The play-calling myth


The Madden generation (the video game, not the coach) has created a nation of experts.

An offense struggling to the degree the Raiders are in 2009 has many culprits, but the prevailing opinion seems to be that if Tom Cable was a play-calling wizard, things would be much different.

Could be, but the Raiders have had a lot of experience at changing play-callers over the past six years and the upgrades have been minimal.

The last time the Raiders had a successful play-caller for more than 20 consecutive games was Jon Gruden from 1998 through 2001.

Gruden put the passing plays on a call sheet, line-coach and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan contributed the runs, and Gruden put them in sequence and called plays during the game, relaying them to the quarterback.

It’s worth remembering that a lot of Raiders fans were unhappy with Gruden’s conservatism, given his penchant avoiding turnovers and sacks at all costs, even if it meant more short passes than fans would like.

When Gruden left, Callahan made Marc Trestman his offensive coordinator and instructed him to implement a pass-heavy attack that basically entrusted the offense to the accuracy and game management skills of Rich Gannon.

The result was an AFC championship, although the Raider’ official line is they’d prefer you focus on the five interceptions in the Super Bowl.

Since then, it’s been a revolving door of play-callers.

When the Raiders struggled during the 2003 season, Callahan stripped Trestman of the play-calling duties and did it himself, although it was never quite clear when it happened. The result was a 4-12 record.

Norv Turner called plays for two years as head coach and was fired after a 9-23 record.

Since then, the Raiders have had the following play-callers:

Year, play-caller, (W-L), ypg, ppg
2006 Tom Walsh 2-10, 245.0 ypg, 12.1 pgg
2006 John Shoop 0-4, 249.8 ypg, 5.5 pgg
07-08 Lane Kiffin 5-15, 297.5 17.8 ppg
2008 Greg Knapp 1-3, 220.5 ypg, 7.3 ppg
08-09 Tom Cable 3-10, 246.2 ypg, 15.7 ppg

Walsh, the most ridiculed of all the play-callers because of his absence from the sport since 1994 and the butt of bed and breakfast jokes, didn’t fare much better or worse than the rest.

Shoop immediately installed the secondary routes and safety-valve passes Walsh’s offense lacked, reduced the number of seven-stop drops, but the result was fewer points per game and four straight losses.

Kiffin’s reluctance to play JaMarcus Russell sooner and concession that he didn’t have enough talent to open things up was one of the many factors which led to his dismissal by Al Davis.

Knapp was of the belief Davis dropped the hammer on him as well, knowing he wasn’t under contract and would likely be coaching in Seattle the following season.

Cable’s offense seemed to hit somewhat of a stride last season with four straight 300-plus yard games, but is presently at rock bottom with four games under 200 yards.

Asked whether he has considering relinquishing play-calling duties, ostensibly to passing game coordinator Ted Tollner or quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, Cable’s contention is that the problem isn’t the plays that are called, but the execution of those plays.

You can call for all the screens you want, but if your quarterback can’t throw the pass well, it doesn’t do a lot of good. Punch in the perfect pass pattern, and if your receiver can’t hold on to the ball, it’s useless. That first-and-10 run off tackle is a hell of a play if it gains five yards, ridiculously uncreative if stopped for no gain.

As good as the Raiders were in 2002, it wasn’t Trestman’s play-calling that put up all the points. It was Gannon, who was properly trained to come to the line of scrimmage, get the Raiders out of a bad play and into a better one, and execute it properly.

Just like Peyton Manning does in Indianapolis, Drew Brees does in New Orleans and Donovan NcNabb will do Sunday in the Coliseum for the Eagles, just to name three of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

Yes, play-calling is an important skill for an offensive coordinator, but it pales in comparison of being able to properly coach a team during the week to run whatever plays that are called with precision and teach the quarterback to see when a play is destined for disaster and switch to a new one.

The Giants beat the Raiders 44-7 last week running the same kinds of plays the Raiders would like to run with Russell. It’s no accident Davis had Kevin Gilbride as a finalist for his job along with Cable.

If the Raiders slide continues and Davis were to convince Gilbride to take over next year, he’ll fare no better than Cable if he doesn’t have the right players and can’t do enough good work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to make himself look like a good play-caller on Sunday.

O’Neal on injured reserve

Fullback Oren O’Neal cleared waivers and was placed on injured reserve, where he can stay the rest of the season unless he receives an injury settlement and becomes a free agent.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer

  • RaiderRobG

    No I’m sticking around, it’s the same feeling I get when watching a car wreck.

  • RaiderRobG

    This is a loathsome offensive team, yet I can’t look away.

  • GForce21

    Only an hour away to our next implosion, how exciting

  • RaiderRobG

    Wow you all should have seen Fav-rays last throw! There’s some good football being played out there today!

  • Time to mosey on over to the local dive, to watch the game. Why?, I don’t know. Guess it’s because I’m a Raider FAN since 1970. I’ll NEVER jump ship, only rats jump ship…


    Eagles -27 (if we’re lucky)