When Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie to run the football operations it started a new era of football for the Oakland Raiders. McKenzie would fire Hue Jackson and completely revamp the football operations from the coaching staff to the computer equipment.
With Oakland’s offense sputtering and the Raider Nation jumping ship like they were aboard the Titanic, it’s only natural to wonder how the Raiders would be better or worse off with Jackson as the head coach. What if Jackson were still calling the plays and getting weekly pedicures in Oakland?
Had Jackson made the playoffs, McKenzie might have given him another year before beginning the search for a head coach. On personalities alone, it’s hard to imagine the two coexisting. It’s a scenario that we can only imagine.
Would Jackson’s offense be significantly better than Greg Knapp’s offense? What about the defense? The common thinking on the subject seems to suggest Jackson’s offense is superior to Knapp’s offense. With Dennis Allen still in Denver, would the new defensive coordinator be Jack Del Rio? The possibilities are endless.
One thing is certain: Jackson became the offensive coordinator in 2010 and Darren McFadden’s production immediately jumped. Jackson was so impressive he was elevated to the head coaching job by Al Davis prior to the start of the 2011 season.
After Davis died, Jackson orchestrated a trade to unite Carson Palmer with McFadden. The two wouldn’t take a snap together in 2011 and the Raiders would stumble down the stretch. Jackson wasn’t a fool, he knew his only chance to keep the job was if the team made the playoffs.
Jackson was full of bravado and arrogance, but he had the offense playing inspired football and the team came within a win of making the playoffs that would have potentially saved his job. The Raiders discarded that progress for a fresh start.
Can we reasonably guesstimate how the offseason and first four games would have been with Jackson running the show? We can try…
When Jackson brought in Palmer, he put the Raiders in a salary-cap bind. The Raiders were already projected to be slightly above the cap and Palmer, added a significant amount to that number.
Kamerion Wimbley and Stanford Routt would likely both still have been released. Michael Bush would have still been allowed to leave in free agency. The Raiders' roster would still have lost quite of bit of talent.
The only differences might have been the drafting of Tony Bergstrom and the signing of Mike Brisiel. The Raiders would have drafted or signed offensive linemen who better fit the power-blocking scheme.
On defense, let’s just assume for a second McKenzie makes the same moves. It’s not like the moves McKenzie made on the defensive side of the ball were tied completely to the new defensive scheme. That means that the only thing that might be different about the defense is the coaching.
Jackson favored the vertical passing game and the power or man blocking on the offensive line. The result would have been more production from McFadden, but also more turnovers by Palmer. With Palmer under center, the Raiders averaged 1.9 turnovers per game in 2011. So far in 2012, the Raiders have three offensive turnovers in four games.
The Raiders averaged 22.4 points per game under Jackson in 2011 and in 2012 are scoring just 16.8 points per game. That’s a difference of less than two field goals. Would two field goals have changed the outcome of any of Oakland’s three losses? Probably not.
Two field goals certainly would not have changed the outcome of the games in Miami or Denver. The impact of two field goals on the San Diego game is difficult to quantify. Just as it was in 2011, the defense is costing the Raiders football games.
Knapp is also trying to install a new scheme. Regardless of what you might think about that scheme and whether it fits the personnel, it does take time to install. It took Jackson time to install his scheme too.
Unfortunately, Knapp force-fed his scheme like a college student cramming for finals and the Raiders were ready to pass the test, but that’s really a different issue. Knapp did show a willingness to depart from zone runs to get McFadden going in Week 3, and there’s a strong possibility we may see more of that going forward.
In many ways, Knapp’s first four games have been better than Jackson’s first four games as offensive coordinator. In Jackson’s first four games the offense scored 13 more points, had 18 more first downs, turned the ball over five more times and had 47 fewer total yards than Knapp’s 2012 version.
Jackson’s offense produced 128 more rushing yards through four games but also had 175 fewer passing yards. The 13 more points is good for just over one field goal more per game than Knapp’s offense, or about a field goal per game.
Of course, the Raiders have Palmer and McFadden together, and that was supposed to pay dividends. Since Jackson never got to coach both Palmer and McFadden at the same time, it’s impossible to know that the marriage would have been better.
It’s likely that Jackson’s offense would have been even better than Knapp’s in 2012 if he was still head coach just due to continuity. That’s how the NFL works and precisely why McKenzie was anxious to get his own head coach in place. It’s not what the Raider Nation wants to hear, but it does take time when you have a regime change.
The biggest criticism of Davis when he was alive was his impatience with coaches. It wasn’t until Jon Gruden’s third season that the Raiders won more than eight games (12 in 2000). In fact, the only coaches to make it to their third seasons under Davis were John Rauch, John Madden, Tom Flores, Art Shell (the first time) and Gruden.
The Raider Nation is now quick to judge a coach like Davis did, when they really need to be patient and give the coaching staff a full three seasons.
If Jackson was still the head coach, there’s a very good chance McFadden has more yards due to the continuity of the scheme. There’s also a very good chance that the Raiders are still 1-3 headed into the bye week and Palmer has thrown more interceptions.
The ineptness of the defense wouldn’t likely be much different, and the Raiders would still have depth issues across the entire roster. The fans would still be unhappy, but the Raiders wouldn’t be any closer to winning a championship.
McKenzie made a decision when he decided to throw out Jackson and the old regime. That decision was to start fresh, and that means having patience for three years for the new staff and an understanding there would be growing pains.
The result of keeping Jackson would have been public relations headaches, a better offense and a similarly poor defense and record. Jackson would have solved some problems and created two more problems for McKenzie.
Lamenting the loss of Jackson doesn’t change the fact that the Raiders are a bad football team right now and the biggest issue is the defense. The offense will eventually get going, but they need time in the new scheme, just as the players needed time to adjust to Jackson’s new scheme.
Whether the scheme is right for the players is an entirely different question, but the Raiders have almost a full three years to find players to fit the scheme they want to run.