Last year was the return of the old Oakland Raiders on the offensive side of the ball. And it all started with the biggest and best offensive line in the NFL. They opened up holes in the power running game and gave quarterback Derek Carr time to throw deep.
Latavius Murray was the lead running back and, of course, Carr had receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw the ball down the field to. The result was the No. 6 overall offense and the No. 7 scoring offense in the league. It was the offense that carried the team to a 12-4 record and their first playoff berth since 2002.
Coaching staffs of 12-4 teams don’t usually change unless the assistants get better offers elsewhere. But the Raiders let go of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave presumably in part for his decision to throw the ball late against the Indianapolis Colts which ultimately led to Carr’s leg injury and the Raiders’ failure in the playoffs.
It’s easy to say Musgrave made the wrong decision after the injury but the Raiders didn’t have a running back that could close out games. Musgrave loves to run the ball but he was trying to get first downs the best way he could. The Raiders have since added Marshawn Lynch and freakishly athletic tight end Jared Cook and yet somehow with Downing at OC, the offense is actually worse. It is now the NFL’s No. 30 offense in yards and in the middle of the pack in points per game.
Downing is taking a square peg offense and trying to fit it into a round hole. The Raiders’ huge offensive line was made to come off the ball and maul people. But Downing wants to feel like he’s doing something so he has them stepping sideways in the zone scheme. Even Lynch begged for and got power running plays while in a zone-based scheme in Seattle. That should tell Downing what his offense is made for.
In the passing game, Downing has almost completely done away with the deep ball. Amari Cooper is a down-the-field, big-play threat, Cook is a vertical tight end and speedster Cordarrelle Patterson can also go long. But the passing game is horizontal instead of vertical now. With all the athletes he has, Downing has turned the passing game into three yards and a cloud of dust. The Raiders are even throwing three-yard passes on 3rd-and-10 these days.
Cooper has had his problems holding onto the ball this year and it’s not helping that Downing isn’t playing to his strengths. Cooper is a deep threat that can get you with his blazing speed and double moves. Those skills are not be properly utilized.
When the Raiders stretched the field last year, opposing teams had to pick their poison and someone was left open. Now opposing teams can sit in the same defense to stop the run or the short pass.
This week, the Los Angeles Chargers couldn’t get Lynch on the ground, much less stop him. So giving him just 13 carries on the day is a crime Downing committed against his own team. He’s done that a lot lately as the Raiders have lost four in a row, three to fleas like the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens and the Chargers.
The loss to the Chargers hurt badly because they could have regrouped with 3-3 record. Now they are in last place in the AFC West at 2-4 with the Chargers owning the tiebreaker.
Going into this year, the Raiders just needed the defense to play a little better to be contenders. And even with all the injuries they’ve had, they are. But that isn’t doing the Raiders any good because Downing is ruining the Raiders’ offense and therefore their once hopeful season.
Thursday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs already had a grim outlook. It looks even worse now.