inconsistent and underwhelming 2017 have brought out the doubters.

Many fans have begun calling Carr overrated and saying that he didn’t deserve to get paid. Now, obviously people who think Carr shouldn’t have been paid don’t have the slightest idea how the NFL’s quarterback market works, but there’s no question his production is nothing like what we’ve seen in the past, and there are a dozen reasons why.

Broken Down Carr

Derek Carr has taken his fair share of punishment over the last couple of years. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Carr had to leave the game with an injury to his throwing hand. In the aforementioned Panthers game, he injured his hand again. Late last season, he broke his fibula against the Indianapolis Colts and missed the rest of the season. And then earlier this year, Carr was knocked out of the first game against the Denver Broncos with a fractured back, and was expected to miss up to six weeks.

People have started calling Carr soft, referring to his refusal to run to pick up first downs and how he looks shaky in the pocket under pressure sometimes. And despite the fact that he returned from that back injury only two weeks later, they do have a bit of a point. Last year, in that game against the Saints that epitomized everything we loved about that year’s team, Carr took off, diving for a first down, getting flipped over. We haven’t seen that passion this year.

We haven’t seen that passion, and Carr has been far more careless with the ball. He’s thrown almost twice as many interceptions with nowhere near as many touchdowns. He’s missed wide open receivers, and with the exception of that Chiefs game, he just hasn’t turned on the clutch like he had in years past. However, there’s another reason Carr specifically has struggled.

Public Enemy #4- The Receivers

The receivers of the Oakland Raiders have dropped a combined 24 of Carr’s passes, which is the third most in the NFL. Amari Cooper hasn’t been himself, Michael Crabtree got himself suspended, and Seth Roberts has done nothing to prove he deserved the contract extension that Reggie McKenzie gave him earlier this year. Early in the Mexico City game against the New England Patriots, Roberts had a crucial drop on third down and also fumbled the ball away in New England territory.

Off-season acquisitions, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jared Cook have been bright spots for the team, but whether it’s by Carr’s choice or play design, neither has anywhere near as involved with the games as they should’ve been. When Oakland’s receivers are healthy and on the field, they’re just not producing, so while Carr has struggled, he’s not completely at fault.

Public Enemy #5- Reggie McKenzie

For the Raider Nation, Reggie McKenzie has been a polarizing figure since day one, and he doesn’t do himself any favors. Some of his draft and free agency misses, especially when it comes to defensive backs and linebackers, have been miserable. Some praise his ability to draft players like Carr, Mack, Cooper, Gabe Jackson, and Karl Joseph, but others claim that all of his misses soil that goodwill.

In any event, there’s no question that McKenzie deserves some of the blame. He’s the one who hired Jack Del Rio. He’s the one who drafted Derek Carr. McKenzie built this Raiders team, and if he deserves credit for the good stuff, he deserves an equal share of the blame for the bad. It starts the top.

Whodunnit?

So who is to blame? Well, obviously, like any situation, it’s not that black and white (or silver and black?). There are several reasons why the Oakland Raiders have struggled this year, and everyone above is at least little responsible in their own way. Reggie McKenzie knew Jack Del Rio’s history in Jacksonville, but he made the hire anyway.

Jack Del Rio let Musgrave’s contract expire and promoted Downing, knowing that Downing had never, ever done the job before. And to Downing’s credit, while he might be terrible at his job, he’s also a rookie at it. He hasn’t had any experience, and it’s not like Jack Del Rio has any idea of how to run an offense. The receivers are dropping passes, but their routes don’t make any sense. Why isn’t there any diversity in the playbook? Why aren’t these guys allowed to run more complicated routes or stretch the field?

Meanwhile, Carr is out here running plays that don’t make sense, potentially injured, and failing miserably. Maybe he’s at the point in his career where he needs to step up and speak up for himself, but he isn’t doing it. With that contract extension, the Raiders said he was a franchise quarterback, and it’s about time he started acting like it. He needs that same fire from 2016 and, while nobody from the Nation wants to hear this, it wouldn’t kill him to take a page out of Tom Brady’s book and get in his offensive coordinator’s face every now and then.

The Silver (and Black) Lining

The good news is that someone is getting fired this off-season. There’s no way that Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis look at the roster and then look at the record and don’t make some changes. Hopefully the Raiders find a competent coordinator this off-season and he can revive the Raiders of (not so) old. Maybe a new scheme that actually makes sense, we can get the old Derek Carr back and they can take the step forward we were promised this year.

Until then? As my brothers and sisters in the nation will tell you, win lose or tie, Raider Nation ’til I die… or Downing comes back next year. We’ll see.

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