In the last few weeks, the good folks at Football Outsiders have been answering a series of questions from each SBNation football blog, including us here at Silver and Black Pride. This week, we will publish the answers they provided to our questions.
The Raiders have completely overhauled nearly everything about the team this offseason, but the most glaring change was the hiring of former coach Jon Gruden to resume the role he was jettisoned from in a trade over 15 years ago. Today’s question will focus on that change.
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S&BP: Jon Gruden has put an emphasis on bringing an old-school mentality to the Raiders this year. How do you see his philosophy playing out against modern defensive schemes and players who may not have even been in organized football the last time he coached?
FO: There’s nothing scarier than a coach emphasizing old-school mentality. NFL teams run on fresh ideas and innovation, from modernized schemes and playbooks through strength and conditioning all the way to teaching philosophies and player management. I keep waiting for Gruden’s “old-school” stuff to be revealed as nothing but rhetoric, and we discover that he has the next RPO in his skunk works and that young players are responding to his progressive management and motivational techniques. But it sounds more and more like he wants to run things the 1998 way. If that sounds good to you, replace your computer, phone, Internet connection and television with the 1998 models and tell me how that works out for you ... if you can even manage to compose an e-mail.
Well, that’s certainly a take and a half. It’s not unreasonable that someone without any emotional ties to the Raiders would feel this way, considering how much the game has changed since Jon Gruden’s heyday in his first stint as Raiders coach.
It’s difficult to even hold a position on whether Jon Gruden has new and exciting plays in his “skunkworks”, because the plays Gruden has run in the first two preseason games have been the most basic and uninteresting ones imaginable. And yet, even that has been streets ahead of the junior high offense Todd Downing was running last year. We really have no idea what Gruden has in his bag of tricks for this season and the first people who will get to see them are the Rams in Week 1.
The NFL was a very different place in 1998. Hitting was allowed, and the league was far more rush oriented. That year, the Broncos won the Super Bowl, and they rushed 525 times with Terrell Davis reaching over 2,000 yards rushing. John Elway started 12 of their 16 games, and the team passed only 491 times. Such was the nature of a prime Mike Shanahan offense, even with the prolific Elway at the helm.
In the modern game, offensive schemes are far more pass-heavy, but when you ask a coach what he needs to do to win, he will almost always say “Run the football and play great defense.” To me, that’s what it means to take it back to 1998. You can do that in today’s NFL if you have a great offensive line, a great stable of running backs, and a quarterback who can sell play action and keep the defense from stacking the box.
Jon Gruden would love nothing more than to line up in a Power I formation and run the ball down his opponents’ throat and break their will. But nobody can tell me that in the ten-plus years Gruden spent in the Monday Night Football booth, he didn’t pay attention to the way the game was evolving and that he didn’t come up with a few new tricks of his own. The amount of time and money spent upgrading the Raiders’ receiving corps shows me that Gruden isn’t going to be Darrell K. Royal, running the ball 50 times a game.
There have been plenty of innovative coaches in the NFL. Sid Gillman emphasized the deep vertical passing game, Paul Brown and his protege Bill Walsh invented the West Coast offense, Andy Reid emphasized the use of running backs in the passing game, and Bill Belichick’s borderline psychotic attention to detail and game planning and finding new and exciting ways to cheat has earned him five Super Bowl rings.
But usually it comes down to playing with discipline, good clock management and having better players than the other team while making adjustments in-game to exploit the opponent’s weakness. There is absolutely no reason that a smash-mouth approach can’t work in today’s NFL, especially when you have skill players like the Raiders do and a quarterback as talented and cerebral as Derek Carr. It certainly can work how Jon Gruden envisions it, but will it? We shall see.