ALAMEDA, Calif. -- What would new Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing do if the Raiders found themselves facing a first-and-10 situation at the opponents’ 22-yard line while holding an eight-point lead late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl?
Surely he’d call three straight run plays, forcing Oakland’s foes to burn timeouts, and then kick a field goal to go up by two scores and all but clinch the Lombardi Trophy, right?
“You know what?” Downing said, “let’s have that conversation once we get to the Super Bowl.”
Downing was taking part in a conference call with Bay Area reporters Wednesday, his first since being promoted from quarterbacks coach on Jan. 14, and he gave his vision of running the Raiders' high-powered offense as a first-time coordinator.
Mainly, Downing sees himself as an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of guy. And since the Raiders had the No. 6 total offense in the league last season (No. 13 passing, No. 6 rushing), that should be a good thing, no?
“I definitely think that’s a phrase you can tag to me,” Downing said. “I believe in efficiency. And if we’re efficient in a concept, I’m not going to go changing it just for change's sake.
“If we’re inefficient or we fail to live up to expectations in a certain concept, then I’m going to figure out a way to tinker with it and make it work. And if I can’t make it work, we simply won’t do it anymore.”
Then what about installing a new offense?
“Oh, it will be very subtle,” Downing said. “We’re going to keep the same system terminology. There’s no reason to change any of that stuff. All we’re doing right now is finding the ways that we can all individually do our jobs better, prepare our positions better, and how we can just quarter-turn a couple things to make the offense as efficient as possible.”
The Raiders, with quarterback Derek Carr leading seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, went 12-4 and made their first postseason appearance since 2002.
But it effectively came to a grinding halt in Week 15, when Carr went down with a broken fibula and the Raiders had to go with backup Matt McGloin before starting rookie Connor Cook in the playoff loss at the Houston Texans.
Still, Downing’s name was rising as a potential coordinator, and while he was still under contract in Oakland, previous Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was not, and he was allowed to leave. Raiders coach Jack Del Rio essentially chose the potential of Downing, 36, who also worked as QBs coach for the Detroit Lions (2011-13) and Buffalo Bills (2014) and is close with Carr, over proven commodity Musgrave, who is now the Denver Broncos' QBs coach.
“I was looking forward to the opportunity to run an offense somewhere in the NFL in 2017,” Downing said. “I just feel really fortunate that coach Del Rio has the trust in me moving forward to have that opportunity here.
“It’s an incredible blessing to have my first opportunity this way.”
Downing will continue to work with Carr, who finished tied for third in NFL MVP voting. Carr’s older brother David recently said the unique relationship between player and coach will only help, suggesting Carr was stifled by Musgrave.
“He wanted to give Derek freedom, but at the same time, [Musgrave thinks], ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I have a certain way of doing things,’” the elder Carr told 95.7 The Game during Super Bowl week. “I think you’ll see a lot more freedom for Derek at the line of scrimmage, some more flexibility there.”
Downing did not dispute that notion. Rather, he said Carr made “big strides” this past season in his command of the offense, in being the field general and going through progressions more efficiently and getting his footwork on point.
“I certainly want him to remain focused on all of those attributes,” Downing said.
“There’s been a lot made about his command at the line of scrimmage. There’s certainly going to be opportunities for Derek to do that. ... Where I see him needing a little bit more command is just being able to share his thoughts of game plans. Being a student of the game, as he already is, but vocalize what he likes and doesn’t like. I think my relationship with him is something that’s going to give him the opportunity to voice his opinions. I look forward to him really taking charge of expressing his thoughts on the offense.”