Raiders:

Down­ing in, Mus­grave out as co­or­di­na­tor

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Vic Ta­fur

Oak­land and Michael Crab­tree, right, are look­ing for­ward to an even bet­ter sea­son in 2017. Some ob­servers are even pre­dict­ing a Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance.

The Raiders are not re­new­ing of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill Mus­grave’s con­tract and will pro­mote quar­ter­backs coach Todd Down­ing to fill that job, sources said Tues­day.

Oak­land fin­ished sixth in the NFL in to­tal yards and sev­enth in points scored, but lost quar­ter­back Derek Carr to a bro­ken fibula Dec. 24 and then lost its AFC wild-card play­off game in

broke his leg and coaches es­sen­tially threw rookie Con­nor Cook to the wolves, hop­ing the Raiders’ de­fense could force three or more turnovers. There was no up­set in Hous­ton on Satur­day, and Del Rio tipped his cap to his play­ers be­fore get­ting on to the busi­ness of next sea­son — like chang­ing of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors.

“Each year, the turnover through­out the league is close to 25 per­cent or so,” Del Rio said. “It’s never go­ing to be the same group of men. We had a good group. We had a good year. We went from seven wins to 12 wins. Had a lot of great mo­ments through­out the year, a lot to be proud of.” Proud, yes. Happy? No. “We should ex­pect more, and I’m go­ing to de­mand more,” Del Rio said.

The Raiders did ex­pect more af­ter their sea­son-open­ing win in New Or­leans. It set the stage for ev­ery­thing when Del Rio went for a two-point con­ver­sion and the win with 47 sec­onds left. Carr changed the call at the line of scrim­mage — which he would do again and again as the year pro­gressed — and threw a high arc­ing pass to the cor­ner of the end zone for Crab­tree.

He grabbed it, the Raiders won and Del Rio was lauded for his guts by the na­tional me­dia. The play­ers’ con­fi­dence started to match their coach’s, and Oak­land would win its first five road games.

“Guys al­ways think they be­lieve, but it takes some­thing like that for things to re­ally click,” Crab­tree said. “And you feel like you’re go­ing to win, even if you’re down in the fourth quar­ter. You trust in your coaches and team­mates to do what it takes to get the W.”

The vic­tory in New Or­leans was the first of seven fourthquar­ter come­back wins for the Raiders.

“Jack was like, ‘Hey, it’s about the process. Don’t for­get how you won in Week 1,’ ” long snap­per Jon Condo said. “We wouldn’t look ahead at the games three or four weeks away. It was a great sea­son. It was fun.”

Though Del Rio was praised for his courage and faith in his of­fense to make the play, the de­ci­sion showed what lit­tle faith he had in his de­fense. And though the de­fense got bet­ter af­ter al­low­ing a com­bined 69 points in the first two games to the Saints and Fal­cons, it didn’t re­ally turn the cor­ner.

Teams with Mack, a De­fen­sive Player of the Year can­di­date, should not fin­ish last in the league in sacks, but Oak­land did with 25.

The Raiders gave up 375 yards per game (26th in the league) and 24.1 points (20th), and things could have been a lot worse if they didn’t lead the league with a plus-16 turnover mar­gin. Though ef­fort is no doubt a part of the lat­ter stat — and the Raiders played hard for Del Rio and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ken Nor­ton. Jr — there is also some luck in­volved there.

The Raider must ad­dress their de­fen­sive line. Es­pe­cially the big guys in the mid­dle, whom line­backer Bruce Irvin called out on more than one oc­ca­sion for not get­ting enough push and pres­sure. Del Rio called the in­te­rior pass rush a “crit­i­cal” need Mon­day, and went through four of the line­men. He didn’t men­tion starter Dan Wil­liams or for­mer starter Justin El­lis, and for good rea­son: That’s a com­bined 700 pounds of in­vis­i­ble right there.

“That’s go­ing to be an area for sure that we’re go­ing to have to be bet­ter and do bet­ter,” Del Rio said.

The Raiders also need help at line­backer and de­fen­sive back, and hope that the mem­bers of the 2016 draft class — safety Karl Joseph, de­fen­sive line­man Ji­had Ward, and lineback­ers Shilique Cal­houn and Cory James — are re­li­able con­trib­u­tors next sea­son. Be­cause they weren’t this sea­son.

The of­fense was re­li­able un­til Carr went down. He and the re­ceivers de­vel­oped a spe­cial rap­port and sense of where and when they wanted the foot­ball de­liv­ered. The Raiders were good enough to over­come a lot of drops when Carr was in there, but not when back­ups Matt McGloin and Cook took their turns the last two games.

The Raiders led the NFL with 46 dropped passes, per Sports-Radar-US. No. 3 re­ceiver Seth Roberts led the league with 13, Crab­tree had 12 and Cooper and tight end Clive Wal­ford had six each.

“More than I’m com­fort­able with, more than we should have,” Del Rio said of the dropped passes. “You can add that to the list of things we’re talk­ing about here, ar­eas that are ob­vi­ous ar­eas that must im­prove.”

The Raiders are young, though, and should im­prove. They have a fran­chise quar­ter­back and a fran­chise de­fen­sive player, and those aren’t easy to get, not to men­tion a high­priced of­fen­sive line that dom­i­nated be­fore wear­ing down the last month. This off­sea­son will be about adding to that nu­cleus.

“I’m su­per ex­cited,” Carr said. “We should have a good ma­jor­ity of our guys back. I’m go­ing to work my tail off to be bet­ter next year. That’s the mind-set our whole team has.

“When you’ve got a group of guys that have won 12 games and don’t care about that, they just want to be bet­ter, then we’re go­ing to be all right.”

Nick Wass / Associated Press

Thearon W. Hen­der­son / Getty Images

Raiders wide re­ceiver Michael Crab­tree (15) is part of the re­turn­ing of­fen­sive nu­cleus led by quar­ter­back Derek Carr.

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