Have you recently had a beer with Sean McVay? Congratulations, you’re now an NFL head coach.
That was the joke going around the league this past offseason, and it’s only a slight exaggeration of the latest turn of the coaching carousel.
Yes, every team in the league is trying to re-create a bit of the magic that turned around the Rams, who were a 4-12 team in 2016, but have improved 11-5 in 2017 and a Super Bowl appearance in 2018 under McVay.
The Raiders had a one-year head start.
While I can’t say if Raiders coach Jon Gruden has taken McVay to a Hooters for a lukewarm Corona in the last few years, it is worth noting that Gruden hired the Rams’ wunderkind to a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when McVay was barely old enough to drink.
Is that enough of an association?
There were legitimate concerns going into last season if Gruden could coordinate a modern NFL offense — after all, he had been away from the sideline for nearly a decade.
Things had — of course — changed.
And despite a bunch of rhetoric that backed up his threat to “throw the game back to 1998,” Gruden did, too.
A Gruden offense is always going to feature both dinks and dunks — and it still lacks play action, a must in any progressive playbook — but his attack last season was an evolution of the West Coast-style offense he ran in Tampa Bay and his first go-around in Oakland. I like to call it the Spread Coast.
The issue was that he didn’t have the players to execute his vision in 2018.
This year, he should.
And it only took a few snaps against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night to see that the Raiders’ offense — that Spread Coast attack — has enough talent to be one of the better units in the NFL this year.
Yes, they were going up against a hapless Cardinals team — led by one of those McVay-proximate hires, fired Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury (he never had a winning conference record in Lubbock) — but you couldn’t ignore the Raiders’ first-string (for now) offense moving down the field like a hot knife through butter on their only drive of the game.
The team’s re-shuffled offensive line gave quarterback Derek Carr what he needs to be successful — time to throw; rookie running back Josh Jacobs absolutely looked the part of an NFL three-down back; free-agent signing Tyrell Williams won a one-on-one ball on the sideline; and Ryan Grant found the end zone on an expertly drawn and perfectly executed play.
They were smooth. They exerted total control over an inferior opponent. Guys were wide open — and when they weren’t, they were good enough to make the play anyway. They manhandled and outclassed the Cardinals.
And while it was only one series, the talent was undeniable. The scheme impressed too.
That was all without Antonio Brown on the field. That’ll change soon, though — one of the best receivers in NFL history warmed up before Thursday’s game and is expected to practice before the Raiders break training camp in Napa.
What happens then?
The drubbing didn’t stop when the Raiders went to second-stringers. (At least on offense.)
The team’s relatively unknown top tight end, Darren Waller, looked solid in his snaps, as did presumptive backup quarterback Mike Glennon, who posted a perfect quarterback rating on 14 pass attempts.
Depth on both sides of the ball will no doubt be an issue for the Raiders in 2019 — they’re still rebuilding, despite what Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock say — but the top-end players are there, especially in Gruden’s offense.
And while I don’t think that the offense is necessarily on par with the Rams and the rest of the NFL’s elite — the offensive line has question marks on the interior and with second-year left tackle Kolton Miller of Roseville, and that means that the exceptionally protection-dependent Carr is a question mark, too — if things break right, it could win the Raiders nice chunk of games this year.
It is an offensive league, after all.