Jon Gruden already had enough egg on his face. After Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears before the 2018 season, the star outside linebacker was named All-Pro as he led the Bears to their first division title since 2010 thanks to a defense that finished first in fewest points allowed.
Meanwhile, the Raiders plummeted to the bottom of the AFC West thanks to a defense that finished last in the same category.
So when facing Mack and the Bears for the first time since the trade on Sunday, Gruden was not about to allow his former player to tap dance on his head by dominating the Raiders in front of an international audience at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
In an obviously well-thought-out plan — one that Gruden, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and offensive line coach Tom Cable may have hatched in the dog days of the offseason — the Raiders completely eliminated Mack from the game and used that as a springboard to their 24-21 upset.
Mack’s final total: one quarterback hit, two solo tackles, 1.5 stuffed runs (those that go for 1 yard or less outside of short-yardage).
In terms of quarterback pressure, Mack’s one pressure was his lowest single-game output, according to ProFootballFocus.com, since Week 6 last season against the Dolphins. It was just the fourth time since his rookie season that Mack was held to one or fewer QB pressures.
How did the Raiders do it?
When negating a dominant pass rusher, there are two schools of thought among coaches. Either you double-team the player on just about every snap or you spin the dial by mixing up the looks you send at the defender.
The talent on the Bears’ defense, which includes additional disruptors Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and Aaron Lynch, virtually precludes an offense from concentrating solely on Mack with double teams — the other players will make you pay.
Gruden wisely chose to spin the dial at Mack, and his dizzying array of looks never allowed Mack to get a bead on what the Raiders were sending at him. The worst thing you can do against a great edge player is to give him the same look on every snap — he’ll figure it out eventually.
Gruden, in a masterstroke of game-planning and play-calling, sent nine blocking combinations at Mack in the passing game and eight in the running game. When the Raiders passed, they only sent extra help against Mack on 53.3 percent of snaps. When the Raiders ran the ball, they didn’t even bother with Mack, who might be a better run defender than he is a pass rusher, as they ran away from his side on 64.5 percent of snaps.
And the Raiders’ line was so good, it handled the rest of the Bears’ defense.
It started from the first snap, when the Raiders sent a message that told Mack, in essence, “You’re not beating us today.”
With Gruden’s roots in the West Coast offense, he likely had an opening script of plays that the Raiders went over with a fine-tooth comb in preparation for the Bears.
In what would be a theme on the afternoon, the Raiders ran a play/boot action pass away from Mack on a rollout by quarterback Derek Carr. While he flipped an innocuous 4-yard pass to Keelan Doss on the front side of the play, left tackle Kolton Miller, running back Josh Jacobs and left guard Richie Incognito were combining to finish the block against Mack some 15 yards behind the play. Incognito, as he is wont to do, gave Mack a high shove to the face for good measure, which Mack didn’t appreciate.
On the first drive alone, the Raiders never used the same pass-blocking scheme twice:
— Boot-action pass away, triple team.
— Play-action pass, tight ends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau double team.
— Quick pass, Moreau and fullback Alec Ingold double team.
— Dropback pass, Denzelle Good solo block.
— Dropback pass, Waller chip to Miller.
What Gruden and the Raiders’ coaches and players displayed on Sunday against Mack was a clinic on how to negate a dangerous pass rusher. That should serve them well later in the season when they face the likes of J.J. Watt, Joey Bosa, Geno Atkins and Von Miller.
Greg Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.