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Subtle changes lead to immediate results for Raiders’ offense

The Raiders haven’t thrown out the offensive playbook designed by Jon Gruden just because he’s no longer the team’s head coach.

But the offense does look a bit different now that Greg Olson is calling plays.

One of the most obvious changes in the first game under Olson’s direction was the amount of play fakes quarterback Derek Carr was using on his dropbacks.

Carr used play action just 11.5 percent of the time over the first five games of the season, by far the lowest percentage of any team in the league.

In last Sunday’s 34-24 win over the Denver Broncos, Carr ran play action on 31 percent of his dropbacks. The difference was stark and registered 8.2 yards per play, a season high by a wide margin.

It may have been a major factor in the offensive line having its best game as a group as they were able to keep the Broncos’ defensive front guessing more than normal.

Olson declined to say whether the increased rate of play action or even the appearance of the screen pass that was often missing from the offense under Gruden was going to be a hallmark of his play-calling or if it was just game-plan specific against Denver.

That should clearer when the Raiders host the Philadelphia Eagles in a 1:05 p.m. game Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.

“We are just going to try and do whatever we think as an offensive staff we need to do to move the football,” Olson said. “So some weeks maybe more, some less. I’m fortunate with the staff that we have with the number of former head coaches and coordinators, young coaches. … Just a good mix of the offensive staff with a good mix of ideas and we are just trying to find the best plays for the people that we have out on the field.

“But do we believe in the play action? Yes. Do we believe in the screen game? Yes. Do they complement one another? We feel like they should complement one another going forward.”

Olson isn’t a stranger to calling plays, having done it in the past with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars. He was also privy to every call and the thought process behind them working under Gruden the last four seasons.

He used that time to make himself ready for when the opportunity presented itself again and even though the scenario was unforeseen, he wasn’t overwhelmed, even on a short week.

“Since I’ve been with Jon, I’ve always prepared myself in case something happened,” Olson said. “You’ve always got to prepare yourself, prepare to call a game in the preparation throughout the week. And obviously with Jon it was more of suggestions during the game, but those suggestions were based upon the preparation of possibly calling the game. So, it was comfortable. I had a great mentor in Jon that continually prepped me the four years I’ve been with him.”

While the changes to the passing game were evident, they also seemed to open up the running game. The numbers weren’t great, but Josh Jacobs had a season-high 53 yards and the rushing attack was at least effective enough to keep Denver’s defense off balance.

Quarterback Derek Carr believes that’s an aspect of the offense that will have to continue to get better in order for the passing game to continue to thrive.

“It’s going to be vital to us doing what we want to do,” he said. “It’s hard enough to gain yards in this league let alone if you just stand in one spot and drop back and let guys know, ‘Hey, this is how we are going to have to do it.’ It’s not an easy way to do things, trust me. It’s hard to do that in the NFL, just drop back every play.”

Carr said he talked to Jacobs the night before the Broncos’ game and said it doesn’t matter if they throw the ball 70 times or five times, as long as they can move the ball.

Any success in the running game will also help make the screens and play actions more effective.

“That’s the mindset, but whenever we can do a balanced attack that helps play action, that helps me get out of the pocket,” he said. “Those rushers don’t know where I’m going to be at every play. That helps not only the quarterback, but it helps the whole offense, and they did some great things.

”We had a lot of play actions that were good for us and some screens that were good for us, me getting out of the pocket that was good for us, and that stems from the running game. So it was definitely huge for us, especially last week.”

The Raiders also had the benefit of Olson calling plays for the first time in this system, which created uncertainty about tendencies. Now opponents will start to study Olson’s offense.

That could make some of the deception in the passing game even more important.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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