Oakland Raiders Quarterback Derek Carr (4) prepares to throw a third quarter touchdown pass during an NFL football game between the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 30, 2016, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL . (Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)
The Oakland Raiders made a pretty big move with the coaching staff this offseason when they decided to part ways with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Replacing him is former quarterbacks coach, Todd Downing. Though he’s had a lot of success as a quarterbacks coach, he’s never been an offensive coordinator so there is a lot to learn about what his style will be like.
On Wednesday, we got our first glimpse of what to expect from Downing when he did an interview with Greg Papa and Bonta Hill on 95.7 The Game. The entire interview is well worth a listen but here are some key quotes with some thoughts on what to take from them.
On how to acquire the skill to call plays in the NFL:
Where I’ve been really fortunate is the people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with along the way. I was just having a conversation a few moments ago about my mentor in this business which is Scott Linehan. I spent a long time with him and I think he’s one of the best play callers in football. He really taught me how to design a game plan, how to attack certain personnel.
Scott Linehan is an experienced play caller and coach in the NFL and is currently the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. If you had the opportunity to watch the Cowboys much this season, you will have seen that while Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott have been impressive, Linehan’s play calling has been equally as impressive. If you’re looking for mentors as an offensive coordinator, you could do a whole lot worse than Scott Linehan.
On his offensive style:
I’ll tell you this without giving away any trade secrets, I certainly like attacking what I see as vulnerabilities in a defense and testing some formation adjustments, personnel adjustments and all that early in a game so we can get a feel of what we’re going to get throughout.
It might be easy to see this as a “duh” moment, but it’s really not. Many offensive coordinators believe in sticking to your team’s strength and not compromising that by playing to the other team. For example, if your bread and butter is running the ball to set up the pass, what do you do when faced with a top run defense? Some coordinators would stick to what brought them success and try to prove your run game is better than their run defense. Others, perhaps like Todd Downing, might attack more through the air early in the game to test the weaker secondary and see if that’s the better route than simply sticking to the formula of run to pass.
And if you’re not convinced every OC would do that, think back to the many times in the past decade where you were sitting at home on Sunday, yelling at the TV about why the Raiders weren’t attacking another team’s weak spot. If you’re anything like me, it’s happened a lot.
On if Downing would like to see Derek Carr run more no-huddle:
Well I can tell you this, he certainly can handle it. He is very intelligent and does a nice job communicating at the line of scrimmage. I think those become week by week decisions and can really depend on what type of defense you’re playing and what you’re overall game plan is, directed by the head coach.
Downing didn’t really answer the question but showed confidence in giving the reigns of the offense over to Carr and that’s important. Carr has excelled when in the no-huddle offense and many, myself included, would like to see him run it more often. As he alluded to, part of that decision comes from Jack Del Rio, so it’s not totally his call. But the fact that Todd Downing seemed ready and willing to do so if that was the proper decision within the game plan was good to know.
On his relationship with Derek Carr:
I think that my relationship with Derek really starts there, that we both love coming to work each day. We really respect the heck out of each other and when you have that kind of relationship between any coach whether it’s position coach or coordinator or head coach and quarterback, you’re taking a step in the right direction. Derek is the leader of our franchise, in my opinion the best young quarterback in football and we’re extremely fortunate to have him so why wouldn’t I be in a good mood when I get to be around him and see him toss the ball around?
The lead in to this question was almost as interesting as the answer itself. Greg Papa noted that before anyone else is out on the field warming up, Derek Carr and Todd Downing can be seen tossing the ball around. According to Papa, they look like two kids on the playground just having fun. That kind of bond and relationship is a big reason why the Raiders wanted to make sure Downing stuck with the Silver and Black.
On where he believes Carr needs to improve:
One of the best attributes he has, Greg, is he doesn’t think he’s arrived, himself. He knows he’s gotta keep polishing those good attributes he has and keep working on the ones that may be a little bit mediocre. He took big big strides last year on his footwork, his progressions and his overall control of the offense. But he knows he needs to keep working on those things and you do that so that you don’t take a step backwards and you’re able to continue the growth trajectory he showed last year. He’s gonna be working hard this offseason. There’s gonna be a couple new wrinkles and things he needs to get used to and I know he’ll immerse himself in those things.
There isn’t a lot we didn’t know in this quote. If you’ve followed the team closely you know that Carr has worked incredibly hard to improve ever since he’s been in the league. But the interesting note for me, was that Downing said Carr will need to learn a couple new wrinkles.
That tells me two things, first, the offense will likely be very similar to what Carr is already used to. That has been speculated and this seems to confirm it. But it also tells me that Todd Downing already knows that he is going to make some changes and seems to know what those changes are. That’s great to know because it shows he’s been thinking about this since well before he actually got the job.
On if he will call plays from the booth or the field:
Right now I plan on being on the field. Speaking through that with Jack, I like being down there and being able to look Derek in the eyes and getting a feel for how the personnel is doing and who’s got the hot hand so to speak.
This is interesting because according to Papa and some others in the media, Bill Musgrave called plays from the booth last season at the instruction of Jack Del Rio. If JDR is giving Downing the freedom to choose where he calls plays from, it shows he won’t try and micromanage the first time coordinator. That’s a good thing because Todd Downing needs to experiment and figure out for himself what his style will be.