The second Jon Gruden era in Oakland is off to a rocky start. The Raiders have taken early leads in both of their games to start the season, only to watch the opposition eventually pull out a win. In Week 1, it was the Rams that battered the Raiders during the second half, cruising to a win. In Week 2, it was the Broncos that rallied late to earn a 21-19 win over Oakland when, for the vast majority of the game, the Raiders appeared in total control.
A common thread in both losses is a general lack of pass rush, as the Raiders have only two sacks in two games, and per Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate (which takes sacks per pass attempt, adjusted for down and distance) they’re 29th in the league at 3.2 percent (league average is five sacks and a 6.7 percent adjusted sack rate).
Not having a good pass rush is generally a bad situation for any NFL team, given the nature of the league today. However, the optics for Oakland’s poor pass rush look even worse considering they traded one of the league’s premier pass rushers in Khalil Mack mere days before the season because they didn’t want to pay him. Mack has been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks for the Bears through two games, and for Raiders fans and the rest of the NFL viewing public, it’s impossible not to separate the two.
Gruden himself is really not helping his case when it comes to the perception of the Mack trade. It’s possible, depending on how the draft picks shake out, that in a few years this trade looks less like a disaster and a bit more like a fair trade. However, right now it looks bad and Gruden’s continued insistence on seeming befuddled by the Raiders’ poor pass rush and how to improve it only digs his hole deeper.
On Wednesday, Gruden was asked again about the pass rush, and gave out this gem about how hard it is to find a great pass rusher, let alone a good one, via Pro Football Talk.
“It’s hard to find a great one. It’s hard to find a good one. It’s hard to find one,” Gruden said. “College football now, they’re not really dropping back to pass and throwing footballs anymore. They’re throwing laterals and they’re throwing bubble screens and they’re throwing read options. So you’ve got to train these guys. It takes a little time to learn how to rush the passer. We’ve got some guys that are in that process right now.”
He’s not really wrong here, but to say “it’s hard to find” pass rushers when you dealt away one of the very best looks really, really bad. This quote isn’t an isolated incident. On Sunday after the loss to the Broncos, here was Gruden’s comment when asked about what to do to get a pass rush working.
He followed that up by insisting that “hindsight’s 50/50” and that there are no regrets about the Mack trade.
After the opener against the Rams, Gruden told reporters they would “look into the reasons why” the pass rush wasn’t good enough, which prompted many to point out a major reason why is they traded Mack.
The questions about the pass rush aren’t going to stop, but Gruden has to offer better answers than this if he wants the Mack trade to not look worse and worse every week. Acting befuddled by why your pass rush isn’t getting to the quarterback isn’t going to fly with Raiders fans that have to watch Mack attack quarterbacks in Chicago. There aren’t going to be a lot of good answers, but there are better ones than acting confused by it all.
He could even address it head on and simply note that they dealt away a great pass rusher and are trying to fill that gap, but believe the team will be better in the long-term with the additional picks they’ve added that will allow them to address more issues than just the pass rush. That won’t please everyone, but it at least would acknowledge that you understand what you gave up in Mack while spinning things forward, rather than acting like you can’t figure out what’s wrong when the whole football world knows.