It's official. Head Coach Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders have a mess on their hands with a defense that is a creation of their own doing. Make no mistake about it, this franchise runs on the decisions of Gruden. I realize they have a general manager in title with Mike Mayock, but let’s don’t kid ourselves. Mayock answers to Gruden in every way (Gruden hired HIM), including who they sign, who they draft, and how this team is built on both sides of the ball. It’s not Mayock’s fault that he had no experience in an NFL office or with team building at the NFL level. He’s had to attempt to learn his job on the fly and then provide enough push back to the head coach in order to keep the building of this team on the rails. This is Mayock’s first time in the role of a general manager and, take it from experience, the job is a juggling act at best. Since this is my blog, I can say what I want. In my opinion, this building job in Las Vegas, has come off the rails.
Gruden chose to fire Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther on Sunday night after his defense gave up back-to-back 200-yard rushing games, first to the lowly Jets and then to the powerful running game of the Indianapolis Colts. But, to think this is where their problems start would be the equivalent of throwing a deck chair off the Titanic. This team has a lot bigger issues than that.
The Raiders’ problems start with questionable decision making within the organization, as well as some faulty evaluations in the film room. You don’t get this bad on defense without there being more than one reason. Sure, they played some techniques in the secondary that were questionable. They also used a defensive game plan that can be debated as to not fitting their personnel. Firing Guenther takes some immediate heat off Gruden, but in my humble opinion, it doesn’t solve the bigger issues.
The cold truth is this defense, in general, is soft, is not physical at the point of attack, and is one that flat out lacks NFL-level talent, especially at linebacker. Its schemes don’t fit the skill sets of the current players and the front office has yet to replace the pass-rush pressure that was once supplied by Khalil Mack (traded to the Bears two years ago). When the Raiders defense blitzes to create pressure, it weakens a secondary that already lacks man-to-man cover skills in general.
Thanks to some research done by my co-host on The Football GM podcast, Mike Sando, the Raiders have committed a crazy and abnormal amount of resources to the offensive side of the ball, which makes me shake my head even more. Shocker, right? The head coach runs the offense.
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This is unheard of. They really haven’t gotten any bang for their buck with the signing of Carl Nassib (3 yrs/$25M), a DE signed from Tampa Bay who is on his third team and has 20 TT and 1.5 sacks on the year. There’s also Nick Kwiatkoski (3 yrs/$21M), an inside LB signed from the Chicago, where he was primarily a back-up. Kwiatkoski has numbers on paper, but really struggles to read/react and get off blocks. This paints even a bleaker picture because of their imbalance in cap commitments.
You can surely criticize their drafting as well. It sounds to me like someone on staff is drinking the Kool-Aid supplied by the human hype machine known as Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney instead of breaking down the film. The Raiders have drafted three players from Clemson on defense in the top-three rounds over the last two years. I have seen zero evidence on tape that any of the three players had any business being drafted where they were. I’ve been part of those sales jobs by college head coaches so I get it. They are selling their players. It certainly works for their agendas, but sound evaluators will let the film speak for itself. I’ve been part of staffs where inexperienced evaluators are easily influenced by what is said, not what is seen. It’s a common, but costly mistake.
The bottom line is- their drafts have not produced players of any relevance. Their involvement in free agency, the same. Both their evaluations and process have to be under the microscope going forward.
Sure, they have had some injuries, but who hasn’t. The Raiders look like a team that has been built on the emotional decisions of the head coach, instead of decisions that were checked, vetted and thought through carefully. I don’t see the firing of an assistant coach as solving the issue. More changes are probably in order to right the ship. It’s not an easy fix. It might take Jon Gruden, the general manager, getting out of the way so Jon Gruden, the head coach, can do what he does best— COACH.