Oakland Raiders: The Winning Formula with Matt McGloin

After accepting the initial shock of losing starting quarterback Derek Carr, the Oakland Raiders move on with Matt McGloin. What’s the winning formula?

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr suffered one of the more heartbreaking injuries in recent memory in the team’s Week 16 win. On Saturday, an awkward tackle left the MVP-candidate with a fractured fibula. It’s no longer news. Raiders fans have been stunned, been upset, and are now ready for the next steps.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Carr will undergo surgery on his fibula in Los Angeles on Tuesday:

The initial six-to-eight-week timetable for recovery puts Carr out until the Tuesday after the Super Bowl.

All the case studies and miracle wishes hoping for Carr’s return in a Super Bowl matchup, if the Raiders advance, should cease at this moment. He deserves respect for his recovery process. He doesn’t need outside chirping encouraging an early return. Carr needs to fully heal from the injury and come back strong in 2017. As the franchise quarterback, he has plenty more seasons left with the Silver and Black.

Furthermore, quarterback Matt McGloin needs all the support from his coaches and teammates on pushing the Raiders as far as possible through the postseason. It begins with clinching an AFC West title in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos, who missed out on a playoff opportunity due to a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16.

At worst, the Raiders will finish with the No. 5 seed and play against the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card Round. At best, Oakland can still finish with the No. 1 seed with a victory plus a New England Patriots loss. For now, we’ll focus on something the Raiders can control, winning a football game and securing a first-round bye.

How can the Raiders win with McGloin on Sunday and in the playoffs?

Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) is defended by Indianapolis Colts defensive end Henry Anderson (96) during a NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Colts 33-25.

Dec 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) is defended by Indianapolis Colts defensive end Henry Anderson (96) during a NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Colts 33-25. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Utilize the Three-Headed Monster

The average Joe will tell you the Raiders need to run the ball to offset McGloin’s shortcomings. It’s the obvious answer, but it’s not enough to explain what happens when the opposing team’s game plan limits the ground attack. We’ll address additional tweaks to the game plan later on, but start with the obvious solution.

The Raiders lucked out, even in the most unlucky situation, in losing their quarterback. General manager Reggie McKenzie stumbled upon a undrafted gem in Jalen Richard to go along with fifth-round pick DeAndre Washington as complements to Latavius Murray. All of the sudden, the Raiders have a three-man rotation to attack weaker run defenses.

Oakland fields the No. 5 rushing offense in the league with Carr through 15 games. The Raiders will match up against the Broncos’ No. 29 run defense on Sunday. In the previous meeting, the Raiders rushed for a season-high 218 yards, and Carr didn’t throw a single touchdown.

With McGloin in the huddle, the Raiders don’t have to test cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. with a rusty arm under center. Oakland should run the ball until Denver proves they can stop the attack.

According to left tackle Donald Penn, via NFL.com’s Mike Silver, the Raiders ran just two running plays against the Broncos in Week 9. Denver knew what to expect, and they couldn’t stop it.

In the second half, we only ran two (running) plays. We ran the same running play ten times in a row. We kept wearing them down with double teams. They knew it was coming. It didn’t matter. That’s when you take somebody’s will.

An encore presentation on the ground would propel the Raiders to victory and a first-round bye.

Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington (33) scores a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum.

December 24, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington (33) scores a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Running Backs Must Do More Than Run

As previously mentioned, the game plan isn’t as easy as running the football 35-40 times. The opponents watch film and attempt to counter game plans as well. What can the Raiders do if the ground attack isn’t clicking on all cylinders?

The immediate shift from Carr to McGloin will initially hurt the Raiders’ ability to attack downfield. Even though McGloin is viewed as a gunslinger to those who watched him during his rookie year as a starter and preseason, he still needs to build chemistry with new targets on deep throws. The rapport wouldn’t click within a few snaps, it’ll take time against live defenses.

However, high-percentage short throws can move the chains if the ground attack hits a rut. The short passing attack keeps the clock moving for a ball-control offense and builds quarterback confidence in the pocket. Murray, Richard, Washington and Jamize Olawale have accumulated a combined 86 receptions for 767 yards. They’re all capable of catching out of the backfield if the rushing offense falters.

Furthermore, as viable threats in the passing attack, running backs in pass routes force linebackers and safeties to pay attention to their coverage assignments instead of consistently loading the box to stop the run. As the game progresses, a stagnant ground attack could find more success.

Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin (14) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin (14) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

McGloin Throwing to Familiar Faces

When McGloin started for the Raiders during the 2013 campaign, tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Andre Holmes listed as secondary targets behind Rod Streater and Denarius Moore. With a better supporting cast, McGloin will work with the same alternative options in the passing attack behind wideout Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

Specifically, in the red zone, Rivera and Holmes provide comfortable options for McGloin. The fifth-year wide receiver has three touchdowns this season, one fewer score than Cooper. The fourth-year tight end caught three of his four touchdown passes from McGloin during the 2013 season.

