Oakland Raiders: Coach Run-Run-Pass Will Need To Battle His Nature

Jun 15, 2016; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave at minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2016; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave at minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL – potentially. To maximize that potential, OC Bill Musgrave will have to battle his nature and step up his game.

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It’s been a while since the Oakland Raiders have had an offense that exudes the sort of excitement that this year’s team is building. With a young franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, a true number one receiver in Amari Cooper, and a savvy veteran in Michael Crabtree, Oakland’s passing game has the potential to be top five in this league.

But a big part of Oakland’s success in the passing game is going to rely on their running game. And for Oakland’s running attack to rise to the occasion, OC Bill Musgrave is going to have to fight against his own nature and evolve with this team.

Given his first opportunity to be Oakland’s featured back, Latavius Murray excelled – for the most part. Posting Oakland’s first 1,000 yard season since Darren McFadden did it back in 2010, Murray finished the year second in the AFC, and sixth in the NFL in rushing yardage.

It was a solid effort that looks even better given the fact that he had no help in the backfield – in what is never a good sign for a team’s ground game, Carr was Oakland’s second leading rusher with 138 yards on the ground.

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Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Murray and Oakland’s rushing attack last season. There was a very clear drop off in performance and productivity in the second half of the season versus the first half. Murray’s total yardage, and perhaps more importantly, his yards per carry average dropped as well – nearly a full yard.

Oakland’s lack of punch in the running game had a profoundly detrimental effect on the offense as a whole – the team was far less dynamic or even offensively efficient over the second half of the season. Injuries along the line as well as to Amari Cooper can be blamed in part for the decline in productivity, of course.

But the biggest culprit in Oakland’s relative offensive power outage over the second half of the season has got to be Bill Musgrave’s play calling – especially as it relates to Oakland’s running game.

There is a very valid reason some of the Oakland faithful cursed Musgrave’s name or burned him in effigy – or both – whenever another Raider drive stalled out. It’s a reason that goes straight to the heart of some of Oakland’s offensive issues last season – and is something Musgrave is going to have to come correct on sooner rather than later.

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Of Murray’s 266 carries this past season, 244 of those came on first or second down. To break it down a little further, 135 of Murray’s 266 carries (51 percent) came on first down and 109 (41 percent) came on second down. That’s 92 percent of his carries (244 of 266) on either first or second down.

Now, not to get too incredibly wonky – too late! – but an even deeper dive into the numbers shows that Musgrave’s favorite situation to run Murray in was first and ten, where he got 114 carries. Coming in a distant second as Musgrave’s favorite running situation was second and ten or more, where Murray got an additional 43 carries.

On second downs when Oakland needed between four and six, Murray got 23 carries, and when Oakland needed between 7-9 yards on second down, he got 29 carries last year. But it’s somewhat telling about Musgrave’s offensive philosophy that on third downs when the Raiders needed between four and six yards, Murray didn’t get a single carry. Not one. And for a guy who was still averaging more than four yards a carry by season’s end, it’s a little curious.

Oakland Raiders
Dec 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) carries the ball against Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal (96) and cornerback Quinten Rollins (24) during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

You don’t have to be a graduate of MIT to be able to analyze those numbers and learn what Musgrave’s tendencies are. In plain, simple, unvarnished words, Bill Musgrave’s game plan got to be so predictable that a five year old hopped up on a gallon of Rock Star and a dozen Pixie Sticks could have worked up a defensive scheme to stop the Raiders’ offense.

After all, there’s a very good reason some of the Oakland faithful derisively refer to him as “coach run-run-pass.”

The Raiders are hoping that fifth round pick Deandre Washington can help shoulder the load with Murray and bring some much needed life into a running game that flagged as the season wore on. The problem with that though, is if Musgrave doesn’t alter his offensive approach and stop being so predictable, it’s not going to matter who is in the backfield.

If Musgrave continues on with being “coach run-run-pass,” it wouldn’t matter if you had Toddy Gurley and Adrian Peterson in a Raiders jersey since the effect would be the same – teams would be able to effectively game plan against Musgrave’s very clear tendencies.

The Raiders potentially have one of the most dynamic and explosive offenses in the game. The only thing holding them back from realizing that potential is a solid and consistent running game. And one of the biggest contributors to that lack of consistency and solidity is very predictable, poor situational play calling.

Oakland has a number of players who need to step up big and prove themselves this season if they are going to find the sort of success they – and the Raider Nation – is anticipating. But to do that, Musgrave is going to have to alter his approach, become less predictable, and put his players – his running backs in particular – in positions to succeed.

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The Raiders need big contributions from their players. But they’re also going to need a big contribution from their offensive coordinator – one that involves going against his relatively conservative, completely predictable nature.

He’s got a lot of terrific players who can do big things. And if the Raiders are to succeed and return to the postseason, Musgrave is going to figure out how to use them all to the most unpredictable and dynamic effect.