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Raiders new DC John Pagano will try to out maneuver Broncos OC Bill Musgrave for first time

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In their time as rival coordinators John Pagano has never beaten Bill Musgrave.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Raiders and the Broncos made big moves this week at coordinator. The Broncos fired Mike McCoy and promoted quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave to offensive coordinator. The Raiders fired Ken Norton Jr and named John Pagano Defensive Coordinator.

Musgrave was hired by the Broncos this offseason after being let go by the Raiders. He was replaced by his quarterbacks coach just as he just replaced his former offensive coordinator. As they say, one good turn deserves another.

Pagano came to the Raiders this offseason after five years as the defensive coordinator in San Diego. The Raiders added the title of ‘Assistant Head Coach - Defense’ so they could retain Norton as Defensive Coordinator. It also gave them a fallback option should the defense not improve this season under Norton.

These moves sets up the fifth showdown in the past three years between Musgrave and Pagano. The first four were the Raiders facing the Chargers. And in each instance, it was Musgrave who came out victorious.

It wasn’t just a matter of superior tools at his disposal for Musgrave. The Chargers had a very opportunistic defense in Pagano’s final season with the team. They led the NFL with 18 interceptions in 2016. The problem for the Chargers was they turned the ball over a lot more than they took it away.

Both the Raiders and Chargers had talented quarterbacks in those meetings. The Raiders had Derek Carr coming into his own and of course the Chargers had the always dangerous Philip Rivers.

In each game, the two quarterbacks dueled each other and the last three meetings the margin of victory was just 3 points. And each time it was Musgrave who came out the victor.

Working in Pagano’s favor this time against Musgrave is he doesn’t have a quarterback the caliber of Derek Carr. The Broncos have named Paxton Lynch the starter for this week. Then again, this is Lynch’s third season in the league and Musgrave did wonders with Carr in their first season together.

“His communication skills, coaching the young quarterback,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said of Musgrave. “Obviously, he’s done it over the years and even having a guy you’ve got there with [Derek] Carr, watching him work with Carr and watching how Carr has grown, I think he’s got the right experience to build the system for a young quarterback so that he can be successful and to allow him to have completed passes and allow him to have plays where he can bail himself out when things get a little sticky. Again, that’s why we hired Bill Musgrave because of his experience working with young quarterbacks.”

Working against Pagano is he is working with a secondary that is depleted and lacking overall talent and setting a new NFL record each week having yet to intercept a pass ten games into the season.

The past couple games the Raiders have had three pure cornerbacks on the roster and last week played rookie safety Obi Melifonwu at corner, which Jack Del Rio admitted was a move made out of desperation.

This offseason Pagano and Musgrave were like two ships passing in the night. They never shared time on the Raiders’ coaching staff, though with their recent history as division rivals, there is still a good deal of familiarity.

“You’re human to the fact that we’ve gone against each other before,” Pagano said Thursday of facing Musgrave. “There are certain things. You always have to understand what he’s about and what little things pop into my head from seeing him, but you still have to go based off of what you’re seeing right now, the film that you’re seeing, the plays you’re going off of. You have to be prepared for everything. He does a great job and he always has those guys ready to play and there is always going to be something new.”

On the other hand, they’re both taking over their respective units in the middle of the season, so there isn’t a lot of time to try and make sweeping changes.

“I think similarly, you’re not going to reinvent the playbook after 10 weeks, 11 weeks,” Head coach Jack Del Rio said this week. “They’ll be some things that Bill likes that he’ll get to. They’ll be some things that ‘Pags’ [John Pagano] likes that he’ll get to. There’s no way that either team is going to completely reinvent their playbook.”

Up to this point, Pagano has yet to sneak up on Musgrave from a tactical standpoint. But much like in seasons past, they seem to be working on similar planes. Only this time instead of strength against strength, it’s weakness against weakness.