Oakland Raiders

Commentary: Forget the Raiders’ ‘youth,’ their real problem is Gruden’s aged offense

Jon Gruden was keen to remind everyone last year that the Raiders – despite having the oldest 53-man roster in the NFL heading into the 2018 campaign – were a young team.

It was a panacea excuse for all of the Raiders’ copious woes.

And after an embarrassing 34-14 loss to the Vikings in Minneapolis, Gruden went back to old reliable Monday.

“We’re a young team. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, we’re a young team at a lot of critical positions. We’re building our football team,” Gruden said of his team’s listless performance, where the Vikings ran the ball across, over, and around them to the tune of 211 yards and a 31-7 lead in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.

But that “youth” excuse simply doesn’t stand up to muster anymore.

Because while, yes, the Raiders have young players, and yes, some of them play critical positions (particularly on defense), youth alone cannot explain why Gruden’s team has performed so poorly over the last two games.

For instance: youth is not the reason the Raiders offense hasn’t been competitive in the team’s last six meaningful quarters.

No, that failure is on Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr.

Gruden fancies himself an offensive wizard and a quarterback guru, but so far in his second stint in Oakland, I don’t see any magic with this Raiders’ offense, unless you count making Carr’s career as an NFL starter disappear.

And if this duo doesn’t find a way to dramatically turn around their play and play calling in the next two weeks, the Raiders’ season will be over heading into their Week 6 bye.

Take out a fourth quarter of garbage time Sunday, and Carr had an average depth of target of 5.85 yards against Minnesota. There’s dinking and dunking, then there are passes so short that he might as well try to hand the ball to the wide receiver.

And take out the trick-play touchdown he threw to J.J. Nelson, down 21-0, and that ADOT falls to 3.4 yards.

The Raiders’ offense is seemingly still predicated on stacking a dozen positive plays together in this, a boom-or-bust league.

That’s a formula for failure. And opponents are clearly keying in on it.

It took the Broncos one half to figure out that they can stack the box, overload the line of scrimmage, and take away the Raiders’ run game and not worry about being beaten over the top by Carr and company. Kansas City’s defense learned the lesson after one quarter in Week 2. On Sunday, the Vikings didn’t even need to adjust, they came in knowing that Gruden and Carr were not going to challenge them down the field. They were right and coasted to a victory.

Per Sharp Football Stats, so far this season, only 15 plays, 9 percent of the Raiders’ offensive snaps, have been “explosive” – 10-plus yards on the ground, 15-plus yards through the air – with 40 percent of that number coming in Week 1. Some of that has come in quasi-garbage time, against prevent defenses, too.

This kind of death-by-100-papercuts offense might have worked during Gruden’s first tenure as a head coach, but we’re in an era of Air Raid, spread-offense quarterbacks, track-star speed, and rules that make it effectively impossible to successfully defend a well-thrown deep pass. It’s like Gruden is still using an iPhone 3G, which was released in his last season with the Buccaneers, in the era of the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

It’s downright antiquated.

It’s time for an upgrade.

And if Gruden is, as he has claimed, calling for deeper passes down the field and Carr is refusing to let his uber-talented arm do work, then the head coach needs to make a switch at quarterback before the season is torpedoed, right?

The Raiders’ defense is playing as we expected them to play: poorly. These early-season losses can only be pinned on them if you operate in a state of wishful thinking.

They entered the season without pass rushers, and they cannot get to the quarterback. Their linebackers are only effective against the run, but with three injures to linebackers in Week 3, they were gashed in the run game. Their secondary entered the seasons with major questions and have only invited more since games started, especially with the absence of Johnathan Abram, who was lost for the season in Week 1.

Then again, when an injury to a rookie safety is enough to kneecap your entire secondary, that unit probably wasn’t all that good anyway.

This Raiders’ defense simply never had the dudes — young or old or anywhere in-between — to be successful. And this is a game of attrition, so that fact has only become exacerbated.

It was the offense was supposed to make a leap and make things at least interesting for the Raiders in Gruden’s second year.

With or without Antonio Brown, the Raiders were supposed to have the talent, particularly up front, to effectively run Gruden’s offense; Carr was supposed to find his ceiling once again as an on-field coordinator in the second year in the coach’s system; and Gruden himself was going to be back into the swing of things after being off the sidelines for nearly a decade.

But the improved talent is not shining through, because Carr is showing us that he has not made the leap he teased in Week 1. Against a halfway decent pass rush (which, surprisingly, the Broncos do not have this season – they have zero sacks in 2019), he plays panicked, skittish football, throwing the ball nanoseconds after the snap, trying to string together a near-impossible amount of short gains.

So much of the Raiders’ offensive success seems to revolve around running back Josh Jacobs doing incredible things in unremarkable circumstances. Ironically, the rookie’s youth is an attribute here, but running him into a wall of big bad humans time and time again, all in the name of ball control, is a regressive strategy that’s downright unfair to the talented rookie, who I’m hoping isn’t the second coming of Cadillac Williams, a promising first-round pick who was never able to stay healthy after Gruden gave him 310 touches in his first year.

Ultimately it seems as if little has changed since last year (or maybe even a decade) for the Raiders’ offense, and in the weeks to come, that will be highlighted by four solid-to-downright strong defense The Raiders will go up against four solid-to-strong defenses in the next four games.

But feel free to keep blaming the youth.