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Raiders, Rams trade identities in 2017 season

Updated January 5, 2018 - 2:17 pm

LOS ANGELES — Flash back to Week 3 of the NFL regular season when the Rams were considered boring and the Raiders exciting.

The Rams and Raiders played in prime-time games that week, and little did we know it was a glimpse of what was to come.

Many groaned when realizing the Rams and 49ers were slated for “Thursday Night Football.” The memes were out in full force to mock two of the worst teams from 2016.

The Raiders’ “Sunday Night Football” matchup against the Redskins was more appealing. The Raiders had just dropped 45 points on the Jets in Week 2 and were loving life with Marshawn Lynch dancing on the sidelines.

But after Week 3, no one was laughing at the Rams and the dancing stopped for the Raiders.

Rams coach Sean McVay took the national spotlight after mouthing plays at quarterback Jared Goff inches away from the end zone during the Rams’ thrilling 41-39 victory over the 49ers in one of the best games of the season.

Three days later in the nation’s capital, the Raiders managed 150 yards of total offense in a sloppy 27-10 loss to the Redskins.

The Rams (11-5) went on to win the NFC West and advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2004. They host the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card matchup at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Raiders never overcame their offensive woes under first-year coordinator Todd Downing as the team embarked on a disappointing 6-10 season. Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was fired minutes after the team ended the season Sunday against the Chargers.

So what went right for the Rams on offense and so wrong for the Raiders?

The Raiders averaged 26 points with MVP candidate Derek Carr running the show for a 12-win team in 2016. With the additions of running back Lynch and tight end Jared Cook, the offense was supposed to take off in 2017.

But the Raiders averaged 18.8 points, scoring 10 points or fewer in five games.

The Rams averaged a league-low 14 points with Jeff Fisher as coach in 2016. After one season with McVay, they became the highest-scoring team in the league, averaging 29.9 points.

McVay has received the bulk of the credit for the turnaround, but the modest coach said his staff deserves the praise.

“What’s been fun about it, is you’re doing it with people you really enjoy being around,” McVay said this week.

Did the Raiders’ coaching staff enjoy being around each other this season? It didn’t seem like it.

Former Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was surprisingly fired after a successful 2016 season. Downing, the quarterbacks coach at the time, was promoted to offensive coordinator despite never calling plays before, but he had Carr’s approval.

The puzzling move could have created tension. Then there was the midseason firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., well-liked by his players. Norton was probably fired a year too late. The Raiders’ defense finished strong under John Pagano.

With all the chaos surrounding the coaches, it didn’t help that receiver Michael Crabtree was reportedly creating problems, offensive tackle Donald Penn had a lengthy holdout, and receiver Amari Cooper wasn’t mentally or physically right. Throw in Carr’s injuries and refusal to throw deep and you get the drama-filled 2017 Raiders.

A new coaching staff — with Jon Gruden set to return to the franchise as coach — might do wonders for the Raiders next season. It did for the Rams.

McVay, the youngest coach in the NFL at age 31, didn’t just hire coaches he was familiar with. He hired coaches who were experienced and willing to help him grow as a first-time head coach. Did Downing get that type of support as a first-time play-caller?

McVay brought in well-respected Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. He hired Matt LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach for Matt Ryan’s MVP season in Atlanta last season.

McVay, the odds-on-favorite to win Coach of the Year, also listened. He asked which coaches from the previous regime were worth keeping. He retained special teams coach John Fassel, who won the team over as the Rams’ interim coach last season.

Goff and others have referred to McVay as a “Mini Gruden” for his spunky energy and relentless work ethic.

McVay’s first NFL boss was Gruden when McVay was the assistant wide receivers coach in Tampa Bay in 2008. He quickly rose through the coaching ranks and made a name for himself as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins under Jay Gruden, Jon’s younger brother.

Jon Gruden was once McVay. His do-everything approach as a 49ers errand boy got him on the Packers’ coaching staff at age 28 and named coach of the Raiders six years later.

Gruden, who led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in 2002, hasn’t coached in almost a decade.

Can he go back to being that relentless creative genius filled with energy and lead the Raiders in the right direction like his once pupil did for the Rams this season?

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Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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