In August 2020, Las Vegas Raiders Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson noted that “Inside the 10-yard line, (the Raiders) goal-to-go offense was horrific. We turned the ball over four times. We settled for field goals too often.”
Head Coach Jon Gruden would also acknowledge Olson’s concerns and made fixing these struggles top priority, stating that “We have identified our goal-line offense, our very tight red-zone offense as a priority. That’s number one.”And yet, here we are in early 2021, with absolutely no positive change to the Raiders red zone success. In fact, things may have gotten worse, as the Raiders finished the 2020 season leading the league in redzone field goals while scraping the bottom of the barrel in red zone touchdown percentage.
Those stats as a whole are absolutely baffling. The Raiders moved the ball impressively in 2020, getting to the red zone 57 times, but only scored touchdowns in 31 of their trips. For comparison, the Cleveland Browns made it to the red zone 50 times and reached the endzone on 37 of their trips.
Things get even more confusing when considering rosters. Derek Carr finds Darren Waller for completions through the smallest windows. Yet, until Week 17, appeared almost entirely overlooked in the red zone. Henry Ruggs is one of the fastest players in the NFL, but the number of times he was targeted on a quick slant heading into the endzone could be counted on one hand.
When we look at individual stats, things somehow get worse. Carr ranks sixth in the NFL with 73 pass attempts in the redzone, Josh Jacobs ranks first with 62 redzone rushing attempts, and Waller is second to only Davante Adams in redzone reception rankings. Yet, Carr and Waller do not make the top-10 in the redzone touchdown department, while Jacobs finds himself at sixth. For reference, Kyler Murray’s 18 ranks tenth, a few spaces ahead of Carr’s 15. While Travis Kelce, Jimmy Graham, and TJ Hockenson all surpassed or tied Waller’s six redzone scores.
So, redzone offense was a priority for the offensive staff and yet the Raiders did everything well in 2020 except finish in the red zone. This simply shows an aspect where Gruden and Olson could be in over their heads. Also, since “do not get tackled in the redzone” clearly is not a teachable offensive gameplan, change is necessary.
Perhaps a change from the Jason Witten dumpoffs (with multiple yards still to go) can help. Throughout a vast majority of the season, it felt like they eschewed redzone passing. Time and time again, the Raiders gave Jacobs at least one shot to power the ball into the endzone before attempting to pass the ball, which typically resulted in a throwaway and Daniel Carlson getting the call to kick an incredibly short field goal.
Heart of the Matter
It is certainly possible that Gruden thought he would be the smartest coach in the room. By running slightly contrarian red zone plays, what did it prove? Now that his plans utterly backfired, he had better find himself breaking down successful team’s red zone plays. In this situation, being a bit more run-of-the-mill could lead to an impressive amount of success.