Marcus Mariota (8) turns the corner in the Raiders’ 30-27 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15.
While answering the first question Monday regarding the Raiders’ difficulties in the red zone, coach Jon Gruden figured he’d bring up how a 26-25 loss to the Miami Dolphins ended before anyone else did.
“I think one time we took a knee at the end of the game, so that was an issue,” Gruden said in a flat, deadpan tone at his weekly teleconference.
Gruden went on to talk about the first touchdown drive which ended with Derek Carr’s 1-yard leap as well as a pair of third-and-goal at the 5 situations where the Raiders settled for field goals, giving credit to the Dolphins while adding, “I’ve just got to do a better job finding the right play.”
Will finding that play include the use of mobile backup quarterback Marcus Mariota? Gruden left the door open without being specific. More on that in a bit.
First, in case you were wondering, Gruden has a problem with the end result but not the decision to have Daniel Carlson kick a 22-yard field goal for a 25-23 lead with 19 seconds remaining. What followed was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 34-yard pass to Mack Hollins against a blown coverage, with Arden Key’s roughing-the-passer penalty setting up Miami’s Jason Sanders for a game-winning 44-yard field goal.
“I have a regret because we lost the game on the most horrific play I’ve ever been associated with,” Gruden said. “People think we don’t study analytics. Analytics say that was a great move . . . you’ve got 19 seconds and no timeouts at the minus-25 yard line. And for us not to get off the field with a victory is a shame, it’s a disgrace and it’s a reflection of me only.”
Gruden didn’t specify the Raiders’ data, but this gem was unearthed by Josh Dubow of the Associated Press: Since 2000, teams starting a drive inside their 25-yard line in the final 20 seconds facing a deficit of 1 to 3 points were 0-120 before Saturday night.
As for Mariota, the thought arises Gruden could use his backup quarterback in a manner similar to the way New Orleans’ Sean Payton deploys Taysom Hill. Hill played four games as a starter for the injured Drew Brees, but has three rushing touchdowns as a backup and has been used in a runner/passer role in other areas of the field for offensive variety.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 26, 2020
Mariota had 88 yards rushing on nine carries after Carr left with a groin strain against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15, although it should be noted he was in the game for two red zone possessions on read options where he handed the ball off inside the 5-yard line rather than taking it himself and the Raiders settled for field goals.
Carr, who was 21 of 34 for 346 yards against the Dolphins, was none the worse for wear after playing every snap and will close the season as the starter in Denver Sunday.
“Derek will start and finish the season, just as we anticipated he would,” Gruden said. “Whether Marcus has a role in this we’ll wait and see.”
Using two quarterbacks has never been Gruden’s style, but if he’s thinking about changing things up occasionally in scoring situations, he wasn’t about to broadcast his intentions to the media and the Broncos.
“I think if we put Marcus in at quarterback I think most coaches are pretty sharp,” Gruden said. “They know plays can be different. He’s not the only dual threat quarterback paying in the NFL.” Tight end Jason Witten was the target of five passes and caught two for 12 yards against Miami. A.P. Photo
Witten over Ruggs?
Amateur play-callers everywhere were wondering why the Raiders seemed so intent on throwing the ball to 38-year-old tight end Jason Witten as opposed to rookie first-round draft pick Henry Ruggs III.
Ruggs played 44 snaps Saturday after being out for 10 days on the COVID-19 reserve list and was targeted twice, catching no passes. One play was a deep shot broken up in the end zone under tight coverage. Witten played half as many snaps and was targeted five times — the same as Hunter Renfrow and one less than Darren Waller and Nelson Agholor. Witten caught two passes for 12 yards.
“Ruggs has been sick for 10 days. He just showed up Friday. We didn’t even know if he was going to play,” Gruden said “That has something to do with it. Just so we’re on the same page, we’re targeting Waller, doing a pretty good job of that. We’re targeting Nelson Agholor, because those are our top two guys . . . Ruggs has got to practice, stay with us longer and he’s got to do more with his targets. And when he does he’ll see the ball more.”
The No. 12 overall pick in the draft, Ruggs has 23 receptions for 414 yards and two touchdowns.
Assessing the defense
Until the bitter end, Gruden for the most part liked what he saw from Rod Marinelli’s second game as defensive coordinator and the first time he had a full week of practice with the unit.
“There was a lot of great effort. We didn’t have a lot of error,” Gruden said. “Guys were confident and sure of themselves. It wasn’t perfect. I don’t want to sound like I’m critiquing Paul Guenther, either, but we didn’t do as much on defense. The disappointing thing is we played well enough to win that game. It goes down to one lousy play and it still sticks in my gut the wrong way right now.”
— With 98 receptions for 1,079 yards, Waller needs seven receptions against the Broncos to break the Raiders’ franchise record of 104 set by Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown in 1997. Gruden called the record “one I never thought would be broken.”
— With a game to play, Gruden wasn’t interested in delving in to what went wrong between 6-3 and 7-8.
“We were in this thing late last year and we were in this thing late this year. I’ve got to do a lot better job down the stretch with our team and I’m excited about some of the progress that we’ve made,” Gruden said. “I’m also very disappointed in some ways, but I’ll address that stuff at the end of the year.”
— Gruden said he didn’t expect defensive end Clelin Ferrell (shoulder) to play against Denver. Whether safety Erik Harris, cornerback Daryl Worley and linebackers Nick Morrow and Nick Kwiatkoski are cleared to come off the COVID-19 reserve list will be determined by testing during the course of the week. Gruden also hopes to have secondary coach Jim O’Neil and assistant secondary coach Taver Johnson back. Both missed the Dolphins game because of COVID-19 related concerns.