When a team finishes a season a top five offense and a bottom five defense, coaching changes are coming. You just don’t expect those changes to be letting go of the offensive coordinator and keeping the defensive coordinator.
That’s what Jack Del Rio did last season much to a the befuddlement of basically everyone. Bill Musgrave’s contract was up and despite guiding the Raiders to a 12-4 season and one of the league’s elite offenses, it was thought that rather than lose up-and-comer Todd Downing to an OC job elsewhere, they would promote him to the position.
Ken Norton Jr, on the other hand, had another year left on his deal, so he was retained. This despite the likes of defensive mastermind Wade Phillips available among others.
There was a move made. A couple of them, actually. Former Charles Woodson favorite Marcus Robertson was fired as defensive backs coach and the team hired former Chargers Defensive Coordinator John Pagano.
It was a strange arrangement with Pagano. The Raiders created a new job title to bring him on, calling him Assistant Head Coach - Defense. His job was a bit mysterious. The company line was that he would improve communication between the linebacker and the secondary. The purpose being to keep the team from giving up so many explosive plays, which Del Rio put solely on the secondary.
Pagano’s addition was as a replacement as many had hoped, but adding another defensive mind to the fold seemed like a solid idea in theory.
Through ten games, not only is the secondary just as bad in terms of passing yards allowed per game (253), but since week seven they have been setting a new record for most games to start a season without an interception. It’s at 10 and counting.
Then there’s this fun little stat I saw the other day:
All-Time Leaders in Passer Rating (min. 325 pass attempts)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) November 20, 2017
1. Aaron Rodgers (2011) -- 122.5
2. Peyton Manning (2004) -- 121.1
3. Tom Brady (2007) -- 117.2
4. Matt Ryan (2016) -- 117.1
5. Peyton Manning (2013) -- 115.1
6. QBs Facing the @RAIDERS This Year -- 113.2
Whatever the issue was, it was not being fixed.
It reminds me of another recent season in which the Raiders had utter futility through the first ten games.
It was the 2014 season. In that case, it was Dennis Allen as head coach who everyone was calling to be let go. But Mark Davis had other ideas. He retained Allen, who led the team to an 0-4 start before being fired.
Just like Norton Jr, it was embarrassment on an international stage that led to his firing. Allen’s Raiders were beaten badly in London by the Dolphins and Allen didn’t even make the flight back. We are now two days removed from the Raiders being pummeled by the Patriots in Mexico City 33-8.
When Allen was fired, he was replaced by interim head coach Tony Sparano, who buried a football on the practice field and then lost six more games to put the Raiders at 0-10 before they got their first win. It was also a string of 16-straight losses dating back to the 2013 season.
Taking over for Norton as DC is Pagano, who probably should have just had the position all along instead of being the clear DC-in-waiting.
It’s all too little, too late as the Raiders sit at 4-6, barely clinging to playoff hopes and looking a lot more like a top 10 drafting team on both sides of the ball. Todd Downing taking over as OC has proven to be just as poor a decision. Meanwhile Bill Musgrave is an OC again, taking over the job in Denver. And Wade Phillips is leading a suddenly resurgent Rams defense.
Even making the move to fire Norton over the bye week would have been at least something. But at this point, it’s nothing more than a scapegoat move. With the defense looking the way it has, someone had to be a sacrificial lamb. Norton is the easy, natural choice for that. Something everyone else knew 11 months ago. This one is on Jack Del Rio.