With the loss to Kansas City on Sunday, the Oakland Raiders may not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs … but for all intents and purposes, any and all hope of a playoff berth was extinguished. There are four games left in the season but one can’t help but start thinking about the offseason already. And not because this team was so bad that you want to move on, either. Rather, because the Raiders flashed so much potential, you’re excited about what could be in 2016.
Naturally, the first thing you think about is how to make the team better. It’s a little early to be speculating about free agents or draft picks, but it’s never too early to take an internal evaluation on what you have, especially when it comes to the first-year coaching staff. Head coach Jack Del Rio appears to be doing a fairly good job and his job is unquestionably safe. His coordinators, on the other hand, are another story.
On defense, it’s obvious what needs to be done: get better players. Until Ken Norton, Jr. is given a defensive roster that has a secondary you don’t want to laugh at, it’s hard to truly evaluate him.
On offense, that question is much more convoluted. The Raiders have a young stud of a quarterback, a wide receiver on pace to set rookie records, a number two receiver on pace to hit 1,000 yards this season and a slew of other pass catchers in various tight ends and running backs.
At times this season, the Raiders offense was top-10 in the league in most of the major statistical categories. Over the last four weeks, it’s been inconsistent at best. Part of that has been due to players not executing, but part of it has also been due to some curious play-calling by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Musgrave has looked brilliant at times. He engineered an offense that was top-10 in scoring for a good chunk of the year and the Raiders have seen their young quarterback flourish under him. They scored at least 34 points in three consecutive games after the bye. But at the same time, one has to wonder if his play-calling cost this team multiple wins.
Musgrave starts games strong, but often appears clueless late in the second half. Heading into Sunday’s game, the Raiders had a -52 point differential in the fourth quarter. Now have a -72 point differential in the fourth quarter.
Players need to make plays, but coaches also need to put them in the right positions.
Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs provided a perfect example of the problem with Musgrave late in games. After taking a six-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Raiders quickly found themselves trailing by six points after two interceptions led to touchdowns for the Chiefs. The Raiders then went on a solid seven-play, 45-yard drive that would have resulted in three points if Sebastian Janikowski hit a 49-yard field goal.
After Janikowski missed, the defense did what it needed to do — they got a stop and gave the offense a chance to win with four and a half minutes left on the clock, only trailing by six.
On the drive that ended in a missed field goal, all seven plays were pass plays and the Raiders moved the ball fairly well. When they got the ball back, Musgrave inexplicably went away from what was working. His first two play calls of that drive were a run up the gut for no gain and a quick pass to Latavius Murray on the flat for one yard.
Rather than continue to do what was working, Musgrave went conservative despite not having the lead, which killed the drive at the beginning. Those two plays took over a minute off of the clock and suddenly left the Raiders in a third-and-nine with not nearly as much time as they originally had for an 84-yard drive.
Carr tried to force a third down throw to Amari Cooper, who was only barely able to touch the ball before it was picked off by Tyvon Branch and returned for a touchdown that sealed the game. That pick is on Carr, but had Musgrave put him in a better position on that drive, things might have ended differently.
This is just one among many examples of poor situational play-calling by Musgrave late in games. He clearly knows how to get his weapons the ball, even with a lot of options. Having two receivers on pace to reach 1,000 yards is evidence of that. He also clearly knows how to help his quarterback develop, as Carr has taken huge strides in his system this season.
It’s frustrating, because one has to imagine that with a better play-caller, this offense would produce much more consistently. But at the same time, you have to question the wisdom behind giving your young franchise quarterback his third offensive coordinator in three years, especially considering he is doing well under Musgrave. Carr is ninth in passing yards, tied for fourth in touchdowns and seventh in passer rating.
Could this offense be even better than it is? One has to believe so, based on what we have seen this year. But what’s the key to this offense reaching its full potential? Is it finding a new offensive coordinator, or showing patience with Musgrave and his young offense? That’s a question that the Raiders and fans alike will be focusing on as we watch the final four games of the year.