Jon Gruden is one of the most respected offensive play callers in the NFL, but a staple of NFL offenses has been missing from his, the play-action pass. Through 13 weeks, Gruden’s Raiders have run the third-fewest play-action plays in the NFL.
“I just don’t believe in play-action pass against teams that are playing man-to-man coverage,” Gruden told the media on Friday. “Who are you fooling? You see a team that plays a lot of zone coverage, you fake the ball and you fool the underneath coverage and throw the ball in behind him.”
“When you’re playing teams that play a high percentage of man-to-man coverage, the corner is covering his guy. The safety is covering his guy, he’s not peaking in the backfield. Sometimes it’s the front. Sometimes the pass protection isn’t worth a damn either. That is part of it. we’ve been pretty good. We’re getting better at our play-actions. I would like to use some more down the stretch.”
Gruden might not “believe” in play-action against man coverage, but run fakes have been extremely effective against man coverage this season.
Someone tell Jon Gruden he may want to walk this back. In 2018, here are play action splits in man-to-man (M2M) coverage, league-wide:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 8, 2018
Non-Play Action passes in M2M:
• 50% success, 7.3 YPA, 92 rtg
Play Action passes in M2M:
• 56% success, 8.6 YPA, 108 rtg https://t.co/LVDQMG4LrK
This feels like a case of deja vu from the 2017 season, when the Raiders ran play-action on just 14.0 percent of passing plays, the third-fewest in the league under offensive coordinator Todd Downing. That was supposed to change under Gruden, but the disappearance of play-action plays still remain in Oakland.
Gruden’s remark about the lack of pass protection is a valid concern as quarterback Derek Carr has been sacked 39 times on the season, the fifth most in the NFL. Losing running back Marshawn Lynch to injury also does not help the cause, as Oakland’s rushing attack is less threatening without Beastmode in it.
Those are legitimate reasons to run less play-action. But Gruden’s notion that play-action is ineffective against man coverage is flawed, the numbers simply don’t add up. It appears the head coach may be fooling himself.