Predicting the Unpredictable: Raiders prepare for Matt Rhule's NFL coaching debut

Even when you have the tape to prepare, Christian McCaffrey is a problem, but the Las Vegas Raiders will walk into this Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers blind.

This offseason, the Panthers parted ways with long-tenured head coach Ron Rivera and signed former Temple and Baylor head coach Matt Rhule to a seven-year contract. Rhule established himself as one of the most promising coaches in college football, but hasn't put his schemes on display at the NFL level, with Sunday serving as his coaching debut.

Rhule's intentions for McCaffrey and the offense remain unclear, other than the fact he's going to let his franchise player do what he does best.

Wednesday afternoon, Head Coach Jon Gruden met with reporters via Zoom and explained how the coaching staff has poured hours of studying the Panthers system, but much remains shrouded in mystery.

"We did a lot of work," Gruden said. "We watched Temple, we watched Baylor, we watched anything we could get our hands on. It's a little like when you were a high school coach and you used to drive across the county to exchange films, but unfortunately, their coach never showed up so you didn't get any tape to look at. It's a challenge, there's no doubt. What are they going to play in third-and-5? What are they going to play in goal line, short yardage? We'll just trust our preparation, trust our rules, do the best we can."

In this COVID world, preparation has become even more challenging with the limitations of the pandemic. Before the pandemic even hit, the practicing rules still weren't up to Coach Gruden's desired standard, but the team has been forced to make do.

On the bright side, Coach Gruden has worked tirelessly to hire a coaching staff that understands his philosophies and brings a mutual passion for the game in the building. It's for that reason he's confident in the team's game plan ahead of Week 1.

"I've never seen Carolina on tape, so I'm a little…I have negative feelings on that," Gruden admitted. "I wish I could see something. But I'm confident. Our coaches have done a great job. Our players have done a great job."

Despite so many questions about the Panthers' offense, there are aspects of a game plan that never change. It's the defensive lines responsibility every snap to disrupt the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback, which was the first thing linebacker Cory Littleton pointed out during his media availability Wednesday.

"In any type of game plan that you have, no matter who's the quarterback, it's always apply pressure," he said. "Put them in situations where they don't always make the right choices. Teddy is a smart dude that normally makes all the right choices, so we have to put him in uncomfortable positions where we can rock his game a little."

Facing a rookie head coach is always interesting, but the Silver and Black have veteran experience on their side, and it'll be fun to watch Gruden duel with Rhule on Sunday.

View photos from practice at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center as the Silver and Black prepare for their regular-season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

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