In a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on a nice, bright, sunny day, the Las Vegas Raiders stepped up to the challenge and got the job done for the second straight week.
After the game, head coach Jon Gruden showed up to Sunday’s presser with a knowing smile on his face. He knew that his vision for his team, his investments in players, coaches, could all be coming to fruition. Players that were written off, guys like Derek Carr, Johnathan Abram, Kolton Miller, among others, were just a few of the personnel decisions that Coach Gruden made over the past four years that look to have worked out.
It seems that every decision Gruden has made over the past four years has been highly criticized, including sticking with veteran quarterback Derek Carr. After two weeks, Carr has now played against two defenses that ranked top three in points allowed in 2020, and Carr passed for a whopping 817 combined yards. To put it short, Derek Carr is a key reason the Raiders are winning football games.
“I’ve been clamoring about Derek Carr since I got here,” Gruden told the media after Sunday’s game. “So hopefully he gets some recognition for doing what he did today. He had some long drives, he was big again at the end of the game against two great defenses two weeks in a row. And it’s a big reason why we’ve been able to win.”
Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden showed confidence in Derek Carr’s ability to win. They felt a competent defense was the key for the Raiders success after ranking as a top 10 offense in 2020.
However, one NFL executive didn’t agree with Gruden’s decision-making over the past few years, criticizing the Raiders’ moves.
“I could talk to you for hours on my opinion on the Raiders and how they have botched roster management and resource allocation. Everything that I feel like is wrong and how not to run a team, I feel like it’s been done there. They have invested in safeties, gone out in free agency and spent on linebackers, traded away elite talent, going back years.”
The two safeties this executive is talking about are Johnathan Abram and Tre’von Moehrig. Both players have played big roles for the Silver and Black, especially third-year safety Johnathan Abram. Abram looks to be a man on a mission this year, often setting the tone with his physical play or making key plays in pivotal moments.
Against the Baltimore Ravens in overtime, Abram made the play of the game for the defense. On 2nd and 7, Lamar Jackson hit a wide-open Mark Andrews for what would have been a first down around the 45 yard line. Andrews had the ball in his hands, but Abram jumped in there and punched the ball out, forcing an incompletion. On the very next play, the Raiders strip-sacked Jackson, and won the game a few plays later.
Against the Steelers, Abram made another huge play in a key moment. The Raiders were up by 9 points, it was 3rd and 6, and Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball to rookie TE Pat Freiermuth. Freiermuth picked up five yards and got wrapped up by Raiders defenders, but was about to wiggle his way out. He was getting ready to jump forward for a first down when Johnathan Abram ran full speed from 15-yards out and delivered a hit, stopping him short.
The Steelers punted the ball on the next play and the Raiders were able to eat up some clock before punting back to the Steelers. Those two plays are pivotal moments for the Raiders. They are game-changing plays.
Opposite Abram is Tre’von Moehrig, who has yet to allow any catch deep in the middle of the field. He has done a very good job for a rookie safety in two career games.
The decisions Jon Gruden has made over the past four years don’t stop there.
Jon Gruden selected LT Kolton Miller back in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he was criticized for the pick by NFL draft analysts. Some said the Raiders reached for a guy they could have selected in the second or third round. But Miller has proven to be the player they thought he would be.
Through two weeks, Miller is ranked as the second-best pass blocker by PFF. He has yet to allow any sacks or QB hits on 107 pass-blocking snaps.
Gruden’s decisions don’t stop with the players he’s selected. His defensive coordinator selection has been the biggest difference for the Silver and Black. Coach Gus Bradley has this unit ranked as the 12th-best defense through two weeks. Guys like DE Maxx Crosby and DT Johnathan Hankins look like stars under the new regime, but some credit also has to be given to the $100M dollar man himself, Jon Gruden.
The Raiders offense just took on the #2 and #3 ranked defense from 2020. Through two weeks, they have the eighth-best offense in points per game. The Raiders rank as the #1 offense in total offensive yards.
Jon Gruden deserves a ton of credit, and at the moment, it looks like the Jon Gruden investment is paying off for Mark Davis.
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