2017 could be make or break year for Raiders HC Jack Del Rio


06 December 2015: Oakland Raiders Derek Carr, Marcel Reece and coach Jack Del Rio ( pictured L-R ) celebrate a Raiders touchdown during action in an NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, CA. The Chiefs won 34-20. (Photograph by Daniel Gluskoter/Icon Sportswire)

On Tuesday, the Oakland Raiders made two decisions that have tied the fate of this squad to Jack Del Rio in a way it was not previously. Contrary to what most thought should and would happen, Del Rio decided to part ways with Bill Musgrave but maintain Ken Norton, Jr. as his defensive coordinator.

This despite the fact that the Raiders had a top ten offense and a bottom ten defense.

As more information starts to come out, it appears that the decision to move on from Bill Musgrave was actually more about keeping Todd Downing. The young quarterback coach who worked closely with Derek Carr is seen as a hot commodity in the NFL. With rumors that the Broncos, among others, were interested in hiring Downing as their coordinator, Jack Del Rio and crew felt like they needed to ensure he stuck around.

The problem is, Musgrave is coming off of a year where the Raiders were among the best in the league in almost every offensive category. Meanwhile, Downing is most certainly viewed as a hot prospect, but he’s also just that, a prospect. He has no experience with playcalling and is an unknown quantity as a coordinator.

It’s understandable that the Raiders wanted to keep Downing, but it’s also a rather big risk.

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been much information that provided clarity on the defensive coordinator spot. Ken Norton, Jr.’s defense was among the worst in the league. It was last in sacks, last in yards per play allowed, 20th in points allowed and 26th in total yards allowed. It was, however, second in the league in turnovers.

While the turnover stat is good, it’s hard to argue that you should keep a defensive coordinator who was given more talent than last year and yet produced a defense that may have actually been worse.

This season, the Raiders gave up more total yards, more rushing yards per game and 13 fewer sacks tallied. As for the all important points per game? The Raiders improved by 0.8 allowing 24.1 points per game this season versus 24.9 last season.

Since Jack Del Rio is a defensive minded coach, many assume that keeping Norton is more about Del Rio than anything. He either sees Norton as his protege and is unwilling to acknowledge his failure. Or he wants to maintain control over the defense and grabbing a big name like Wade Philips would mean relinquishing some control.

But regardless of the reasons for these two decisions, it’s clear that they are decisions that could make or break Jack Del Rio with the Raiders. Downing could turn out to be a huge success and Del Rio will look like a genius for keeping him. Norton could produce a solid defense after Reggie McKenzie adds more talent this offseason (reaching a bit I know, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for argument sake).

But on the other hand, Downing could turn out to be a great quarterbacks coach who isn’t a good playcaller and Norton could prove his doubters correct.

And if both downing and Norton turn out to be bad decisions, the Raiders could easily go from a 12 win season to a team who doesn’t make the playoffs. The AFC West is incredibly competitive and nothing is a given. Even with Derek Carr returning to health, there is nothing guaranteed.

If the Raiders struggle next season and it’s clear that those struggles can be tied to Downing and Norton, it could be Jack Del Rio whose head is on the chopping block sooner rather than later.

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james arcellana

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