Watching the ludicrous nature of the aerial onslaught that was the 54-51 Monday Night Football showcase between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs stings when compared to the anemic Oakland Raiders.
Simply put, Jon Gruden’s version is: Air Force None.
There are a number of reasons as to why. Namely, an offensive line that is nowhere near where it once was in terms of stout performance. Then there’s the matter of a no-name wide receiving corp. Both of those result in a quarterback that is making an incredible amount of money, yet the team has little show for it.
Let’s put it into perspective: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw six touchdowns in that Monday Night loss. Raiders signal caller Derek Carr has 12 total touchdowns this season.
Let us not kid ourselves, the OL issues and the lack of potent talent at WR are a direct result of Gruden. The head coach brought in Tom Cable to tutor the line and the results have ranged from putrid to mediocre. Gruden waxed Michael Crabtree and sent Amari Cooper packing — fleecing Dallas for a first-round pick in the process — and brought in veteran Jordy Nelson.
The results have been varied, as well. Carr will change the play at the line of scrimmage much to the chagrin and delight of Gruden. Add in the quarterback’s predetermining ways — both a blessing and a curse — and it’s no wonder the Raiders aerial theatrics have been grounded.
But perhaps, Air Force None is by design.
All along Gruden said he wanted to bring back an old-school mentality of running the football in his return to the sidelines. And against the Cardinals — a team who proved they are worse than the Raiders — the ground and pound was on full display.
“We had some good two-back runs with Keith Smith as the fullback,” Gruden said on Monday. “Good, old-fashioned runs. We even used David Sharpe as an eligible receiver at tight end to get in some jumbo packages. That helped us a little bit. I thought we ran the ball in a no-huddle offense out of a single set pretty good at times, also.
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“All three backs had 10 or more carries and ran the ball, I thought, with some authority. I was pleased with that.”
Running the ball will be a Raiders staple in 2019 and beyond. As long as Gruden is at the helm of the team, the team will pound the ball. Not even the loss of Marshawn Lynch steered Oakland to an all-out air assault. Look at the All-22 film and you can see Gruden’s passing game is based on long-developing and deep option routes. That not an apt gameplan when the offensive line can’t hold up its end of the bargain.
The Raiders offense is predicated on using the pass and run in unison to get a lead and, after that, ground and pound to preserve lead and eat away at the clock.
Hence why Gruden stashed big-body bruiser tailback Chris Warren on injured reserve. Not many defenses are going to take delight with being tasked tackling a 6-foot-2 246-pound running back in the fourth quarter.
In a perfect world, the passing game compliments the rushing component and with lead in hand, Gruden hammers the opposition with Warren.
This season, however, has been a demonstration in imperfection.
And it’s going to take more than one draft or free agency class to remedy the ailing offense. In fact, if this coming crop of rooks is primarily defense in April, you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise.
“It’s been a tough year,” Gruden said about the win over the Cardinals that got the Raiders to 2-8. “It’s been a tough year for a lot of reasons. It was a great locker room yesterday. These guys played hard. Really proud of the effort, the enthusiasm, the togetherness of our team. I know we’re not where we want to be, but the attitude and the effort and the camaraderie is a big part of establishing a program. For that, I’m really proud.”
The attitude, effort and camaraderie developed, due to the ability to run the ball. And churning out consistent yardage on foot will be the emphasis of the Gruden offense — for better or worse.