The Return of Chucky

It would be remiss not to open with a power ranking of Jon Gruden’s finest quotes:

  1. “Mike, did you ever see the movie ‘Cast Away?’ In that movie, Tom Hanks’ only friend was a ball named Wilson. In this game, Russell Wilson’s only friend is a football.”
  2. “Meaningless yards are not meaningful.”
  3. “Mike, the best band to ever come out of Seattle was, of course, Pearl Jam. And that’s what I expect the Seahawks to do – just jam it up the middle.”
  4. “Ultra high speed slo mo.”
  5. “Follow the ball, man. There’s only one ball. They can only give it to one of them at a time, so let’s not get too far away from the reality of it all.”
  6. “I bet you like sitting at red lights.”
  7. “I call them the Sons of Anarchy, Muhammad WilkerSON, Damon HarriSON, Sheldon RichardSON.”
  8. “He should voicemail get open!”

Exuberant commentary aside, Gruden earned back-to-back AFC West titles in his last two seasons as a Raider, before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he won a Super Bowl in his first season.

The playoff appearances dried up however and Gruden was fired after the 2008 season, he’s spent the last nine seasons entertaining us and providing memorable quotes as a color commentator for ESPN.

The Raiders were the team to lure him back out of the broadcasting booth with a 10-year, $100 million deal. Is he worth it? in his own words, “I don’t have a guarantee to be alive for 10 years, just so people know”.

Expectations are high and time will tell if Gruden is able to meet them in today’s NFL. If he is, the following will likely be his keys to early success.

amari-cooper-081915-getty-ftrjpg_1o0zmgiy3ls8v1dokt6khvux8v

Amari Cooper

“We’re going to make him the main vein of our passing offense and move him around a lot.

Cooper is at his best when Derek Carr looks his way early and often, he is the kind of receiver that needs to get into a rhythm early, even if it’s just a short slant.

He has the capacity to operate out of the slot on shorter routes, the ability to win with his feet on intermediate routes and can burn opponents off the line on deep routes.

Though he will be seeing extra attention from his quarterback, Cooper won’t be facing double teams every play as he was last season. With the offseason additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, all of the attention will not be on the 23-year-old.

“We need him to be the player he was the first two years.”

Since becoming an offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, the WR1 under Jon Gruden has averaged 79 receptions, 1,142 yards and 7.5 touchdowns per season. Amari Cooper’s first two NFL seasons produced an average of 76 receptions, 1,112 yards and 5.5 touchdowns.

If he can eliminate the frustrating drops, Cooper’s tremendous talent can help the new regime become an early success and make it 11 times in 12 seasons that Gruden has coached a 1,000 yard receiver.

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Khalil Mack

“Mack is certainly a centerpiece for our football team.”

Khalil Mack has accomplished plenty in his young career: 300+ tackles, 40+ sacks, three straight Pro Bowls, two-time All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year. He is the cornerstone of this Raiders’ defense.

In 2016, the Carolina Panthers tried devoting a guard, tackle and running back to stopping Mack, it didn’t work, he became the first player since Charles Woodson to record an interception, sack, fumble, fumble recovery and a touchdown in the same game (including a game-winning strip-sack).

“If we can get a better inside pass rush, a more consistent inside rush, a dominant inside rush, you’ll see the best of this guy.”

Gruden’s biggest priority on the defensive side of the ball will be to free up Khalil Mack, if he can relieve some of the double and triple-teams and isolate Mack in one-on-one match-ups, Mack’s speed, power and disruptive play-making ability will cause problems.

Gruden called on Mario Edwards Jr. to get the inside rush going as Warren Sapp did for Simeon Rice. When healthy and in form Edwards has had a positive effect on the pass rush since being drafted in 2015.

On Draft Day, the Raiders selected PJ Hall (second-round) and Maurice Hurst (fifth-round). Hall was a monster at Sam Houston State, dominating FCS competition. Hurst might be the draft’s best inside pass rusher, a first-round talent who slid because of an irregular heartbeat.

Bruce Irvin, fresh off a career-high eight sacks and an appearance at No. 85 in the Top 100 players of 2018, will be putting his hand in the dirt and joining Mack. While third-round pick Arden Key will bring edge pressure on a rotational basis and help keep Mack fresh.

If Gruden can field an interior presence that allows Mack (and Irvin) to see more one-on-one blocking then the Raiders will improve on last season’s total of just 31 sacks (24th in the NFL).

Derek Carr

Derek Carr

“I think with the hiring of a head coach like Jon Gruden, everything that we do in this building is going to be about the development of Derek Carr, the way we script practices, the way we’re doing drills. Everything that we do is all about the development of the quarterback.”

