The Raiders opened their season in the final game of Week 1, which went into the early-Tuesday-morning hours on the East Coast. For the first half, Oakland went toe-to-toe with—and probably outplayed—arguably the most talented team in the NFL, the Rams. The 33-13 final score was not indicative of how close the game was, though the Rams clearly showed their talent in the second half.
Overall, it was a positive start to the Jon Gruden Era, Part II, for the Raiders. After the trade of star pass rusher Khalil Mack, I thought there was a chance the Raiders would come out flat on Monday night and get blown out. But I felt better when I saw Gruden pumped up before the game.
You can feel the electricity in the air, man. pic.twitter.com/mIGCBwiWid
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 11, 2018
And I felt better when the Raiders were set to receive the opening kickoff—it would be Gruden’s offense taking the field instead of a potentially-unhappy defense that lost its best player. Also, remember, Gruden had spent nearly a decade watching countless hours of film in preparation of a return to coaching. This offense, and his first drive, were truly years in the making.
The opening drive didn’t disappoint. The offense was diverse and multiple, lining up in a variety of formations with different personnel and different tempos. It was capped by Marshawn Lynch getting pushed by half the team into the end zone. The entire stadium—including perhaps more than anyone, Gruden himself—was pumped up about a triumphant first drive.
Despite all the talk about Gruden being a “dinosaur” that won’t have success as a coach in today’s NFL, I don’t have any concerns about his offense—or his return in general. So one of the most positive signs of that opening drive was quarterback Derek Carr’s operation of the offense.
Gruden previously said that he thought Carr might have had the offense more mastered than even he did, and the Raiders’ franchise player put it on display during that opening drive—and for most of the first half—seamlessly audibling and getting into the right plays before getting the snaps off in time. I know this is a lofty comparison, but it almost reminded me of the way Peyton Manning ran all his offenses over the years.
Carr finished the first half 20/24 for 199 yards and an interception. The rest of the half might’ve played out much differently, but if not for an underthrown ball where he made the right read (on the interception), Carr would have been 21/24 for 220 yards and a touchdown. Regardless, it was an impressive showing against a very strong defense.
The second half was another story. Carr tossed two more interceptions, and no touchdowns, making it three turnovers for the game. The second interception was just one of those plays where you just do something stupid, which simply just happens in sports (and life, for that matter). Some people apparently don’t understand that and like to have fun criticizing, probably to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings or to gain social-media clout or whatever.
The final interception was pick-six by the dangerous Marcus Peters on a miscommunication with Jared Cook. He just didn’t play well in the second half. It happens.
Gruden came out and said yesterday that his quarterback had some opportunities where plays were wide-open deep down the field on Monday night, but didn’t pull the trigger for whatever reason. While it’s getting blown out of proportion a bit, it wasn’t super-harsh criticism of Carr. After all, Carr is basically Gruden’s CEO on the football field, so it’s probably not wise to light into him after just one game. If the CEO doesn’t perform consistently moving forward, then Gruden might change his tune a bit out of necessity.
Additionally, Gruden had the best ticket in the house to watch Carr operate his offense in that first half. The signs were overwhelmingly positive, starting with that first-drive touchdown in Gruden’s first drive back coaching—that had to feel good for him personally, especially after all the talk about him since he was hired earlier this year.
So while a lot of people are looking at the numbers and a couple of highlights, eager to jump off the Carr/Gruden bandwagon—or to assert their correctness of being against the coach-quarterback combo from the start—that might be a mistake.
With a ten-year deal, Gruden is being given plenty of time to get this thing turned around. He’s targeting something like the Patriots have built up in New England, and I think he can at least come close to doing it. Despite all the controversy with Khalil Mack and the anti-Gruden sentiments in the media, that team played hard on Monday night. And they have a weapon that showed flashes in its first real action in quite some time: Jon Gruden’s offense.
Gruden’s offense is basically the Millennium Falcon. Some people might think it’s outdated and past its time, but there are plenty of surprises in store. We should see unique plays and more no-huddle and up-tempo when the offense gets rolling. Gruden wouldn’t have returned to coaching if he didn’t trust someone enough to hand them the keys to this prized possession.
Keys in hand, now Derek Carr just needs to take advantage as the pilot.