When the Oakland Raiders fired offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on Monday, their number one offseason priority came to light. With some many difficulties on the offensive side of the ball in 2012, the Raiders will begin their search for a new offensive mind, but will consider former Oakland offensive coordinator Al Saunders.
“Yeah, I mean I think we’re going to look at all the possible options,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Saunders at his year end press conference. “He was one of the first guys I communicated with.”
This season, under Knapp, the Raiders were one of the worst rushing teams in the league, ranking 28th at 88.8 yards per game. Running back Darren McFadden finished with a very poor 3.3 yards per carry while being forced into the Greg Knapp zone blocking scheme. The offensive line took a step backwards. They struggled to score points averaging 18.1 per game which was 26th in the NFL in 2012. They were below average in time of possession (29:30 per game) and turnover differential (-7) both ranking 23rd in the NFL. The 2012 Raiders converted only 35 percent of third downs, which was good for 26th best in the NFL and finished the season averaging 344 yards per game.
The only part of the offense that seemed to be effective was the passing game. The Raiders threw for 255.3 yards per game which was 8th in the NFL. However it did not translate to wins. The Raiders ended 0-6 when quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 300 or more yards.
Saunders is still with the Raiders this season as a Senior Offensive Assistant. In 2011, he served as the team's offensive coordinator and the team finished 9th in the NFL in yards per game at 379.5. Oakland really excelled running the football under Saunders finishing 7th in the NFL, averaging 131.9 yards per game. McFadden finished with a 5.4 yards per carry on 113 attempts in 2011 with Saunders at the helm.
During his more than 30 years of coaching experience, the England born Saunders has gotten the opportunity to work under some successful and well respected coaches. He worked with Marty Schottenheimer with the Kansas City Chiefs as a wide receivers coach. He worked with the Super Bowl winning "Greatest Show on Turf" St Louis Rams offense under Dick Vermeil and later Mike Martz again as a receivers coach. He also worked with Joe Gibbs in Washington as a very sought after assistant coach.
After communicating with Saunders, general manager Reggie McKenzie and Allen will need to find the right guy to led the Raiders offense. Whether it is Saunders or not, Oakland needs to get this right because this year's offensive struggles hurt the team dramatically. The search has already started, but will take time to find the ideal candidate for McKenzie and Allen.
“I don’t have a time frame for getting somebody in,” Allen said. “I want to make sure we get the right guy and however long that takes for us to get the right guy, that’s how long that takes. We’ve got to identify the potential candidates. We’ll start that process and we’ll try to identify the guys that we think are best for this job and then we’ll try to start the process as soon as we can. We’ll go until we get the right guy.”
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