Gruden’s “Old School” Will Be Just Fine

Chris Reed

The Las Vegas Raiders Report welcomes new contributor Chris Reed to the site. In his first story, Reed delves deeply into the true meaning of Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s “old school” football quote from the NFL Combine.

The national media pundits have focused their attention on comments Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden made at the NFL Combine and have used it to cast him as a coach out of touch with today’s state of the league. The narrative the past few weeks paints him as an outdated coach who doesn’t know how modern football, and the athletes who play it, operate. Those “experts” use this as their reasoning why Gruden is destined to fail in his return to Oakland.

What these pundits fail to take into account is the fact Gruden has been close to the game. His broadcasting career kept him close and the bond with younger brother Jay — head coach of the Washington Redskins — kept him innately close to all that is the NFL.

Man, I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998. You know, really as a broadcaster, I went around and observed every team, asked a lot of questions, took a look at the facilities, how they’re doing business, there’s a stack of analytic data or DAY-tuh, however you want to say that word, people don’t even know how to read it. It’s one thing to have the data — or DAY-tuh — it’s another thing to know how to read the damn thing. So, I’m not going to rely on GPS’s and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that can help me from that regard. But I still thing doing things the old-fashioned way is a good way, and we’re going to try to lean the needle that way a little bit. — Jon Gruden

What these supposed NFL experts are missing is how strategic Gruden is in his approach. Instead, the misconstrued comment is used as ammunition to prove Gruden fears technology, advances in coaching and today’s players. By examining his other comments and understanding the composition of modern NFL defenses, his intentions become a bit clearer. His plan has the potential to turn a 6-10 team into one of the most physically dominate teams in the NFL.

jon gruden oakland Raiders

Gruden’s comments at the combine weren’t correctly framed by many who follow the NFL.

With more teams running versions of the spread offense, defenses have responded by placing an emphasis on speed — usually at the expense of size and physicality. Players such as San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Reuben Foster are playing at 6-1, 225 pounds, which would have been an ideal size for a safety when Gruden last coached. Again, based on his comments, it sounds like the Raiders new coach plans on taking advantage of this lack of size.

The Raiders’ offensive line is built for power and had the league’s sixth-ranked rushing attack when they utilized a power-gap scheme during the 2016 season. The last coaching staff shifted to a zone-based running attack with disastrous results, dropping to 26th in rushing in 2017. The hiring of offensive line coach Tom Cable seems to indicate the team would continue with this failed system in 2018, but Gruden indicated that is not the case.

No. I think Cable’s background is one of the outside zone, the inside zone, but he’s also a very versatile coach. He’s proven that. He can run gap schemes. He’s going to run what we’re good at running. If we have a good back, and some good linemen and a tight end and a fullback, we’ll have a good running game with Tom Cable. But we’ve got to get the components in place so he can be all he can be. That’s something we’re working on right now. He’s a versatile coach, certainly he’s an expert in the zone scheme and I’m excited about that, but there’s a lot of ways he’s run the ball in his background. — Jon Gruden

I would expect to see more of a reliance on power-gap runs this season, but there are compromises that can be made in the scheme. Running back Marshawn Lynch has great vision, which is why he has had so much success in zone-based offenses. One example that would take advantage of Lynch’s ability to anticipate running lanes while also taking advantage of the offensive lines power is a “pin and pull.”

In this example, the Raiders have their left tackle (Sharpe) and inside tight end (Alexander) down block “pinning” the defenders while their left guard (Osemele) and center (Hudson) pull, creating a power lead. Lynch is still free to read his blocks and hit any running lane he finds. This is a perfect marriage of utilizing Lynch’s field vision while maximizing the strengths of the offensive line.

Power runs are going to allow the offense to control the line of scrimmage, as well as wear down the defense. As they wear down, the running game will become more productive, as well as slow down any potential pass rush. The Raiders’ week 9 matchup with the Denver Broncos from the 2016 season is a good template for this game plan.

In this game, running back Latavius Murray had 114 yards with an average of 5.7 yards and three touchdowns. The team had 218 rushing yards and controlled the time of possession with 41:28 minutes vs. only 18:32 minutes for the Broncos. That means the Raiders had the ball for almost three quarters.

This does not mean Gruden is going to go back to the “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” days, however. The spread offense has become so widespread because it works. The offense is still going to identify matchups they can take advantage of and exploit. Play-action will lead to many more of the vertical passes that were missing from last season’s playbook.

Gruden’s quotes shouldn’t be taken literally, but rather in context of the roster moves the front office is making. Signing fullback Kevin Smith when many teams do not even list a fullback on their rosters is a good indication he plans to pound the ball. But don’t think quarterback Derek Carr isn’t going to be utilized. He is the best quarterback he has had in his head coaching career and Gruden will maximize his talents.

After 10 years in the broadcasting booth, Gruden will have some adjustments to make. That is certain. How well he handles the challenges and the adversity that might arise will play a big role in the success or failure of the upcoming campaign. Based on his comments, he has a good idea of how he intends to tackle the challenges and how to best use his players. Going a little “old school” might be exactly what this team is built for.