Will the Raiders Regret Bringing Back Tom Cable?

Tom Cable Oakland Raiders

The return of offensive coach – and former Raiders head coach – Tom Cable was polarizing. Does the return of The Cable Guy make sense and will he succeed?

New Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden surprised most people when he brought Tom Cable in as his offensive line coach. The former Raiders head coach had just been fired by the Seattle Seahawks after his unit seriously under-performed last season when Gruden scooped him up.

Cable is widely regarded as a quality offensive line coach, and on paper this seems like a great pick up. There are some questions that Cable will have to prove he can answer going forward though. His ability to answer these questions will play a a significant role in the success or failure of the start of Gruden’s tenure than many fans may realize.

Raiders Head Coach 

His time as Oakland’s head coach was not very successful on the field. Over his two-plus seasons at the helm, he compiled a 17-27 win-loss record and did not have a winning season. Though he did not have much of a chance with JaMarcus Russell under cente,. Russell did not have a poor work ethic as many people have heard – he had no work ethic at all. It is doubtful any coach could have had any level of success in that situation.

Cable was promoted to head coach four games into the 2008 season after Hall of Fame owner Al Davis fired Lane Kiffin. He would post a record of 4-8 over the final 12 games of the season. Between the in-season shake up and the poor performances out of his quarterback, Cable would oversee an offense ranked 29th in both points and yards. The passing attack ranked dead last and gave up 39 sacks. He did however, have the 10th ranked rushing game which given the circumstances was astonishing.

A full offseason with which to install his schemes did not help Cable during the 2009 season. Oakland would finish the year with a 5-11 record while his offense would drop to 31st in both points and yards. His passing game would rank 29th. Russell would start nine games, finishing the season with 1,287 yards, three touchdowns, 11 interceptions, while being sacked 33 times in 12 games. Offensively, the team would allow 49 sacks. Cable’s rushing game, which had been the lone bright spot the season before, sank to 21st in the league.

Owner Al Davis had seen enough and hired offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to run the offense and run it he did. A combination of a new coordinator and bringing in an NFL caliber quarterback, would have a profound impact on the teams production. Oakland’s offense would finish 10th in yards, sixth in points, 23rd in passing, and second in the NFL in rushing. It is worth noting again though, Hue wasn’t stuck with Russell. If you tie a piano to an Olympic swimmer, they are going to drown. It’s hard to gauge Cable’s offense through this prism.

Offensive production would overcome the 20th ranked defense just enough to finish the season 8-8. What was interesting was the sudden emergence of running back Darren McFadden. After laboring in Cable’s zone blocking scheme for two seasons, Jackson turned McFadden into an MVP caliber back before his season ending foot injury. The shift to a power gap scheme minimized McFadden’s poor field vision and allowed him to utilize his best asset, his speed.

McFadden had gained 856 yards and five touchdowns in 25 games with Cable. Jackson unleashed him to the tune of 1,157 yards and 7 touchdowns in only 13 games. Scoring more points certainly was the biggest consideration to Al Davis when he fired Cable and made Hue Jackson head coach, but his ability to get the most out of the Raiders’ 4th overall pick certainly was also at the forefront of his mind.

This is the first instance of the main questions surrounding Cable. Can he put players in position to succeed? Does his reliance on “his scheme” force players into roles they are not suited for? Does he have the ability to identify and develop talent? These questions came up again with the Seahawks.

Seattle Seahawks Offensive Line Coach 

Cable’s time in Seattle is a red flag the Raiders and Gruden should take into account. The narrative that has been spread is that Seahawks General Manager John Schneider was unable to give Cable any talent to work with. This is far from the truth. Reality is, Cable was allowed to hand pick the players drafted on the offensive line. The Seahawks used 15 draft picks on offensive linemen while Cable was with the team, and they even went so far as to draft at least two a year for his last five drafts.

The draft capital the Seahawks used on wasted offensive line picks is rather staggering. From 2011 draft thru this past draft they selected two linemen in the first round, two in the second round, two in the third round, two in the fourth round, fourth in the sixth round, and three in the 7th round. Cable selected 15 offensive linemen between the 2011 draft and this past season, and only one has come close to a Pro Bowl when 2014 2nd round pick Justin Britt made it as an alternate last year. That was about the only positive from last season.

Here they gave up a sack and fumble to four-man pressure while using seven-man protection, it doesn’t get much worse than this. Also while it was “just one guy getting beat” on this play, it was “just one guy getting beat” on almost every play for the whole season. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 43 times last season and it would have been much more if not for his athletic ability to escape pressure.

What does this have to do with the Raiders, you may wonder. They have a glaring need at the right tackle spot and left tackle Donald Penn is 34 years old and coming off of foot surgery. Offensive tackle is a glaring need going into this years draft. Also the Seahawks were looking to save cap space by drafting linemen instead of handing out the big contracts guys like guards Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, and center Rodney Hudson received.

With the Raiders so close to the salary cap, could they look to shed cap space by letting some of their offensive linemen go and rebuild through the draft? Rest assured that Gruden certainly seems to understand what the strength of the offense is and most likely will not got that route.

“Donald Penn got hurt late in the season. He had a contract holdout – I don’t think that helped matters,” Gruden said. “(He) missed some time in camp, that’s never a good thing. But we’re strong inside. We’re very stout in there. Love the two guards. And I think the center plays with as much individual effort as any guy in the league. I love watching (Rodney) Hudson play. He’s a great communicator. He’ll be the anchor. He’ll be key for us in the pivot.”

This understanding does not account for every possibility however. Oakland’s interior of their offensive line is one of the most dominant and physical middle three in the NFL. If Cable is allowed is to select the incoming tackles and fails, it is likely that Osemele is shifted out to one of the tackle spots thus weakening that interior. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is athletic but he is not Wilson, he will not stand up well to plays like this.

Carr is like most quarterback who perform better when they are not under duress. During the 2016 season Carr’s passer rating was 103.7 in a clean pocket, that number dropped to 70.0 when under pressure. Last year’s drop off was even more dramatic. Without pressure Carr had a 100.5 passer rating that plummeted to 40.8 while under pressure. Gruden can play a role in this equation with his play calling but if the team falls behind late in games, Carr must be protected to orchestrate those last game heroics from the 2016 season. Again Cable’s fingerprints will be on aspects of the game fans may not completely realize.

Cable’s zone scheme 

Former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave‘s power / gab scheme had the Raiders offense riding high with the 6th ranked rushing offense in 2016. After he was replaced by Todd Downing, former head coach Jack Del Rio, and former offensive line coach Mike Tice implemented a zone base running game with disastrous results. The offense dropped to 25th with basically the same players. For Gruden’s part he seems to grasp this and doesn’t seemed destined to repeat failures of the past.

“I think Tom’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, Gruden said. “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.”

Gruden seems to trust his coach and for now, fans must as well. If he proves he has learned from his mistakes, he may be a valuable assistant on the Raiders staff. If, however, the failures that plagued his last stop follow him to Oakland, his return will be short lived. One thing Gruden is consistent about, if you can’t do your job, you won’t have one.

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