Jon Gruden says the Raiders are “struggling” right now. After consecutive blowout losses with but a single touchdown, that seems like an understatement.
The garbage time touchdown on Sunday did little to lighten the mood around the Raiders’ facility on Monday. That’s due in large part to miscues — things the team needs to clean up, according to their coach.
“It was going to be a close game. The weather conditions were difficult to throw the ball, period. To kick the ball, I think it was a big deal. The penalties and the turnovers, the hidden yardage, it’s a huge statistic. It’s one that we’re not good enough to overcome.”
Gruden is right. On the season, the Raiders are 6-0 when they are even or better in the turnover differential. They’re 0-6 when they lose the turnover battle.
The penalties have been a huge issue all season long, and they’ve bitten the Raiders hard the past two weeks after being fairly inconsequential over the previous three wins. Everyone knows it. The discrepancy in penalties yesterday (12-0) had Gruden shocked.
“I’ve never seen that before,” he said.
The @Raiders hurt themselves, no doubt. And that needs to be a point of emphasis moving forward. Lots to address on the roster. But hard to believe a team (the Chiefs) could play 60 minutes of football without getting flagged for a penalty. I mean, that's just crazy to me.— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) December 2, 2019
The team is aware of it, but it’s clearly gnawing on their coach, and the team as a whole.
“We just addressed it today...pre-snap and after-the-whistle penalties. That’s a reflection of me. I’m not going to stand for that. We’re not going to stand for that. Our players don’t stand for that.”
Even among the bright spots of an otherwise gloomy performance, the penalties and miscues show up. Take, for instance, the play of rookie corner Travyon Mullen. There was a lot to praise about his effort on Sunday, yet those darn penalties got in the way of a shining performance.
“He’s getting better. He had some really good plays yesterday. He was obviously flagged a few times for penalties. One of them I can’t quite say where it came from, but it was a big reversal in the game. He made a couple great plays against a great receiver. I think he’s getting confidence. I think he’s getting better. He’s getting better and better each week.”
In a nutshell, that is the story of the Raiders’ season, especially in losses. It’s one step forward, two steps back. But that is to be expected to some extent with such a young team.
They are learning how to play the NFL game. And when a team preaches being aggressive, younger players often struggle to rein in said aggression.
Gain consistency is a struggle for younger players as well. And it’s been a struggle for a team to gain continuity on both sides of the ball. When the offense is flowing, the defense struggles and vice-versa. Overall, Gruden was happy with the defense’s effort on Sunday, but pointed to the offense for making mistakes.
“We’ve had to go the long way most of the season. We’ve been pretty good at going 80 yards on long, sustained drives. Against the Jets, we had some dropped passes. I think three or four drives in a row. We’ve had some penalties. We’ve gotten off schedule. We’ve said it time and time again, for us to be good on offense right now, we’re going to have to stay on schedule and be balanced. Yesterday, I think we had a penalty on a swing pass. We had another penalty on our opening possession on an isolation block. The penalties, the turnovers, dropped passes, miscues, have hurt us. It’s been a big factor, I think, the last couple weeks. That’s something I’ve got to do a much better job of. I’m the man calling the plays.”
In spite of the poor play of the past two weeks, there remains reason for optimism. For one, penalties and the kind of miscues Gruden pointed to Monday, fit into the box of something a team can control.
Multiple times on Monday, Gruden insisted, “We just have to control what we can control, and not worry about the things we can’t control.”
He meant it in regards to the remaining four games, which could end up defining a potentially noteworthy season. He meant it in regards to the team preparing to leave Oakland for Las Vegas. Most of all, he meant it in regards to cleaning up penalties and miscues while limiting turnovers.
Bill Parcells used to say, “you are what your record says you are” in the NFL. The Raiders’ coach put his own spin on that on Monday:
“There’s some stats that aren’t very good. Then again, there are some stats that are pretty darn good. That’s pretty much who we are right now at 6-6.”
The good news, though, is it’s also any given Sunday kind of league. At different moments, but in the same vein, Gruden exclaimed, “we’re just going to focus on the Tennessee Titans,” and, “we just want to finish strong.”
There’s little doubt to what the recipe includes: limiting turnovers, penalties, and other minuscule miscues.