Gruden has demonstrated that he can take capable Quarterbacks to the next level.

Career backup Rich Gannon excelled in his first year in Gruden’s offense averaging over 7 yards per pass attempt for the first time in his career, he was also voted to the Pro Bowl. Brad Johnson posted the best Quarterback Rating of his 15-year career in his first season with Gruden.

Gannon and Johnson were nothing more than capable Quarterbacks before being handed the keys to Gruden’s West Coast offense, Derek Carr has been one of the Raiders’ most prolific passers to this point in his career.

Carr’s 53 touchdown passes across his first two seasons ranks second most in NFL history, he placed third in MVP voting in 2016 and made his third straight Pro Bowl in 2017, joining Brady and Roethlisberger as the only Quarterbacks in the last three seasons to do so.

“It’s up to us as a coaching staff to improve around him, get more consistent, and come up with an offense that really allows him to soar into another level.”

On paper, Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant is one of the best wide receiver trios in the league and Jared Cook and Jalen Richard both possess above average pass-catching abilities for their positions.

Carr has weapons and Gruden has different ways to use them, each will have a different role in this offense and if Carr can exploit favorable matchups, Oakland could have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.

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West-Coast Offense

“Spider 2 Y Banana”
Spider 2 Y Banana.jpg

Plays such as Green Right Strong Slot Spider 2 Y Banana and their complex terminology are a West Coast Offense Playbook staple.

Green Right Strong Slot = a personnel grouping of 2x Backs, 2x Receivers (X + Y) and a Tight End (Y). Tight End and Fullback are to offset to the right side while X and Z receivers are to line up on the opposite side of the formation.

Spider = SP stands for Slide Protection.

2 = Refers to the series of plays, in this instance 2 indicates a play action pass.

Y Banana = Y runs a ‘Banana’ shaped Corner, Z runs a Shallow Cross, X runs a Go, the Running Back executes a fake before becoming a blocker and the Fullback runs out to the flat.

The West Coast Offense is predicated on a shorter passing game with the quarterback getting the ball out of his hands quickly, on time and in rhythm. This is the kind of play the scheme is built on: short, high percentage passes which can be substituted for a running play.

This is also the kind of play Derek Carr can excel at: Carr gets the ball out of his hands fast, according to PFF he lead all starting quarterbacks with a release time of 2.16 seconds in 2018.

“I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998”

Below is an excerpt from Jon Gruden’s 1998 Raiders playbook:

Gruden Playbook

Hide our key receiver. Force defense to adjust. Make ’em react. Disguise a basic play.

Spider 2 Y Banana with it’s formation, protection and play-action is designed to suggest a run. The quarterbacks primary read however is the Fullback heading out into the flat as a receiver.

After giving consideration to Gruden’s power run scheme, the defense will have to react to both the pass play and two potential run blockers (TE + FB) becoming receivers.

With Lynch in a Power 0 formation, Bryant running the Go route, Cook running the “Banana” and Cooper operating out of the slot, Gruden has all the talent he needs to occupy a defense.

With the personnel on the roster to run any play Gruden’s keen offensive mind can manufacture, it won’t be Spider 2 Y Banana every play but whatever it is will follow a similar train of thought and will be very difficult to defend against in 2018.

 

marshawn-us

Beast Mode

“There’s no question he’s still a beast that’s hard to bring down”

“He’s got speed. He’s faster than you want him to be and he’s heavier than you want him to be…” according to Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. Lynch demonstrated more than speed in 2017, he forced 50 missed tackles on 227 touches, while physically he remained Beast Mode averaging around his career mark of 3.1 yards after contact.

After a slow start to the 2017 season, Lynch finished strong averaging at least 4.8 yards per carry in four of the last five games, while also scoring five of his seven touchdowns across the second-half of the season.

“One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch … I’m counting on him being a big part of our football team.”

Gruden is excited at the prospect of joining forces with Lynch and seems committed to utilizing him as a feature-back in his “pound-the-rock” offense.

The Raiders offensive line did not perform to standard in a zone-blocking scheme last season and the arrival of Tom Cable from Seattle suggests that Gruden will look to install a power-blocking scheme that is a better fit.

Lynch will be familiar with this scheme after registering almost 4.5 yards per carry on over 1,200 touches alongside Cable in Seattle (2011-2015). Lynch used to request power-blocking during his time in Seattle and his best runs often came from these plays (including his infamous Beast Mode run against New Orleans).

If Lynch can pick up anywhere near where he left off last season then a return to over 1,000 yards is likely.

 

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