Raiders realist
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FSM Presents: The Raiders Realist – Jon Gruden’s Dangerous Game

“What’s past is prologue”.


That famous phrase was written over 500 years ago by William Shakespeare in his play The Tempest. A tempest is defined as a “violent windy storm“. You know, like The Autumn Wind. Except, in the case of the 2020 Las Vegas Raiders, that wind was an eerie, silent calm on defense. No bluster, no swagger, not much in the way of laughing and conquering. And in the winter of great discontent for much of Raider Nation, the franchise once again has a chance to make the kind of bold, winning decisions a prime Al Davis would not have hesitated to act on.


The problem is, that version of Al Davis hasn’t been around in that awesome white Raiders track suit in over 35 years. Now, Jon Gruden, undisputed master and commander of this pirate ship, drifts dangerously closer to the older version of Al Davis that  his younger self frequently clashed with 20 years ago.


Raiders Realist
Photo credit: NY Daily News

That is someone whose ego is a more daunting obstacle to success than his actual ability. What the Raiders desperately need is someone with a defensive pedigree of their own creation. A tactician that can maximize the majority of the parts already on the roster.

What the Raiders may get is a recycled hand whose best production came in much more optimal circumstances. A coach whose scheme is a facsimile of someone else’s. More dangerously, someone who is hired less for their capability, but more for their agreeability with Jon Gruden.

If you’ve been a Raiders fan long enough, that should sound awfully familiar to an older Al Davis dictating the defensive coaches to newly hired head coaches because he wanted to run his defense. That is how men like Chuck Bresnahan and Rob Ryan kept jobs despite poor performance from their units.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing to come out of the exit press conference for the 2020 season was Gruden insisting on keeping a 4-3 base defense. Not because there is anything wrong with that preference by itself, but because a team coming off the worst season in franchise history in terms of points allowed should not be limited to anything but improvement.

Defensively, the search for a new coordinator and scheme should be limitless. There is almost certainly nowhere to go but up from 478 points allowed. Yet, the man I think is by far the best choice for this position appears to not even be a viable option for the Raiders.


Yes, that man is Wade Phillips. A man with his own plan and an extended history of success with it. There has been a lot of hand wringing about how this year’s Rams improved without Phillips from their 2019 performance. That’s valid. You know what else is valid? The initial production the man gets with rosters he inherits. Over the last 20 years, the data speaks for itself.


Raiders Realist
Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

In 2002, Phillips inherited an Atlanta Falcons defense that was 24th in scoring at 23.6 points per game. With no major additions and converting the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, they improved to 8th in the NFL at 19.6 points per game and made the playoffs.

In 2004, Phillips inherited a San Diego Chargers defense that was 31st in scoring at 27.6 points per game. His first year, they improved to 11th in scoring at 19.6 points per game and made the playoffs. He also converted their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

In 2011, Phillips inherited a Houston Texans defense that was 29th in scoring at 26.7 points per game. His first year, they improved to 4th in scoring at 17.4 points per game and made the playoffs. He also converted their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

In 2015, Phillips inherited a Denver Broncos defense that was 16th in scoring at 22.1 points per game. His first year, they improved to 4th in scoring at 18.5 points per game and won the Super Bowl. He also converted their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

In 2017, Phillips inherited a Los Angeles Rams defense that was 23rd in scoring at 24.6 points per game. His first year, they improved to 12th in scoring at 20.6 points per game and made the playoffs. He also converted their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

Evidently, I am not the only one aware of this, as Phillips himself tweeted this ability to improve in year one. That consistency is what is known as a pattern. If you have an average to very bad 4-3 defense, hiring Wade Phillips has a history of it being improved in year one.


Now, there will be the inevitable handwringing from Raiders’ fans wondering what happens after his first year. And to that I say, how many of you would like to have the problem of worrying about an upper echelon defense sliding backwards? That has not been something Raider Nation has been able to truly talk about since 2002. You cannot cross a bridge if you are never even close enough to get to it.


Raiders Realist
Photo Credit: Big Cat Country

So with this undisputed pedigree of instant success and the ability to adapt his defense to fit players from a 4-3 roster in it, Phillips should be the easy choice right? Seems like the answer is “no.” As of this second, the three major candidates for the defensive coordinator position are former Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Rams linebackers coach Joe Barry, and Falcons interim head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. All of whom are about as inspiring as a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I could go in-depth about those choices and once the hire is made, I will. But understand this one critical element to these three candidates: They are vying for this job as much for their relationships with Jon Gruden as they are for their abilities to craft elite defenses. That is what led to the Paul Guenther hire in 2018. Prioritizing anything but winning football games is a recipe for continued failure for the Raiders on the defensive side of the football. What’s past is prologue.


CJ Baldwin – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @ManusBaldSpot



*The Raiders Realist will be a weekly column by CJ Baldwin on Franchise Sports Media. He will provide a logical, practical and honest opinion about his beloved Raiders. As a member of Raiders Nation, CJ has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to talk about them. CJ stays on point except for the times when he’s lost his mind. We at FSM support him regardless, but we invite you to let him have it when you disagree. We sure will… 😉


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