Oakland Raiders Offense Approaching Uncharted Territory Under Bill Musgrave

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2015

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 8:  Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave of the Oakland Raiders looks on from the sideline during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 8, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Raiders 38-35. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

For the first time in Oakland Raiders history, the team could finish the NFL season with a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver.

But some still yell, “Fire Bill Musgrave.”

Yeah, sure. Fire the offensive coordinator who is propelling the offense into new heights. Later on, we'll go through franchise record books that make this idea seem rather silly. 

But for now, the fact is quarterback Derek Carr needs 207 passing yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in the season finale to complete the 1,000-1,000-4,000 trifecta.

What’s the point of highlighting these areas of uncharted territory?

Despite showing glimpses of brilliance, the Raiders offensive coordinator has drawn heavy criticism and complete disdain for his play-calling.

Are we that shortsighted that we fail to see the big picture for the Raiders offense? What offensive coordinator calls perfect games for 16 weeks? It's an unrealistic expectation that has clouded perspective on what Musgrave and the offense achieved in 2015.

  

Is it Musgrave’s Fault?

 “It’s Musgrave’s fault!” is echoed throughout Raiders' discussion boards and media circles after most losses or mishaps.

Based on the above logic, Musgrave should receive credit for Carr's 31-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But you won't hear about that favorable narrative.

Musgrave has become the easy scapegoat any time the team falters. We often forget about rookie wideout Amari Cooper’s drops: He leads the league in that category with 16. In fact, the Raiders are tied for second with the Philadelphia Eagles in dropped passes:

Is this Bill Musgrave's Fault? (Most Dropped Passes)
TeamDrops
New England Patriots44
Philadelphia Eagles41
Oakland Raiders41
Green Bay Packers37
New York Giants35
Pro Football Focus

But those drops have nothing to do with Musgrave and everything to do with player execution. Let’s not use coaching as an excuse for poor on-field miscues. What do you want the offensive coordinator to do? Hand out Stickum to the receivers, tight ends and running backs? 

The Raiders offense has flourished with an antiquated rushing offense that features a single running back, Latavius Murray, who, by the way, reached 1,035 rushing yards as a first-time, full-time starter. Nonetheless, the Raiders rank No. 25 in rushing-yard averages (93.9 yards) without the presence of a solid No. 2 running back:

Raiders' No. 25 Rushing Offense Lacks Depth
Rush AttemptsRushing YardsYards-Per-Carry Average
Latavius Murray2551,0354.1
Other RBs Combined642543.9
Pro-Football-Reference.com

The front office failed to equip the backfield with another solid ball-carrier to pair with the starter. Is that Musgrave’s fault?

Fullback Jamize Olawale saw a spotty workload, but he’s still a raw talent. Marcel Reece lost a step as a ball-carrier. Taiwan Jones battled with ball-security issues. Finally, the coaching staff as a whole continues to leave Roy Helu Jr. on the sidelines, which traces back to head coach Jack Del Rio.

 

Debunking Myths: Musgrave Handicaps Offense?

Let’s suppress irrational emotions and highlight some facts.

Some feel Musgrave has handicapped the offense instead of developed offensive talent on the roster. It’s a mind-boggling statement without concrete merit.

In his second year, Carr ranks as a top 10 quarterback in passing touchdowns.

Cooper currently ranks top 20 in receiving yards among all receivers as a rookie in the league. Michael Crabtree ranks in the top 15 among wideouts in touchdown receptions as a solid red-zone threat.

Murray leads the AFC in rushing yards and ranks No. 4 among all running backs. 

Among the Raiders’ prominent offensive playmakers, three are playing in their first or second season as full-time starters. These young talents are flourishing in the top third or better in various categories under Musgrave. It’s logical to think the best is yet to come in future seasons with progression and development.

 

Debunking Myths: Musgrave's Run-Run-Pass Obsession

This narrative has been blown way out of proportion, literally speaking.

First off, the Raiders boast a pass-heavy offense. An obsessive run-run-pass sequence suggests a ball-control offense, yielding more than 50 percent in run plays. The truth about Musgrave's tendencies illustrate the complete opposite. 

Too Much Run-Run-Pass? Not Really.
Pass Play PercentageRankRun Play PercentageRank
62.8910th37.1123rd
Team Rankings

The Raiders rank No. 10 in pass play-calling percentages, which doesn't fit the outcry on excessive run-run-pass sequences. 

