Entering his third season since returning to the sidelines, Jon Gruden knows excuses won't keep the pitchforks at bay forever. The mantra is "Just Win, Baby," not, "Methodically improve over time and maybe come out victorious every now and then."
The Raiders finished 4-12 in Gruden's first season and 7-9 a year ago. The incremental improvement was notable, but in an AFC West division that includes Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs, Gruden knows his squad must be better to get over the hump in 2020.
"Staying healthy and the emergence of some of these second-year players and rookies will help us," Gruden said Thursday, via Tashan Reed of The Athletic. "Again, we got to create some turnovers on defense, we got to eliminate the penalties and we got to close out a drive inside the 1. Those are some things I've already talked about.
"I gotta coach better; ain't no doubt about that."
Entering their first year in Las Vegas, it's on Gruden to put on a show -- whether there are fans in the stands or not. Gruden noted the inability to punch the ball into the end zone.
The Raiders offense ranked 8th-best in 2019 with 5.88 yards per play, but was just 24th in scoring. Their red-zone TD percentage of 52.8 is tied for 22nd. Per Football Outsiders, Gruden's squad earned 35.55 yards per drive (6th-best) but just 1.87 points per drive (19th).
Gruden was particularly critical of his goal-line offense.
"We stunk last year -- I stunk -- inside the 1-yard line," Gruden said. "We got stuffed too many times down inside the 2-yard line. That's all my fault. We got to address our tight goal-line offense to be a good scoring team."
A defense that struggled to generate turnovers and gave up yards by the stockpile didn't help. The Raiders hope injecting veteran defenders like Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkowski, Prince Amukamara and Damarious Randall will help turn around a struggling D and give the offense the ball in more opportune circumstances. It's then on Gruden and Derek Carr to capitalize.
After unearthing some young playmakers last year like Maxx Crosby and Josh Jacobs, Gruden knows he'll need more help from the youth on the roster to compete in the division.
"We've been good fast-tracking players at every position," Gruden said. "Last year was a great indication. Over the last couple years a lot of young players have played for us and that was the goal when we got here. You could say we excavated the land here in terms of the roster the first year, but we've built it back with young players. Maxx Crosby, Cle' Ferrell, obviously Josh Jacobs and (Hunter) Renfrow. Kolton Miller started as a rookie. Brandon Parker started as a rookie. We don't have any doubt that Trayvon Mullen, if he can start, (Damon) Arnette can start. John Abram was an opening-day starter as well.
"We're not afraid to play the young guys, but they gotta earn it."
First-rounders Henry Ruggs (WR) and Damon Arnette (CB) will have a chance to earn sizable roles this season. How they acclimate to Gruden's system could go a long way in deciding how much improvement the Raiders have in Year 3 under Chucky.