Redwood Times (http://www.redwoodtimes.com)

Will Todd Downing be the coordinator to fix Raiders' offense?


By Matt Schneidman, Bay Area News Group

Friday, December 15, 2017

ALAMEDA — For the first time this season, Todd Downing got testy.
The Raiders’ offensive coordinator always answers questions respectfully, thoughtfully and without stark changes in emotion during his weekly Thursday press conference. But this team knows time is running out, and it has showed in recent responses from its two most influential offensive minds.
First Derek Carr displayed more frustration Sunday than any other time this season after a 26-15 loss in Kansas City. On Thursday, Downing seemed irritated by a question probing why the Raiders preferred a bevy of short passes to begin the final drive against the Chiefs, with Oakland trailing by 11 and under three minutes remaining.
“Did you see the design or the concepts?” Downing chirped. “There were some routes much further down the field, but they took it away with coverage. Then the completion took them there. Certainly, in that type of situation, we’re not looking to just nibble and dink and dunk. It was more defensive structured.”
That’s certainly a fair answer, but ask Downing the same question earlier in the season and he likely wouldn’t begin with a retort.
Downing has reason to be irritated about this season, given the Raiders’ drop-off in total yards per game compared to last year. Former Raiders’ offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave commandeered a unit in 2016 that ranked sixth in the NFL with 373.3 yards per game. Oakland has slipped to 19th in the league this season, averaging almost 44 fewer yards per contest at 329.4.
After Jack Del Rio’s questionable decision to fire Musgrave after the Raiders’ breakout 2016, the pressure rested on Downing to validate the head coach’s decision. It’s tough to say it was the right call so far, though nobody can say for certain whether a Musgrave-run offense – or one directed by someone else – would’ve fared better.
Carr hasn’t been nearly as proficient as a year ago. Blame rightfully lies on him, too. Some even questioned how much influence Carr had in Musgrave’s firing, which can be perceived as a knock on Carr given the result.
Before the Raiders hosted the Broncos three weeks ago – Musgrave is now Denver’s offensive coordinator – Carr shot down any notion that this year’s offensive shortcomings resulted from the coordinator change.
“When we went and played at Denver (in Week 4), I went straight to him, gave him a hug, talked to him, asked him how his boys were doing,” Carr said of Musgrave. “That’s definitely the farthest thing from the truth that me and Coach Musgrave didn’t like each other."
Asked if the Musgrave-to-Downing switch had factored in Oakland’s struggles through 11 weeks, Carr firmly said, “Absolutely not. Nope.”
During the bye week, Raiders’ general manager Reggie McKenzie declined to evaluate Downing’s job with the offense through Oakland’s 4-5 start.
On Monday, Del Rio affirmed on 95.7 that Downing won’t be fired before season’s end. Yet one must wonder what Del Rio will do with Downing after this season, especially if the Raiders miss the playoffs, if the head coach fired his offensive coordinator after going 12-4.
Before that decision, though, and before Sunday’s must-win game against the Cowboys, the Raiders have given themselves a hard look in the mirror.
“To me, look, you have to own up,” Del Rio said Wednesday. “Tuesday is that day of the week for us to kind of own up and move forward. We’ve done that. For us, it’s about getting ready for the next one. Whether we’re being praised or we’re being attacked, that doesn’t matter. That’s just the noise on the outside, but inside the building we’re being very purposeful of getting back to work."
That outside noise is only building, especially around Downing. People know Del Rio assuredly isn’t leaving, given what it would cost to buy him out after he signed a four-year contract extension this offseason.
We saw Ken Norton Jr. lose his job because of the defense’s struggles. With the other side of the ball suffering, too, is Downing next on the chopping block?