Raiders' 2020 Collapse Falls Squarely on Jon Gruden's Shoulders

Gruden has only himself to blame for Raiders' 2020 collapse originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Jon Gruden was given a long, long rope when he agreed to return to the Raiders. Ten years and $100 million can buy you a lot of time in the NFL, and it's an even longer leash when you deem the situation you inherit untenable and elect to rip it down to the studs and start a full rebuild.

Gruden's first season back in Silver and Black was an understandable abomination as he started recrafting the roster in his image of a championship team. The Raiders' 2019 draft class brought a lot of hope that the Raiders were on the upswing under Gruden. He and general manager Mike Mayock were in lockstep and building something to last.

Last year's Raiders were a 7-9 team that could have gone 9-7 but, in all honesty, had the talent of a 5-11 team. With limited offensive firepower and a defense that was torched weekly, the Raiders scratched and clawed their way into playoff contention before fading down the stretch.

The fingers were pointed elsewhere after the Raiders went 1-5 to close out the 2019 season. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and quarterback Derek Carr were popular scapegoats. Throw in Antonio Brown's preseason meltdown that threw a wrench in the Raiders' offensive game plan and Gruden walked away from the wreckage scotfree.

That won't happen in 2020. After Saturday's shocking last-second loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders' once-promising season lays in ruin. The loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention and means they will at best finish at 8-8.

The Raiders' loss to the Dolphins was the latest in a string of failures that should fall squarely at the feet of Gruden. No one else.

Trailing the Dolphins 23-22 with under three minutes to play, Carr marched the Raiders into the red zone with help from a questionable 50-yard pass interference penalty. The Raiders had the ball at the Dolphins' 8-yard line with 1:55 to play. Running back Josh Jacobs could have scored a touchdown on his second-down rush, but he slid down instead as Gruden wanted to burn clock and play for the field goal. The Raiders got the field goal to take a two-point lead with 19 seconds to play.

But that was too much time. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a 34-yard pass to Mack Hollins, thanks to a broken coverage by Damon Arnette. A facemask by Arden Key tacked on 15 more and Jason Sanders drilled a 44-yard field goal to end the Raiders' playoff hopes in embarrassing fashion.

“(With) 19 seconds left on your own 25-yard line with no time outs, I’ve called plays a long time, and the probability of getting that done is remote," Gruden said after the game when defending his decision to not score a touchdown. "I’m not going to get into all the scenarios. We played it exactly like we wanted to play it. It was a heck of a job by our offense closing the deal, I thought. But unfortunately, they made a desperation play and the penalty was horrific.”

In almost three full seasons back with the Raiders, Gruden's record now stands at 18-29.

The Raiders opened the season 6-3 and there was reason for optimism. Wins over the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs were reason to believe they were on the right track and en route to the playoffs. They are 1-5 since that point with the lone win coming on a Hail Mary against the New York Jets.

Gruden has blamed injuries for many of the Raiders' flops over that time. He's taken responsibility for a few himself, but there are no more scapegoats to fall on the grenade for Gruden.

Guenther was fired after the Raiders' 44-27 shellacking at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. The defense hasn't improved in two games under coordinator Rod Marinelli. That shouldn't be a surprise. The Raiders' defense doesn't have the talent needed to contend week-in and week-out in today's NFL. They can't pressure the quarterback, can't force turnovers and the secondary is among the worst in the NFL. They are poorly coached and lack the talent to make up for it.

None of this can be blamed on Carr. He's played arguably the best football of his career. He's been in clear command of the offense, taken care of the football while also attacking defenses vertically. Carr has checked all the boxes and should remain the Raiders' starting quarterback.

The Raiders' 2020 failures all fall at the feet of Gruden.

He drafted Henry Ruggs with the No. 11 overall pick in 2020, making the Alabama speedster the first receiver off the board from a loaded class. Having Ruggs' 4.27 speed was supposed to open up the Raiders' offense, but Gruden has only dialed up five deep targets for Ruggs, per Pro Football Focus.

Red zone scoring, an issue that plagued the 2019 Raiders, hasn't gotten any better. After the loss to the Dolphins, the Raiders rank 25th in red zone touchdown percentage, getting six points on only 54.39 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

The Raiders' Week 15 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was a mixture of all of Gruden's failure in his second stint. Knowing the Raiders were facing a short week, Gruden elected to fire Guenther anyway, giving Marinelli just three days to try and fix the defense before facing rookie sensation Justin Herbert and the Chargers.

Carr left the game in the first quarter with a groin injury, putting it on Gruden and Marcus Mariota to keep the Raiders' realistic playoff hopes alive. Mariota did his part, using his legs and arm to chew up the Chargers' defense. Yes, Mariota had a few bad throws, but the 226 yards through the air and 88 yards on the ground should have been more than enough to beat the then 4-9 Chargers.

But Gruden couldn't get out of his own way. Mariota tore the Chargers up on the ground in overtime, using his legs to get the Raiders down inside the LA 10-yard line. But instead of using Mariota's legs to get them into the end zone and the win, Gruden called two runs up the gut with Josh Jacobs and then a quick pass to fullback Alex Ingold that had no chance of working.

With a defense that had been torched all day, Gruden should have gone for it on fourth-and-goal, but instead kicked a field goal and put the game in the hands of his defense. That decision backfired as Herbert led the Chargers on a game-winning touchdown drive.

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All of the Raiders' failures come back to Gruden.

The defense, which again is one of the worst in the NFL, is filled with his players. He's drafted Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, Maxx Crosby, Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette. He added Carl Nassib, Jeff Heath, Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski and Maliek Collins in free agency this past offseason.

Of all those players, how many are three-down, above-replacement level starters? I'd say Mullen still is on his way to being a top-tier corner, but he needs the right coaching to get him there. Ferrell and Crosby are rotation-level defensive linemen. The jury is out on Abram. Arnette has been injured and has struggled when on the field. Of all the free-agent signings, only Kwiatkoski has been worth the money.

Three years into Gruden's tenure and the Raiders still have a long way to go before they can be considered legitimate contenders.

Gruden has gotten his way at every turn, but the losses keep piling up. There's no one to point the finger at now except himself.

He wanted the power and responsibility. Now it's time for him to own up to his failures. All of them.

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