Raiders-Dolphins: Gruden seeks first win in 3,584 days
The Oakland Raiders visit the Miami Dolphins Sunday in the Wannabe Bowl at 1 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Raiders (0-2) wannabe winners, especially to add some joy to the Gruden II era for Jon Gruden, whose last victory as a head coach in the NFL was Nov. 30, 2008. That is when he coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 23-20 win over the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs lost their last four games and he was fired.
For those keeping track, going into Sunday's game the time since his last victory would be 3,584 days -- or nine years, nine months and 24 days.
Gruden could not have known what a big deal that win was in November 2008.
From then until this season Gruden was undefeated, first as a volunteer assistant offensive line coach at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa Bay, then as founder of the Fired Football Coaches Association and, finally, as a color analyst for ESPN.
But, ever the competitor, Gruden had to give it another try. Raiders owner Mark Davis added encouragement with a contract for $100 million over 10 years. But as Gruden enters only his third game, that head coaching seat is getting pretty damned warm.
Trading away edge rusher Khalil Mack (to the Chicago Bears) didn't endear Gruden to Oakland fans wanting to see good things before the team vacates its original home for Las Vegas.
And during his Wednesday press conference, Gruden didn't help himself when asked about pass rushers.
"It's hard to find a great one," he said. "It's hard to find a good one. It's hard to find one. 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."
Hey, Jon, that's all great information from a TV analyst, but as the coach who just traded "a great one," maybe you should keep all that great intel on the downlow. Just sayin'.
This does bring up a focal point for Sunday's game, the Raiders' wannabe a team that can pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked five times and hit in the pocket nine times in two games. Conversely, the Mack-less Raiders made only two sacks in two games. They shuffled personnel this week and hope defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Arden Key can hit like a Mack, uh, truck.
There are other wannabe circumstances in this game.
The Dolphins wannabe taken for real at 2-0 and so does their wannabe franchise quarterback Tannehill, a former first-round draftee (No. 8 in 2012), whose upper echelon status is still questioned at 30 years old, playing in his sixth season. A win against the Raiders would be his 10th in 11 games and might quiet the persistent naysayers.
And even at 2-0, Tannehill has detractors who point to facts like in Miami's game against Tennessee, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was sidelined with an arm injury. Also, the win over the Jets was against quarterback Sam Darnold, talented but still a rookie.
But this Sunday Miami faces Oakland's Derek Carr, a surefire franchise quarterback, right?
Well, Carr had that title thrust upon him as a rookie when he outplayed his draft ranking as a second-round pick (36th overall) in 2014. His role was amplified in June 2017, when Carr signed a five-year contract worth up to $125 million with $70.2 million guaranteed. That was after throwing for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2016 -- and before having a ho-hum season in 2017 and then stinking out the house with three interceptions in the 2018 season opener.
But even in a 20-19 defeat at Denver last week, Carr appeared back on track, completing 29 of 32 throws for 288 yards and one 20-yard laser-beam touchdown to Seth Roberts that squeezed through a window barely wider than the football itself. It was an impressive, strong-armed response to critics that his passing motion that had become too casual.
Carr's passing targets were based on mismatches, with tight end Jared Cook gaining a franchise record 180 yards on nine catches against the Los Angeles Rams in the season opener. Last week in Denver, Carr targeted wide receiver Amari Cooper 10 times for 10 completions.
But wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a 33-year-old free agent acquisition who starred as Aaron Rodgers' favorite target in Green Bay, has only five total catches for 53 yards. At Denver last week he subbed for injured punt returner Dwayne Harris (foot). Nelson had two fair catches and a seven-yard return.
"We expect to see more and more of Jordy as the weeks go on," Gruden said, adding that he hopes the veteran receiver has a big game this week. That would certainly help Carr continue his success passing.
Last week was the first time the Raiders scored more than 17 points in five consecutive regular-season games.
Like Tannehill, Carr could use another good performance, and probably a win, to convince critics that he is as good as advertised.
So, on balance, this is a game where some big names don't wannabe a loser.
Updated September 20, 2018