Jack Del Rio in Spanish means Jack The River, a gambler’s moniker if there ever was.
The Raiders’ second-year coach certainly isn’t risk-averse. Del Rio proved that by going for two in the final minute against the Saints when kicking the extra point was the safe play. He proved it again by twice going for it on fourth down during Sunday’s 35-28 brought-back-down-to-earth deflater to the Falcons at the Coliseum.
Say this about Del Rio: The man is willing to roll the dice.
However, those wagers are small potatoes compared to the one Del Rio must make going forward after twice watching his defense get shredded to bits. This bet will require even more nerve, because it goes against his own tendencies.
For the Raiders to fulfill expectations, both the in-house and external varieties, Del Rio needs to take the governor off Derek Carr and send the third-year quarterback from Fresno State onto the field with three simple words: Let ’er rip.
What does that mean in a practical sense? It means time for the deep ball to replace all the dinks and dunks.
It’s always frustrating to lose no matter how it looks.
Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have done an admirable job of getting Carr to play within himself. They’ve taught him to settle for intermediate and underneath throws instead of forcing passes downfield. They’ve minimized his Brett Favre tendencies.
“They’ve worked really hard with me to know when it’s OK to (throw deep) and to better understand the down and distance,” Carr said Sunday.
The Raiders’ coaches haven’t done anything wrong. Playing it safe and minimizing mistakes is the blueprint for success most NFL teams follow. And there have certainly been times – Exhibit A being last year’s home loss to the Chiefs – when Carr got careless with the football.
Except these Raiders, based on what we’ve seen, aren’t like most teams. Through two weeks, Oakland’s defense has allowed more yardage (1,035) than any in league history. All-Pro disruptor Khalil Mack has vanished into witness protection. The linebackers and safeties couldn’t cover a tight end with a circus tent.
1,035 Yards allowed by the Oakland Raiders in their first two games, most in NFL history
Little wonder Del Rio keeps going for it on fourth down. He can’t trust his defense to stop a rumor.
The Falcons, under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, are essentially running the same offense his dad, Mike Shanahan, employed all those years in Denver and Washington: counter runs, rollouts, bootlegs, drag patterns across the middle.
Nothing NFL teams haven’t seen before, or often. Yet the Raiders reacted as if someone asked them to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics.
“It’s football – (play-action) boots and running the ball, screens, cuts, it’s all football,” Mack said. “It’s basic football. They beat us playing basic football. That’s not good enough.”
Del Rio insisted the defense can be fixed – and that he’d be the one fixing it. Fine. But he shouldn’t kid himself. Despite all the offseason additions, things have not improved. It’s still the Raiders’ glaring weakness.
Instead, Del Rio should double down on what his team does best. And what this team does best is throw downfield.
Del Rio should double down on what his team does best. And what this team does best is throw downfield.
Through two games, Carr ranks sixth in the NFL in passing yards (618) and seventh in QB rating (107.4). But he could be doing more, and needs to be if the Raiders hope to keep pace in what looks to be a season of shootouts.
Carr finished Sunday’s game 34 of 45 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception. Good numbers, to be sure, but they weren’t good enough. Not when the other quarterback (Matt Ryan, in this case) is throwing for 396 yards and three scores.
The Raiders’ best pass Sunday didn’t even count. On third-and-2 midway through the fourth quarter, Carr rolled out of the pocket allowing time for wide receiver Amari Cooper to get open downfield. Carr hit the streaking Cooper in perfect stride for what appeared to be a 51-yard touchdown – only to have the refs flag Cooper for stepping out of bounds.
Those are the kinds of plays Del Rio needs to cultivate.
To be fair, the Falcons played their safeties deep throughout, allowing underneath throws and discouraging anything over their heads. Carr was just taking what the defense gave him. Going forward, though, he should be encouraged to be greedy.
“Obviously, you guys know me – I was trying,” Carr said. “Sometimes I’m going to throw (the deep ball) anyway.”
Carr should be doing that more than sometimes. He should be doing it often.
Defensive-minded coaches like Del Rio tend to be conservative by nature. They are uncomfortable putting too much responsibility on the offense. But Carr is showing he can handle it. Turning him loose gives the Raiders their best shot.
Del Rio has already shown a willingness to gamble. It’s time to push his quarterback chip to the center of the table.