Gruden knows he must improve

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Another NFL postseason, another to be played without the Raiders.

It’s not like the NCAA where it can ban a team from playing. The Raiders have simply wallowed in ineptitude. Since they lost Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002 to Tampa Bay, which was coached by Jon Gruden (More on him in a moment), the Raiders have made the playoffs once — in 2016 — where they lost to Houston 27-14 in the Wild Card round. They went 12-4 that year, the lone winning season in an 18-year span.

If you’re a fan of the Silver and Black, that’s a lot of suffering. Your brethren in New Jersey with the Jets can relate. Ditto for the Browns Backers in Cleveland and certainly those that dare to declare their devotion to the Detroit Lions.

The question is, when will the suffering end? The move from Oakland to Las Vegas was supposed to represent a turning point. The team has had five first-round picks the past two drafts. Gruden has a 10-year, $100 million contract and he was anointed savior from owner Mark Davis.

Yet, in his three years as the man in charge, Gruden has a cumulative record of 19-29. Yes, his team has made incremental improvement record-wise, going from 4-12 in his return in 2018 to 7-9 in 2019 to 8-8 in 2020. And if you had enough faith in the team that you bet they’d win more than 7.5 games this year, congratulations.

Offensively, the Raiders had put up 434 points this season, an average of just over 27 per game. It appears Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr are finally on the same page. Carr had a very good year and he helped make tight end Darren Waller a Pro Bowler and Nelson Agholor a star receiver after he struggled in Philadelphia. The blame for the failure to still be playin do not rest at No. 4’s arm.

If you’re looking to assign blame, look to the other side of the ball. Defensively, the Raiders allowed 478 this year — just under 30 points a game — and therein lies the answer. Until the defense gives up fewer points and makes more plays, the longer the suffering will continue.

It’s not just coaching. Paul Guenther was made the scapegoat but the blame lies with Gruden and, to a lesser extent, Mike Mayock, the team’s general manager. They oversee the draft. They make the picks. And if you examine those picks made on defense, the jury remains out.

Yes, Gruden will tell you the team went through an almost epidemic rash of injuries and illnesses to the defense. But the same was true along the offensive line and somehow, they managed to maintain a semblance of effectiveness as O-line coach Tom Cable did a masterful job of holding things together. And every NFL team went through the same issues as the coronavirus pandemic touched virtually all 32 squads.

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So, for those of you looking for a change at the top, forget it. Gruden and his Chucky scowl are not going anywhere. There’s still seven years left on his deal and Davis is not eating $70 million. So what do the Raiders do?

Listen to the man himself. On more than one occasion, Gruden has said he needs to coach better or needs to make the right play call. It’s fine that he’s being accountable. So how does he get better? Can he check his massive ego at the door and defer some of the responsibilities to others? He can’t go to summer school and get a refresher course on what you dial up on 3rd-and-13. It’s not likely he picks up the phone and calls Bill Parcells and asks for his advice on how to build a defense that can consistently perform over four quarters.

No, Gruden is going to have to adjust the way he conducts his business, both during practice throughout the week and on the sidelines come game day. He may have to tweak his teaching methods or be willing to accept someone else’s concepts when it comes to explaining things to his players.

Whether he likes it or not, the bucks stops with him. He is the Raiders at the moment. He’s selecting the players. He’s picking the staff. He is devising the plays. This is what Gruden wanted — total control — and he has it. So far, his handling of that control hasn’t manifested itself in winning, much less playoff appearances and certainly not contention to win a Super Bowl, something the Raiders last did in 1984.

Right now, the team’s long-standing slogan “Commitment to Excellence” remains just that — a slogan. It’s up to Gruden to make those words more than a catchphrase and give the organization back its bearing. That’s what Al Davis would’ve wanted, and demanded had he still been alive in 2020. Just having a beautiful $2 billion state-of-the-art stadium and a gorgeous practice facility isn’t enough. Al’s other slogan, “Just Win Baby,” is still coming up short. And that, beyond everything else, is what the Raiders need to get back to being about — winning — and playing football well into January with the ultimate objective being on the field in February instead of watching from their living rooms.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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