The Las Vegas Raiders have been torched for more than 400 yards rushing and 72 points the last two weeks, so it didn’t really come as a surprise that Coach Jon Gruden relieved Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther of his duties after Sunday’s 44-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
With the Silver and Black’s playoff chances hanging by a thread, Gruden elevated Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli to take charge of the defense with three games left in the regular season.
The Raiders (7-6) must win all three and hope for help to make the post-season.
“I’m not going to answer a million questions today,” Gruden told reporters on Monday. “It’s a very tough decision we made. Paul is a great friend and a great coach. He’s given a great effort here for two and a half years. It was a very tough circumstance with the COVID, players coming and going with all the injuries.
“We need a new voice right now. I think it’ll help Paul in the long run, probably, getting away from me. Certainly, he’s a great coach. We thank him for everything that he has done. But we need a new voice right now. I think we need a new energy. With three games left, we’re going to let Rod Marinelli call the plays, he’s experienced doing that.”
The 71-year-old Marinelli has been coaching since 1973, has been in the NFL for 25 years, and was head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2008.
In addition, he was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002-05, including when they routed the Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
“I think he’s one of the great teachers and great motivators and great people that I’ve met in this business,” Gruden said of Marinelli, who is in his first season with the Raiders. “He looks forward to adversity, he thrives in it. I think he looks forward to these challenges of building this defense and putting it all together.
“That’s why we brought him here in the first place. It’ll certainly help if his soldiers get healthy upfront, but he has great experience and has a great amount of experience in situations like this.”
The Raiders defense, which is filled with free agents and young players, has had its ups and downs this season, not to mention injuries.
And it didn’t help that there were no off-season mini-camps or rookie camps, not to mention preseason games before this strangest of all seasons because the Coronavirus pandemic got underway after a limited training camp.
“Look, it’s been at every level,” Gruden said. “I’m not here to make any excuses. We have to play better; we have three games left. (Nick) Kwiatkoski had injuries. (Cory) Littleton has had Coronavirus. Now, Nick Morrow has a concussion. John Abram’s been in, he’s been out. Damon Arnette has been out most of the year. Now Jeff Heath is out. Lamarcus Joyner’s had the Coronavirus. Carl Nassib and Maliek Collins is now on IR. (Maurice) Hurst has had the Coronavirus.
“We’ve had it at all three levels. Now, (Clelin) Ferrell is hurt. So, we have to do some damage control. We have to continue to coach and grind and stay positive and hope that Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, some of these newcomers can step up and play key roles for us.”
The Raiders have allowed an average of 384.2 yards per game, which ranks 25th in the NFL, while allowing 30.1 points per game, ahead of only the winless New York Jets (30.2) and the Dallas Cowboys (30.8). Las Vegas has allowed 138 points in the fourth quarter, more than any team in the league.
Gruden is asking Marinelli to get this straightened out on a short week, as the Raiders play host to the Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) on Thursday Night Football at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
“It’ll be tough,” said Gruden, whose Raiders beat the Chargers, 31-26, last month. “It’s going to be tough. They have to go through the proper channels. I’ll have to update you on (injuries) as soon as possible, but right now we have a lot of players in question.
“(The Chargers) played very well (Sunday), defensively especially (in a 20-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons). They intercepted (Matt) Ryan three times, had a couple of sacks.
“(Running back Austin) Ekeler is a guy that can catch you from anywhere on the field, in the slot, as a receiver, coming out of the backfield. And (quarterback) Justin Herbert is a guy we know first-hand can make all the plays. We’ll have our hands full again and that’s why we have to get back to work.”
Marinelli has his hands full with only three days to prepare.
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