Raiders: Jon Gruden should be a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate

Raiders (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Raiders (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

With only seven games left in the season, the Oakland Raiders are unexpectedly still in the playoff hunt. Is Jon Gruden a legitimate Coach of the Year Candidate?

If someone were to tell you before the season started that nine weeks in, the Oakland Raiders would be in the playoff hunt following the hardest first half schedule in the NFL sitting at 5-4, you would probably think they were crazy. Or simply a homer.

But here we are at Week 10 and the Raiders are not only in the hunt for a wild-card spot, but they even have a real chance at winning the division.

This is despite being the butt of all jokes during the offseason as a result of the whole Antonio Brown fiasco as well as the controversial signings of both Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict.

Going even farther back to when Jon Gruden was originally hired, the NFL media thought that his 10-year, $100 million contract was crazy for a guy that had been out of coaching for a decade.

Fans and the media alike seemed to think that the game passed him by and that he either would not adapt to the modern NFL or that his offense would not be successful in it.

Well, Gruden did stick with his old-school, West Coast, smash-mouth offense that he is known for. And not only has it worked, it’s one of the better units in the league despite a lack of high-end veteran talent.

This 2019 Oakland Raiders team has an identity and that is an important thing to have in the NFL.

In 2018, it was clear the team was still learning the offense and trying to find its identity. And with the big trades of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, the roster was heavily lacking in talent and was full of a lot of guys who wouldn’t be on the team by the next season.

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Going back to the team’s identity, Gruden has not only instilled it but stuck with it.

The Raiders offensive statistics may not be on the same level as teams like the Kansas City Chiefs or the Baltimore Ravens high-powered offenses, but it is as effective.

The Raiders currently rank fifth in the NFL in DVOA from Football Outsiders, which is a metric that determines overall offensive efficiency.

The Raiders run game has been so effective that they have a chance in any game against any team. This is largely due to the Raiders having the most 10-plus-play drives in the league, as well as having the least amount of negative plays.

Josh Jacobs is obviously a big reason for the lack of negative plays, as he always shakes his first would-be tackler, but the offensive line that Gruden put a priority on this offseason is another reason and really the lifeline of the entire Raiders offense.

The Raiders offense is also fourth in the league in third-down conversions and that is due to Gruden’s scheming.

As explained by NFL Draft and film analyst for SB Nation Brett Kollman in a recently deleted video about the Raiders offense, Gruden calls plays on first and second down with the main objective of creating manageable third downs.

This leads to the play-calling being rather conservative for most of the game, but it is working.

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Derek Carr excels in the short passing game so the calls on manageable third-downs are usually his bread and butter, hence the high success rate. There are still a lot of games left, so of course, things can change for whatever reason and the team may fall flat on their faces.

Though as it stands right now, Jon Gruden should definitely be in the Coach of the Year discussion.

The other candidates at this point are probably Kyle Shanahan who led the San Francisco 49ers to an undefeated record through eight games, Frank Reich who has the Indianapolis Colts in the playoff hunt despite losing Andrew Luck, Sean Payton, and Sean McDermott who has led the Bills to an unexpected 6-3 record.

Keep in mind, the Raiders are in year one of a rebuild (last year was the teardown) so the team is of course, way ahead of schedule.

Mayock and his great 2019 draft class deserve a lot of credit for this, but Gruden is the one who hired him. And it’s clear he has chosen to trust and defer to him based on the moves the team has made since his hire.

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And with Gruden being known as a guy who wants to do things his way, he deserves a lot of credit for learning from the mistakes he made in his previous tenure as a head coach.

The Raiders have two extremely winnable games in the coming weeks, against the 0-8 Cincinnati Bengals and the struggling 2-7 New York Jets. With a win against both, the Raiders would be 7-4 and looking at one of the easiest second-half schedules in the NFL.

With the help of Mayock, Gruden has laid a foundation to build on and things are looking bright for the future.

With another solid draft this upcoming offseason, the team would no doubt be contenders. And with the identity of the team already set, it will make finding those players who will fit that much easier.

The 5-4 record may be nothing special in general, but given the context of this team and what the expectations were before the season started, Gruden has proven he can still coach.

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And if the Raiders do snag a playoff spot, there is no question he should be the frontrunner for Coach of the Year.