With Carr practicing with the starters, McGloin has likely taken a lot of snaps with Rivera and Holmes as backups during practices. When it comes to timing and knowing where receivers want the football, chemistry and repeated reps go a long way.

As McGloin builds a rapport with his star wide receivers, familiar faces from over the past four seasons could help smooth over the rough patches in the passing attack. With only one game left before the postseason, expect McGloin to test the waters with various receivers to establish some fluidity across the board.

Nonetheless, McGloin must make a concerted effort to find his primary playmakers who will serve as reliable targets on critical third downs and advantageous one-on-one matchups on the perimeter. As McGloin did against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, he must complete the tough throws to extend drives when opposing defenses play downhill with extra defenders.

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Johnny Holton (16) runs with the football against Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw (91) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28

September 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Johnny Holton (16) runs with the football against Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw (91) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny HoltonTyreek Hill Comparison, Inject Game Plan with Speed

On the field, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave should consider utilizing wide receiver Johnny Holton in a similar fashion to how the Kansas City Chiefs use wideout Tyreek Hill’s speed to their advantage. No, Holton isn’t an exact copy of Hill, but they offer one aspect that’s not taught—blazing speed.

The Raiders already know how dangerous Hill can become in space or when he outruns defensive backs on pass routes. The coaching staff can put Holton in the same situations, which allows McGloin to take an occasional shot downfield or check down to a receiver who can cover ground with the blink of an eye.

Both rookies, Holton actually came into the league with more experience as a wide receiver than Hill against FBS competition. The Raiders wideout logged 17 receptions for 461 yards and five touchdowns with an eye-opening 27.1 yards per catch. He’s a big-play waiting to happen.

According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Hill isn’t a complete receiver, but he’s still dangerous on any given play.

Despite an inability to dominate a lower level of competition as a receiver, Hill’s electric speed and ability to hit the big play — especially in the punt return department — could intrigue teams.

Zierlein’s evaluation on Holton sounds similar:

Straight-up vertical guy who can blaze and hit the home run, but who lacks of completeness to his game. Holton’s size and speed are worthy of attention and his ability to return kicks gives him a better chance to make a roster than most limited speedsters.

In both cases, you have a big-play weapon who can change a football game with one long reception or special teams return.

Thus far, Oakland has restricted Holton to wide-receiver sweeps and two targets in the passing attack. Going forward, Musgrave should consider opening up the playbook for the undrafted rookie.

The Cincinnati product has the ability to close the gap on early deficits or instantly add on to a lead by stretching the defense. He doesn’t need five-to-seven targets to impact a game. If McGloin catches the opposing defenses sleeping or loading the box once, a deep ball to Holton would force defensive coordinators to think twice placing safeties closer to the line of scrimmage for run support.

Holton can elevate from a gadget playmaker to big playmaker if Musgrave utilizes his speed and versatility when least expected.

Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) reacts after recovering a forced fumble against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 38-24.

Dec 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) reacts after recovering a forced fumble against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Defense Still Wins Championships

The final and most important ingredient in McGloin’s winning formula has nothing to do with the offense. Remember, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes, one interception and completed no more than 56 percent of his passes through three games en route to a Super Bowl victory.

Many will highlight Manning ranks among the smartest in NFL history at the line of scrimmage, which made the offense viable. Nonetheless, who’s to say McGloin can’t manage the offense and complete the must-have throws? Unlike Manning, he still plays with an arm defenses must respect.

McGloin doesn’t necessarily have to win games if the defense holds opponents to fewer than 27 points on the scoreboard. The Raiders don’t have a shutdown defense like the Broncos last year, but they’re No. 2 in takeaways. Before Carr’s injury, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. pushed the right buttons on second-half adjustments. As a unit, the defense hasn’t allowed 400-plus yards since Week 6, which shows improvement over the past several weeks.

Whether McGloin plays above his head or not, the Raiders must continue forcing turnovers to pair with a more methodical offensive approach to limit the opposition’s scoring opportunities and keep the defense fresh. Cornerstone defenders like pass-rushers Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, defensive backs David Amerson and Reggie Nelson bring a blend playoff experience, youth and production, which needs to shine during the postseason.

For Norton’s group, it’s simple. The fewer points allowed on defense widens the margin of error on the offensive side of the ball. If the defense performs well for three-to-four games, McGloin doesn’t have to put together a perfect performance for the victory. Most Raiders fans became enamored with a flashy passing attack, but the roster is equipped to play bully ball, take the football away and win ugly in a boring 20-17 contest.

At this point, for the Raiders, who cares how “pretty” a playoff win looks. There’s only one motto that overrides all. Just Win Baby.

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