Jon Gruden is a great football coach, Las Vegas Raiders need a defense

Is Jon Gruden to blame for the Las Vegas Raiders' collapse? Hardly. But with a $100 million contract and no playoff appearances, he's taking all the hits.

By Matt Fitzgerald
Dec 17, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden watches game action against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is under fire, as spectators question his competence amid a 1-4 stretch that’s dropped his team to 7-7 on the 2020 NFL season.

It’s not that Gruden is entirely excused from the bottom-line results, but he is, in fact, a good football coach. The problem? These Raiders have a horrid defense, and Gruden just so happens to be a wizard on the other side of the ball.

Nevertheless, Gruden, a Super Bowl champion, is the subject of criticism for many media personalities and outlets. Let’s take a deep breath and look at this objectively.

Related: NFL Power Rankings – Ranking each team for NFL Playoffs.

Jon Gruden not to blame for Las Vegas Raiders’ collapse

OK, allowing some accountability for the fact that Gruden hired an underwhelming defensive coordinator, the recently fired Paul Guenther, the front office hasn’t done Gruden any favors on defense.

General manager Mike Mayock is widely praised for his jump from NFL Network TV job to top executive. While he’s made some savvy personnel moves, the majority of Mayock’s high draft picks to date are of dubious quality.

Armed with five first-round selections in the past two drafts, Mayock chose defensive end Clelin Ferrell, hard-hitting safety Johnathan Abram, and Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette.

An apparent later-in-the-draft gem, defensive end Maxx Crosby, hasn’t been much better after a promising rookie year in 2019:

Ferrell can’t be described as anything less than a bust thus far considering he was taken No. 4 overall and has just 6.5 sacks to show for it. Abram missed his entire rookie year with an injury. Arnette was a reach in Round 1, especially since his Buckeyes teammate, Jeff Okudah, went to Detroit at the third pick.

Let’s go a little deeper: Abram is DFL in Pro Football Focus’ player grades among 89 qualifying safeties this season. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen, a second-year, second-round draft choice, is 54th in PFF coverage grade, and he’s considered the team’s best option at the position.

Related: 2021 NFL mock draft – New York Jets rebuild offense, surprise team trades up for QB in 2021 NFL Draft.

Jon Gruden adapted to nearly win in Week 15 with backup QB

Despite being out of the coaching game for a decade while making his living as an ESPN TV personality, Gruden hasn’t lost a beat when it comes to offensive schematics.

During Thursday Night Football‘s overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, starting Raiders quarterback Derek Carr went out with a groin injury in the first quarter. Gruden was forced to adapt on the fly with backup Marcus Mariota, and tailored the game plan to the dual-threat signal-caller’s strengths.

Mariota wound up accounting for 314 yards of total offense (226 passing, 88 rushing) and three touchdowns. Had it not been for an errant throw deep in Chargers territory toward the end of regulation, which led to an interception, Mariota would’ve led Las Vegas to victory.

In fact, if the Raiders could’ve gotten a stop on defense after Mariota orchestrated a field goal drive in overtime, Gruden would have an 8-6 record right now. It wasn’t to be.

Related: WATCH: Raiders QB Marcus Mariota with crazy TD run

Twitter reaction to Las Vegas Raiders loss slams Jon Gruden

Everyone loves to rush to judgment on social media, and even after Gruden coached his face off in prime time, the haters were still out to get him!

Let’s take a look at the best of the best:

GEEZ. Easy on Chucky!

This Raiders rebuild was always going to take time, but credit Gruden for showing he hasn’t missed a beat on offense, which is where he’s supposed to elevate the players he has. That’s been accomplished in spades.

Las Vegas Raiders offense proves Jon Gruden is a strong coach

Jon Gruden has transformed Las Vegas Raiders offense
Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) with head coach Jon Gruden against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

First-round rookie receiver Henry Ruggs has been banged up and out of action much of the year. He was expected to be a novel deep threat to the Raiders’ passing attack. Carr has been under constant scrutiny and has had to play at a high level even with the defense hardly helping.

Carr is playing the best, most consistent football of his career under Gruden the past two seasons, with a passer rating north of 100 over the course of 30 starts. Many don’t view him as someone who can lead a team to a Super Bowl. But try giving Carr and Gruden and defense to complement them, and see what happens.

How can anyone say Gruden isn’t at least a good coach? He’s the only man to beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in 2020, and the Raiders almost beat them again in a second meeting. Once again, the defense let Las Vegas down in a 35-31 loss.

The Raiders ranks are as follows: 11th in total offense and points per game, No. 3 in third down conversion percentage and ninth in time of possession. It’s not like the defense doesn’t have enough rest to go out and perform. They just can’t do it.

It’s quite an achievement for Gruden to be .500 through 14 games with a defense that yields 30.3 points per outing. That unit is creating adversity for the offense, which is nevertheless still operating among the best in the league.

As long as Mayock and the front office can upgrade the defense heading into 2021, look for the naysayers to eat their words when Gruden has Las Vegas in the playoffs.

Related: 5 bona fide Las Vegas Raiders quarterback options for the 2021 NFL season