Then you have those who despise the screen passes. Well, that's Musgrave trying to maximize the talent on the roster. Wideout Seth Roberts ranks as the third-best wideout in blocking, which makes screen passes a good idea. No one complained when the screen passes brought in flashy highlights and productivity: 

At this point, Cooper ranked near the top of the league in yards after the catch.

And why is that?

Screen passes allowed Cooper to use his speed. That, coupled with downfield blocking, burned defenses. Let's not condemn screen plays without acknowledging their success when executed by a healthy receiver. 

 

3rd-Down Percentages and Red-Zone Efficiency

3rd-Down Efficiency and Red-Zone Offense
3rd-Down Conversion PercentageRankRed-Zone EfficiencyRank
40.3No. 1462.50No. 8
ESPN.com and Team Rankings

Yes, there are some head-scratching play calls. But the good outweighs the bad.

Despite heavy criticism of Musgrave’s third-down play-calling, Oakland ranks No. 14 in third-down percentages, converting 40.3 percent.

It’s an unrealistic expectation for a young offense to convert more than half.

The Arizona Cardinals hold the best third-down percentage at 47.3 percent, and that's with an offense led by veteran two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Oakland's offense has to learn to walk before running on all cylinders.

For the Raiders, a 40 percent conversion rate on third down doesn’t reach levels of disgust. You must consider that Carr, a second-year signal-caller learning his second offensive system, is throwing to a rookie wideout as his top target—and he has limited options in the backfield.

Despite the inexperience, the Raiders' third-down conversion percentage ranks in the top half of the league.

Oakland's offense ranks No. 8 in red-zone scoring percentage, converting 62.50 percent of its red-zone trips into touchdowns, which ranks in the top fourth of the league. 

We can all recall a poor play call in the red zone or a poor sequence, but look at the bigger picture. It’s about the overall average, not that one play that made you angry on a few Sunday afternoons.

 

Carr Growth Under Musgrave 

Carr has progressed in his sophomore year as a decision-maker with deep-ball accuracy, throwing for 11 touchdowns, three interceptions and 800 yards on passes 20 or more yards downfield. He’s experienced some hiccups at home, but nothing can minimize 31 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

Furthermore, his game continues to evolve as he learns to use his legs as a ball-carrieran extra skill set Musgrave discussed with local reporters prior to the Oakland's game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 15. 

Carr doesn’t resemble Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at this stage in his career, but he certainly possesses an accurate arm and the mobility to put fear in a defense.

As the young signal-caller becomes accustomed to using his legs, linebackers will need to defend running lanes or spy, which opens the middle of the field for Clive Walford as a dynamic tight end. 

 

Ignoring Franchise Heights for Third Coordinator in Three Years?

Finally, there’s no justifiable reason to fire Musgrave and bring in Carr’s third offensive coordinator in three years. The Raiders offense has reached milestones that haven’t been achieved in five or more seasons:

Offensive Milestones
MilestonePlayerLast Player to Accomplish Feat
1,000-plus rushing yardsLatavius Murray (2015)Darren McFadden (2010)
1,000-plus receiving yardsAmari Cooper (2015)Randy Moss (2005)
30-plus passing touchdownsDerek Carr (2015)Daryle LaMonica (1969)
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Why start over? It makes zero sense.

Musgrave isn’t the best offensive mind in the league, but those brilliant coordinators aren’t looking for work. If you’d like to fire Musgrave and start over, who’s walking through the door to provide perfection?

Sixteen weeks of play-calling excellence doesn't exist. Stop looking for it. 

The connection between quarterback and offensive coordinator holds important value. Carr currently ranks second in franchise history in touchdown passes (31) in a season, behind Daryle Lamonica (34) in 1969.

Quarterbacks to Throw 30-plus Touchdowns in Raiders' History
PlayerYearPassing TDs
Daryle LaMonica196934
Derek Carr201531
Daryle LaMonica196730
Pro-Football-Reference.com

It’s not all Carr and it’s not all Musgrave driving the Raiders' offensive success. It’s a productive joint marriage between the players and coaches through game planning and execution. 

As a young offense that’s already rewriting record books, reaching milestones and approaching uncharted territory, Musgrave deserves major creditrather than ridiculefor what’s been accomplished in a season marked with significant progress.

 

Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for news, updates and intriguing discussion about the Oakland Raiders.

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus and Team Rankings unless otherwise noted.

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