The Oakland Raiders offense is projected to make significant strides in 2015. One must wonder what's offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s blueprint for optimizing a revamped offense in Oakland.
Musgrave gave one clue as to what the Raiders offense could resemble this year. Think Chip Kelly and that up-tempo offense in Philadelphia scoring points in flurries. Oakland will need those flurries to outscore opponents with question marks and unknowns on the defensive side of the ball.
Let’s step into Musgrave’s shoes and lay out the perfect blueprint for this year’s offense.
Setting Up the Passing Game
It seems logical to start with the quarterback position, but in this case the Raiders’ rushing attack must redeem at least some of the respect lost in 2014.
Collectively the running backs ranked last in rushing yards (1,240), last in touchdowns (four) and tied for the most fumbles in the league (10). This one-dimensional Raiders team could have won a lot more games if opposing defenses weren’t sitting on the heels clogging the passing lanes.
Running backs Trent Richardson and Latavius Murray should split the load in the backfield featuring Richardson in the starting role getting 60 percent of the carries. Why? Physical RBs need a higher volume of attempts to be effective. Murray doesn’t need 20-plus carries to impact the offense.
Murray broke 100 yards in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs with only four carries. He averaged 4.92 yards per carry in the second game against the Chiefs on 12 carries.
In the two games the Raiders fed him the ball for 23 carries, he failed to reach 90 rushing yards. For Murray, less is more on a per-carry basis. He can hit an opposing defense with a 90-yard run at any moment, which makes him more effective sporadically with fresh legs.
Josh Dubow of the Associated Press points out an interesting fact comparison between the two RBs:
Richardson is still a bruising RB who can control the tempo when necessary, limiting offensive possessions for the opposing team. Murray isn’t lightweight, but this is more about run style than size. Typically, you don’t want your long-distance rusher taking a lot of hits unless he’s Adrian Peterson.
Richardson should set the physical tone on offense, grinding out the tough yards. Murray's runs should be sprinkled in as an instant threat to break out for a first down or the end zone. Of course, on any given Sunday you feed the hot hand to maintain momentum.
The task of taking Richardson down or confining Murray would require some extra bodies that would normally sit back in coverage, which sets up one-on-one opportunities in the passing attack.
Derek Carr in Play Action
Quarterback Derek Carr played a solid season without a rushing attack, but the league is all about making adjustments. Now, with a full year on tape, Carr must be able to add a dimension to his game and continue doing what works for him.
Play-action passing was one of Carr’s strong suits in 2014, which is why the rushing attack is so important in starting the engine of this potentially high-powered offense:
|Derek Carr in Play Action|
|Completion Percentage||Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||QB Rating|
|Pro Football Focus|
Judging by these numbers, Carr should be able to pick apart a defense with a slight misstep or favorable one-on-one matchup all over the field.
Raiders Going Deep
When asked about his starting QB, head coach Jack Del Rio didn’t hesitate to talk about showing off his arm strength (via the team’s official website):
I think he throws a great deep ball, and we didn’t throw that many here last year; we’re going to throw some this year, so you’re going to have to cover the field deep, and we feel like with a good defense and a run game, that has to help a young quarterback.
Wide receiver Andre Holmes was the only deep threat on the roster last year, but Oakland made some changes in efforts to stretch the field. In 2015, Carr will have a solid trio to threaten defensive backs deep down the field:
|Raiders Receivers Going Deep from 2012-14 seasons|
|*Receptions 20 yards or more—Pro Football Focus|
Oh, so you thought wide receiver Michael Crabtree was just a slow possession receiver who grinds it out? He can also beat a defender 20 yards down the field. Wide receiver Amari Cooper wasn’t touted as a deep-threat receiver, but he ranked fifth among all NCAA receivers in burning defenders deep, per Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus.
Let’s not forget to mention tight end Clive Walford, who broke out in his junior year recording 15.4 yards per reception. Here's a snippet from draftbreakdown.com that illustrates what Walford means to the passing attack as well as blocking schemes:
The X-Factor Roy Helu
Loosening the back end of the defense also creates gaps in the flat and in the middle of the field. Running back Roy Helu should become a hidden gem when it comes to exploiting the defense in short receptions. The former Washington Redskins’ RB was fourth among RBs in receiving yards in 2014:
|Top 5 Receiving Running backs in 2014|
|Pro Football Focus|
Impressively, Helu’s numbers compare to the best receiving RBs in the league in terms of yards per target. He’s not just a reserve RB on the Raiders’ depth chart, he could be a viable weapon who completes this offense. Musgrave should keep opposing defenses guessing on whether Carr goes deep to a solid group of WRs, over the middle to Walford or short to Helu. Pick your poison.
New Blood on the Offensive Line
Offensive linemen Khalif Barnes and Austin Howard are the front-runners to start on the right side of the line protection. Del Rio has been on record stating he likes Barnes as a swingman type of backup lineman, per Brandon Katz of hngn.com:
We're going to play the best five whoever that might be. Right guard is going to be a competitive situation in camp. I like Khalif as someone who has the ability to be a utility guy. If he ends up being the fifth best option, then so be it. If he earns the right to play there, we're certainly not going to stand in his way. We're going to put the best guys on the field.
Secondly, when talking to NFL Network's Path to the Draft (via the team’s official website), Del Rio placed starting expectations on his top four draft picks.
As a result, a lot of time should be allotted to preparing guard Jon Feliciano in the offseason. At 32, Barnes obviously isn’t the long-term answer. Who should line up next to Feliciano? Hint: Not Howard.
When is it ever logical to give up on a second-round pick after 12 starts? I’d say that’s premature, but that’s Menelik Watson’s current situation. Watson has played in 17 career games with 12 starts in two seasons. Meanwhile, cornerback D.J. Hayden has played in 18 games with 10 starts, and he enters the season as the clear-cut starter with an opportunity to prove himself.
I understand Hayden was a first-round pick, but Watson was a second-round pick who hasn't started 16 games, and there's no mention of at least a competition at right tackle with a below-average veteran. And yes, Howard has performed below-average in his 48 starts:
|Austin Howard on the Offensive Line|
|Position||Year||Pass-block rating||Run-block rating||Sacks Allowed|
|Pro Football Focus|
For the most part, he’s a better run-blocking lineman as opposed to pass blocking, yet he’s a shoo-in for the right tackle position this year. Howard’s subpar numbers suggest offensive line coach Mike Tice should at least open the position for competition.
Watson has barely had the chance to prove himself or play in a make-or-break season. The coaching staff should at least find out what they have in a former second-round talent before tossing him on top of the scrap heap.
The Raiders should go with both their young talents, Feliciano and Watson, on the offensive line. If either or both disappoint, the veterans with limited upside are the next men up. Who knows, there may be a perennial Pro Bowler in Watson ready to bloom after just 12 starts. If it doesn’t seem far-fetched for Hayden, why is it a preposterous idea for Watson?
The Raiders don’t have solid players on the right side of the offensive line. Tice needs to make sure no stone goes unturned and no talent goes untapped when fielding the best offensive linemen on the roster; it's the offense's livelihood.
You can follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for the latest on the Raiders and NFL chatter.