Jon Gruden has a lot to prove in the fourth season of his second stint as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders are only 19-29 in those four seasons, including 8-8 last year after they got off to a promising start at 6-3, before falling short of the playoffs by losing five of the last seven games.
However, Gruden has gotten some respect in one area.
Pro Football Focus recently rated Gruden as the fourth-best playing-calling coach in the National Football League.
“This one is tough to explain, since Gruden is very much part of the grocery shopping for a team that has brought home rotten vegetables and expired canned goods in both the draft and free agency,” senior writer Eric Eager of PFF wrote in its explanation.
“Be that as it may, Gruden is still a pretty good chef with these ingredients, as evidenced by the fact that the Raiders ranked 10th in the NFL in yards per play offensively despite having the league’s 17th-ranked pass-blocking unit, 26th-ranked run-blocking unit, and 18th-ranked running game by PFF grades.
“Derek Carr has performed really well the past two years, and the Raiders are 15-17 despite fielding one of the league’s worst defenses during that stretch. It’s a well-deserved placing for Gruden. He has a hell of a big playbook. Now if he can get all of the other pertinent aspects of his gig done, the Raiders will be in business.”
Only Coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers, Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll of the Buffalo Bills, and Coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs are ranked ahead of Gruden by PFF.
The Raiders ranked eighth in the NFL last season with 6,133 total yards, which works out to 383.3 yards per game, were seventh with 4,217 yards passing, with an average of 263.6 yards per game, and 14th with 1,916 yards rushing, or 119.8 yards per game.
The Silver and Black did all that despite an offensive line that was ravaged by injuries last season.
Under Gruden’s guidance, quarterback Derek Carr had his most prolific season in 2020, completing 348-of-517 passes, which works out to 67.3 percent, for 4,103 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.
Carr, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has passed for more than 4,000 yards in each of the last three seasons and has broken all of Kenny “Snake” Stabler’s franchise career passing records, having thrown for 26,896 yards and 170 touchdowns with 71 interceptions in his seven pro seasons.
The Raiders also have had a dependable rushing game led by Josh Jacobs, who was 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year and made the 2020 Pro Bowl. The 5-10, 220-pound Jacobs, a first-round pick out of Alabama two years ago, rushed for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie and added 1,065 yards and 12 TDs last year.
Jacobs also has caught 53 passes for 404 yards in his two seasons.
Tight end Darren Waller has developed into Carr’s favorite receiver, catching 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns in his first season as a starter in 2019, and made Pro Bowl last season, when he broke Tim Brown’s franchise record with 107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine scores.
Still, the Raiders must get more from young wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, plus give a bigger role to Hunter Renfrow, who has performed well as a slot receiver.
Despite that production from his offense, Gruden has been criticized for not being aggressive enough in his play-calling at crucial times and by settling for field goals too often.
However, if Gruden and the offense get more help from the defense, this could be the year the Raiders make it back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.
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