Mike Zimmer was asked this week if there is any resemblance between Bill Musgrave’s offense in Oakland and the one he ran in Minnesota from 2011 to 2013.
“No, not really,” the Vikings coach said.
You can say that again.
With the Raiders piling up points and passing yards via the hot hand of second-year quarterback Derek Carr, Musgrave’s coordinator’s seat is a whole lot cooler than the one he was fired from in Minnesota when Leslie Frazier and most of his staff was let go two years ago. In fact, even coming off a 38-35 loss in Pittsburgh, Musgrave’s reputation is rising again as he braces for the Vikings’ No. 2-ranked scoring defense.
“He’s so smart, it’s crazy the knowledge he has,” Carr said.
There are several reasons for Carr’s giddiness. Such as:
• The Raiders have scored at least 34 points in three straight games for only the fifth time in franchise history.
• The Raiders have 2,997 yards of offense, third most through eight games and the highest since Rich Gannon and the boys of 2002 had 3,259 en route to the Super Bowl, which also was Oakland’s last playoff appearance and winning season.
• Carr’s 19 touchdown passes are the most by a Raider through eight games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
• Last week, Carr joined Cotton Davidson (1964) and Tom Flores (1963) as the only Raiders to throw four touchdown passes in back-to-back games.
In other words, things are going pretty well for Musgrave eight games into his fifth voyage as an NFL offensive coordinator.
Musgrave’s 19-year coaching career began in Oakland in 1997 when his seven-year career as a backup quarterback ended. A year later, coach Joe Bugel was fired and Musgrave has been bouncing around ever since.
Musgrave has worked for seven NFL teams and the University of Virginia. He has worked for the Raiders and Eagles twice, but that doesn’t top what happened this year.
This year, the same guy who fired him as offensive coordinator after two years in Jacksonville hired him 11 years later as Raiders offensive coordinator.
“Bill’s been terrific,” said new Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, the former Vikings linebacker. “We’ve remained friends. He has a wealth of experience, including his time there in Minnesota, and it was a perfect fit for us. He’s got exposure to all of the things that we wanted to be about offensively, with the power running game, with some of the spread and space and tempo concepts that are now a part of our league, and he’s always been really good with the quarterbacks.”
Of course, there is at least one young quarterback that Musgrave probably would prefer to leave off his résumé: Christian Ponder.
Other than playing a nice complementary role to league MVP Adrian Peterson during a four-game playoff push to end the 2012 regular season, Ponder never blossomed as the Vikings’ 2011 first-round draft pick. Musgrave took one more crack at him this preseason, but Ponder couldn’t be trusted as Carr’s backup and was released.
“We like Christian, he’s a good young man,” Del Rio said. “We just wanted to go with two [quarterbacks], and he didn’t make the top two.”
Musgrave also took heat for Cordarrelle Patterson’s slow development as a receiver in his rookie season in 2013. Two years later, Patterson has virtually no role in the passing game, and those 16 games under Musgrave (45 catches for 469 yards and four TDs) now look lofty compared to what Patterson has produced in the past 24 games (35 catches for 394 yards and one touchdown).
Under Musgrave, the Vikings averaged a league-best 146.5 yards rushing over three seasons. In Oakland, Musgrave has the eighth-ranked passing game (374.6).
Despite Oakland’s wide-open attack, Carr has been sacked only 10 times, including one in the past three games. Del Rio gave a nod to another local connection — former Vikings player, assistant and head coach Mike Tice — when he praised the work of the offensive line.
“Mike’s a good friend, but he’s a great coach,” Del Rio said of his line coach. “I thought he did a great job there in Minnesota, and I think that the results speak for themselves. You look at his offensive lines over the years, they’ve always been productive groups. He does an excellent job teaching and motivating his guys.”