Examining the dynamic between Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce in Raiders 2024

My initial thought when the notion of Antonio Pierce bringing aboard veteran coach Marvin Lewis in for a full-time role?

“Now here’s a coach that captained a domineering defense that won a Super Bowl in spite of a middling quarterback.”

The Context
Lewis helmed the Baltimore Ravens defense as the defensive boss from 1996 to 2001 and his tenure there was capped by the 34-7 obliteration of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28, 2001. The Ravens showcased Trent Dilfer as signal caller in that Super Bowl win over the G-Men and for half the regular season. He went 7-1 in the final eight games for the Ravens racking up 1,502 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions while completing a meager59.3 percent of his passes (134 of 226) in regular-season play. Tony Banks, who started the initial eight games, went 5-3 while producing 1,578 yards, eight touchdowns, and eight interceptions while completing an even worse 54.7 percent of his throws (150 of 247).

In Baltimore’s shellacking of New York in big game, Dilfer went 12 of 25 (48 completion percent) for 153 yards and one touchdown — exactly what you expect from a game manager that’s told to simply take are of the football and avoid big mistakes.

Examining the dynamic between Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce in Raiders 2024
                       Examining the dynamic between Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce in Raiders 2024
Trent Dilfer, center, started the latter half of the regular season for the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 along with the playoff run (here against the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game) and eventual Super Bowl victory.

Suffice it to say, the Ravens leaned heavily on one of the all-time great defenses to lead them to victory despite their mediocre starting quarterbacks. Lewis’ group intercepted Giants quarterback Kerry Collins four times and sacked him the same mount as he was relegated to 15 of 39 passing (38 completion percentage) for a meager 112 yards and a miniscule 7.1 QB rating.

Thus my immediate thought.

Desert Dilemma

Las Vegas is in an eerily similar situation with two middling signal callers competing for the starting role in Aidan O’Connell (heading into his second season in the NFL) and Gardner Minshew (heading into year six). The 25-year-old O’Connell and 28-year-old Minshew are similar to what Banks and Dilfer brought to the table: Good enough to start some games and manage them. And with the defense returning core players and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, that side of the ball will be leaned upon heavily.

If there’s a coach that has experience, history, and knowledge of to get the most out of a defense to propel a team to victory without a big-name quarterback, Lewis is it.

Now, don’t get it twisted.

While the Raiders defense made stupendous strides in 2023 (ranked ninth overall in points allowed) but is a long way off from the unit Lewis orchestrated. Baltimore assembled a coaching staff and roster full of future hall of fame talent and the group was a paragon of scheme and execution on the defensive side of the ball.

But Pierce did himself a solid by bringing the 65-year-old coaching veteran aboard as his assistant head coach in Las Vegas.

Lewis served as the long-time Cincinnati Bengals head coach beginning in 2003 (after a one-year stint as the then-Washington Redskins defensive coordinator) and he remained in that post until 2018. So he can provide the ebb and flow of being a head coach and the highs and lows, too.

Marvin Lewis, left, and Antonio Pierce served as co-defensive coordinators under head coach Herm Edwards, right, at Arizona State.

Examining the dynamic between Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce in Raiders 2024
                    Examining the dynamic between Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce in Raiders 2024
Reunited Again

When Lewis said Pierce was a driven player, he’d definitely know.

The Pierce-Lewis dynamic began in the latter’s lone season as defensive boss in Washington — Pierce was 24 years old then — and the duo linked up once more on the Arizona State coaching staff as co-defensive coordinators in 2020. Pierce joined the Raiders in 2022 as the linebackers coaching before elevating to full-time head coach while Lewis lent himself in an advisory role. Now the duo are together sporting Silver & Black in official capacity.

And that should be a tremendous thing for Las Vegas’ defense.

The Raiders under Graham are an ascending group with very talented young players that has edge rusher Maxx Crosby as the showcase talent. Lewis’ vast experience — he’s 27 years deep in the NFL coaching game — lends itself to be a solid sounding board for anyone who seeks to pick the coach’s brain. Pierce showed a penchant to seek input from Lewis and other former head coaches such as Tom Coughlin and Adam Gase during his interim head coach tenure.

Pierce and Lewis shared philosophy before as co-coaches so that’ll come naturally for the Raiders head coach and assistant head coach. And having a veteran to exchange ideas and seek input from his a great thing for Pierce and other coaches. It’s a similar dynamic that’ll exist with Las Vegas offensive coordinator Luke Getsy (40 years old) and Joe Philbin (62) who is earmarked as a senior offensive assistant.

“He’s not stuck on himself, that way,” Lewis said of Pierce during the assistant head coach’s media availability after the team’s OTAs on May 29. “He wants to hear other people’s point of views, and so forth, that way. And that’s good, but he has a great direction, himself, as a leader. He takes responsibility for providing the direction and reinforcing it every day.

“I’m here to support (the coaches) in anything I can do that way, as well as the squad, the players,” Lewis said. “That’s a thing that’s important to me. I try to keep things leveled off for them as much as I can.”

Perhaps the Raiders, as a whole, will eventually become level in all three phases (offense, defense, and special teams). The coaching staff Pierce assembled can help get the team there. The roster being built by general manager Tom Telesco can help get the team there, too.

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