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Jon Gruden needs to embrace Raiders’ power-running persona

When you lose a game as the Raiders did on Sunday, 34-3 to the Jets, a lot of things had to go wrong. And they did.

Four huge drops in the first half, and shoddy tackling and pass coverage were mostly to blame for a horrid start that snowballed early in the second half.

But when you’re playing a late November game in the Northeast, the approach and the attitude you bring are just as important as execution. Sometimes the latter plays into the former, and that’s what happened to the Raiders.

Coach Jon Gruden probably thinks he called a great game — and you can certainly make that argument considering the drops — but there were things to take issue with that will affect the team down the road.

Namely, as the days grow colder and weather becomes more of a factor in the final weeks of the season and, perhaps, the postseason, Gruden needs to play to the team’s strength as a power running team. He didn’t do that Sunday and it contributed to the Raiders losing a crucial game.

Run? What run?

It’s understandable why Gruden entered the game with a pass-happy approach. The Jets led the league in rushing defense per attempt (2.9 yards), and were more susceptible to the pass. Even advanced analytics back that up — FootballOutsiders.com had the Jets second against the run, and 21st against the pass.

But there was a 36-degree wind chill at kickoff, with showers. It was miserable weather to throw the ball, especially for a California team. And even though the Raiders played awful in the first half, they were still within striking distance throughout at 3-3, 10-3 and 13-3 before halftime.

Yet the Raiders attempted 20 passes in the first half, and rushed just seven times. And they were running the ball with a 4.6-yard average.

But after Josh Jacobs went for no gain, 2 yards, 2 yards and 2 yards on his first four carries, Gruden largely junked the run. That was a mistake.

When it became obvious in the first quarter that the Raiders receivers were not up to the task in that weather, Gruden should have become more ground-oriented.

Sometimes he forgets that he has an elite running back in Jacobs and, more importantly, a physically imposing offensive line that features three elite blockers — center Rodney Hudson, left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown — a good one (left tackle Kolten Miller) and an average blocker (right guard Gabe Jackson). The Raiders, who also have a good fullback and multiple tight ends that are able and willing blockers, have the fifth-highest offensive line payroll in the league, and for good reason. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock know a team’s identity comes from what goes on in the trenches.

West Coast outlook

But Gruden’s approach Sunday was that of a finesse West Coast team, when the Raiders are actually constructed like a 1980s NFC East squad. It’s not a surprise that his team reacted meekly on the field because that’s the signal Gruden sent to them with his approach.

This is an ongoing problem with devotees of the West Coast offense like Gruden. They view the short passing game as an extension of the running game. They don’t think short passes are pass attempts — they’re long carries. So if you bring up their run/pass balance, they’ll get defensive and dismiss the criticism.

Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy used to do it all the time. Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Gruden’s mentor, often sees his season end when he gets too pass-happy. When things get tough, the default mode of West Coast coaches is just to throw more. If Gruden doesn’t alter his approach and play to his team’s strengths, it could cost the Raiders as well.

This game might have served as a wake-up call for Gruden because Sunday’s game in Kansas City is a perfect opportunity for the team to change its persona from the West Coast Raiders to the Big, Bad, Silver & Black. The temperatures are going to be in the 30s with winds of 20 to 30 mph. The Chiefs have the 31st-worst run defense and long, sustained drivers are the way you keep Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense off the field and close on the scoreboard.

Now is the time for the Raiders to become a ground-and-pound team. The calendar dictates that, and so does their roster makeup.

Sunday was a failure by everyone, including the head coach. But there’s still much for the Raiders to play for if they fulfill their destiny and impose their will on opponents behind a great offensive line and an even better running back.

More Raiders: Follow at vegasnation.com and @VegasNation on Twitter.

Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at gbedard@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.

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