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Why are the Raiders considered an offensive juggernaut?

So I’m still neck-deep in Chris Conley’s film, and we’ll be talking about that real soon. But right now, I’m hanging out with my 16-month-old while Mrs. MNchiefsfan gets some much-deserved shuteye, so I’m left without the ability to break down such detailed stuff (no free arm to take notes). Instead, let’s talk about something I can’t figure out.

Why is everyone acting like the Oakland Raiders had an elite offense last season?

I see time and again national analysts treating the Raiders offense like one of the best in the NFL. You see that exact phrasing time and again. Raiders fans, of course, agree, and I had several telling me on Twitter about what a powerhouse their team is offensively. Even many Chiefs fans have spent time telling me all about how dangerous the Raider offense is.

Of course, I understand that Derek Carr is a talented, ascending quarterback. The Raiders also have a very good receiver group and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. However, all of that is only as relevant as the overall production that results from said pieces of the offense.

I’ve said time and again here that it’s pretty useless to gauge individual players by team stats (or any kind of “base” stats, really), and I believe that to be a universal truth (at least with regards to football). However, when gauging an entire offense or entire defense, statistics can be useful, as it gauges the production of the entire unit. Of course, you have no idea WHY the stats were what they were without reviewing film, but you can see what an offense/defense accomplished over the course of the entire season.

That said, when you examine what the Raiders actually accomplished on offense last season, regardless of the parts that made up said offense, you find a story a lot less impressive than “one of the best in the league.”

If you examine the more in-depth numbers for an offense on a per-drive basis, which we can do now thanks to Football Outsiders) things become clearer. Examining things on a drive-by-drive basis and looking at issues related to each drive (like average field position per drive) allows you to isolate the defense from the offense more than by looking at, say, total scoring (which includes D/ST points and doesn’t account for field position provided by turnovers) or total yards (which doesn’t account for one team having more drives to work with than another over the course of a full season).

When you look at the numbers, you find something kind of weird.

Oakland averaged 30.84 yards per drive, 19th in the league (the Chiefs were ranked 16th in this category).

Oakland averaged 2.16 PPG per drive, 11th in the league (the Chiefs were 16th in this category).

Oakland’s average starting field position was the 31.40 yard line, first in the league (we’ll circle back to this in a bit, and the Chiefs were 5th in this category).

Oakland scored .243 touchdowns per drive, 12th in the league (the Chiefs were 19th in this category).

Oakland had .217 three-and-outs (3 plays and a punt) per drive, ranked 18th in the league (the Chiefs ranked 10th-best in the league in this category).

Now I want to clarify something: the Chiefs offense was nothing to write home about last year. Overall, it was roughly a league-average offense in my opinion, and the statistics here bear that out. I’m not saying the Chiefs have a better offense than the Raiders.

What I AM saying is that the Raiders, for a team considered to have a very good (or even great) offense, were wildly average on a per-drive basis.

Interestingly enough, when you look at the number of offensive drives each team in the league had, the Raiders (with 189 offensive drives), were near the top of the league and had 12 more drives than the league average of 177 (and 18 more than the Chiefs, since we’re keeping track. Whether this was a feature of their terrible defense giving up quick scores (seems legit) or something else, it’s worth noting.

The average number of offensive drives in an NFL game in 2016 was 11.06 drives. What this means is that the Raiders had over an ENTIRE EXTRA GAME of offensive drives in which to rack up points and yards. You’re talking about taking approximately 24 points and 400 yards off their “base” stats at the end of the year, which would drop them in points per game to basically exactly where the Chiefs are (ironically enough).

So what does all this MEAN? Am I saying the Raiders have a bad offense? No. Am I saying the Chiefs are better? No. Am I saying we know how this season will go? Nope.

All I’m saying is I can’t understand why everyone thinks the Raiders have an elite offense, when their production wasn’t elite, but pretty close to what the Kansas City Chiefs (and their widely acknowledged mediocre offense) churned out. Just seems weird is all, but what do I know?

Generally speaking, when people talk about Oakland’s offense who don’t view it as elite already, they seem to assume the young players on it will continue to ascend and thus make them elite. However, I fail to understand why this reasoning can’t be applied to Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, and a (still) young offensive line in Kansas City. If we assume/project improvement on one team, why not another?

Maybe Jack Del Rio can explain it to Andy Reid.

I guess not.

While we’re on that subject, one has to ask why Oakland, with seemingly superior talent at multiple levels of offense, couldn’t significantly outproduce the Chiefs other than by having more total points/yards due to nearly two full games’ worth of attempts.

While we’re at it, let’s look at another weird stat.

That’s legitimately bizarre, no? Keep in mind, PFF doesn’t include pressures caused by quarterback mistakes in these snaps (which makes sense if you’re trying to isolate offensive line play). But even then, with Oakland’s clearly superior offensive line, it makes zero sense that the Chiefs would allow the same number of pressures... right?

So what gives? Why couldn’t the superior talent outproduce the inferior talent? Well, one reason could just be people are overrating one and underrating another (though seriously, the Chiefs’ offense was definitely not good last year. It just wasn’t). However, I think the answer lies in the two men in the first tweet I embedded above: Andy Reid and Jack Del Rio.

I’m not going to go in-depth as to the ways Andy Reid has out-coached JDR head-to-head over the last few years. Anyone with eyes (including the vast majority of Raiders fans I’ve spoken with on the subject) can see that clearly. What I’d like to point out is that an offense coached by Reid, with (seemingly) inferior talent at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver, managed to keep pace with an offense coached by JDR. That speaks volumes about the difference between the two coaches and what they are able to do to put their players in a position to win.

We will see what happens this next season (it is the NFL, after all. One never knows what will happen), but to be perfectly honest, I’ll believe JDR is capable of coaching an elite offense when I see it. Because it certainly hasn’t happened yet with the Raiders, despite repeated shouts to the contrary.