For a long time, the Oakland Raiders were one of the best teams in the NFL. Multiple Super Bowl wins, constantly in the playoffs, and owned by one of the most unique men in the league, Al Davis. But they were also one of the most polarizing teams — fans either loved them or hated them. They had a rep for being the team that collected the bad boys. The dirty players. But that was years ago, and the 2016 Raiders were full of young, dedicated players who made it to the playoffs but lost because their quarterback, Derek Carr, broke his leg in the final game of the season. In the offseason they signed Beast Mode himself, Marshawn Lynch, and every indication was that the Raiders were going places in 2017.
With most teams, you can look at an injury or a hold out or someone who left the team and say that’s why things changed. But with the Raiders, there is no clear indication why the team regressed. They were 3rd in the AFC in 2015, so they went into 2016 playing a lower caliber of team than they did in 2017, having won their division. And to go from 12-4 to 6-10 sometimes just means losing the one-score games. In 2016 they won the close games — almost all of them. In 2017 they lost them.
Football is made up of skill, your ability to execute, the quality of your opponent and a bit of luck. The likelihood is that the team wasn’t as good as their 12-4 record in 2016 and not as bad as their 6-10 record of 2017. Fluctuations like that happen when you have young teams. The more experience a team gets, the more consistent they play.
The season ended with the firing of Jack Del Rio. I don’t know if that would’ve happened if Jon Gruden wasn’t available. I don’t think there was any other amazing coaching candidate out there that would’ve been better than Del Rio. That means you could conclude that Gruden cost Del Rio his job as much as anything the team did.
A lot will change with Gruden. He is intense, so much so that they may want to hire a coach specifically tasked to stand next to Gruden and remind him of the practice rule changes that have taken place in the decade that he was gone. How intense is “Chucky”, the nickname he got because of his resemblance to the Child’s Play killer? Rich Gannon agreed to be the quarterbacks coach for the team, but while driving to the stadium, he changed his mind, realizing he just didn’t have the desire to work at Gruden’s intensity level.
He was always a good coach and has spent the last decade evaluating talent and breaking down film. It’s likely that he can squeeze the most out of the young talent that the club has pulled together, led by Carr, Cooper and Crabtree. Of the four teams in the AFC West, the Raiders are the only one with a young franchise quarterback locked in on a long-term contract. Everyone else is either led by an aging player or not sure who will lead them. Gruden may be taking over the ship just as the tide is turning their way.
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