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Gruden trying to bring back winning Raider football: the deep ball

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It looks like Jon Gruden is looking to get vertical game going to get the Oakland Raiders back on top.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Of the 52 Super Bowls the NFL has played, 12 franchises won a total 44 of them. It’s so hard to win a Super Bowl but once you have, you know how to. So those 12 multiple Super Bowl winning franchises mainly try to replicate those teams to do it again. Hence, legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis believed the greatness of the Raiders was in the future.

“We have young people in very key spots now running our organization,” Davis said when asked what that meant before he died. “While those people can use the past as a guide and can live in the tradition and the history of the organization, someone has to take this group into the future and make sure that they have greatness.”

That job is the birthright of Al’s son Mark Davis and he is using the past as his guide. He started by making former Raider linebacker Reggie McKenzie the general manager. McKenzie is a disciple of Ron Wolf, who helped Al Davis build the Raiders into the NFL’s winningest organization from 1963-1974 and 1979-1989. Then shortly after, Wolf went to the Green Bay Packers, where McKenzie joined him, and built a perennial contender.

Davis leaned on the past once again this offseason by finally luring head coach Jon Gruden from the television both and back to the Raiders sideline. And since he helped build a contender in Oakland to go along with the Super Bowl winners of the past, he seems to be looking to replicate parts of of them in his second stint. He has watched film from the ‘60s with players and seems to be trying to incorporate the parts he likes into what he’s doing now.

“Look, we’re not running a 1964 operation here,” Gruden told the media when asked how that would help him during training camp. “But there are some things that happened in 1964 that were pretty damn good. If you don’t think so, go ahead and have a nice day.”

Gruden’s offense, the West Coast offense, is a little more modern than that. But he believes in a good running game and throwing the deep ball off play action. So he has offensive line coach Tom Cable and running back Marshawn Lynch with the best interior O-line in the game to get that going this year.

“I think the play-action is going to be dependent on your running game. If you can run it, you can get some strong play-action passes that have a lot of sting,” Gruden said during camp. “We threw a couple today that were beautiful. If you’re running the ball with Marshawn lynch and you’re able to establish that, I think he [Derek Carr] can be a great play-action passer. I think we’ve got some routes and some receivers that can get deep.”

Yeah, he went out and got Jordy Nelson, who’s still fast, having been clocked at 22 miles per hour in camp. He also went out and got Martavis Bryant, one of the fastest men in the NFL, who once clocked in at 24 miles per hour. That speed was brought in to replace Michael Crabtree, who was cut, and Seth Roberts, who has been demoted and may be on the way out. And of course, Gruden held on to tight end speedster Jared Cook.

He also drafted left tackle Kolton Miller at 15 overall to help give Carr time to get the deep ball off. Gruden is trying to give his quarterback everything he needs to get the vertical game going again because he knows how important it is. As a rookie, Carr had a passer rating of 57.9 on his deep balls and he went 3-13. In his second year, he got Amari Cooper, and his rating went up to 106.4 and he went 7-9 while still on an otherwise bad team. Then in 2016, he went 12-3 before getting injured with a passer rating 117.6 on his deep throws.

Then in 2017, a combination of a bad back injury and the play-calling of 1st-time offensive coordinator Todd Downing dropped his deep-ball passer rating to 71.4. Of all the division-winning QBs in 2017, only Ben Roethlisberger and Blake Bortles had passer ratings of less than 88.5 on deep balls according to Pro Football Focus but they both had top-5 defenses. There is a correlation between throwing a good deep ball and winning in the NFL.

Al Davis realized that way back in the ‘60s while building the NFL’s winningest organization up to the turn of the century. Daryle Lamonica “The Mad Bomber” won 80 percent of his games and an AFL title to go along with one trip to a Super Bowl. Ken Stabler won 72 percent of his games and one Super Bowl. Jim Plunkett won 67 percent of his games and a franchise-best two Super Bowls throwing the deep ball. Then there’s Rich Gannon, who won 61 percent of his games and went to one Super Bowl.

Gruden is trying to mold Carr into something even greater than the Raider franchise QBs of the past. And he knows getting Carr to throw the deep ball well again is a big key. Davis was also a West Coast Offense disciple under its originator, Paul Brown. He just took the system in a different direction, built Raider football on it and won. And after years of watching the Raiders lose, Gruden seems to be looking to rebuild Raider football on it.

The 49-yard connection from Carr to Cooper on the first play of the dress rehearsal third preseason game is just the beginning.