When the Raiders hired Bill Musgrave, I was cautiously optimistic. On one hand, Musgrave has mostly been average to below average as an NFL offensive coordinator. He mostly implemented a boxed-in, conservative, conventional, run-heavy, pro-style offense. On the other hand, he just came from a stint in Philadelphia, where he had a chance to learn first-hand a wide-open, fast tempo offense that Chip Kelly was attacking the league with. I was hoping that the stint not only added to his arsenal but changed his philosophy. It has done the latter, as Musgrave has made shotgun spread formations the base of the Raider’s offense and has included Kelly staples such as inside zone variations, packaged plays, and the no-huddle. However, he has combined Kelly’s offense with a more downhill pro-style offensive package, as well as mixing formation and concepts more. All of which were on display against the Steelers.
An example of Kelly’s influence on the Raiders offense comes on the first touchdown vs the Steelers. The Raiders hit a huge gain with 44 yard Latavius Murray run off of Inside Zone. Immediately they go to a passing concept that Kelly has favored using in the high red zone ever since his Oregon days.
The double post concept. The Steelers are in a cover 3 which means there is 1 safety responsible for the middle of the field. Derek’s progression should be going inside out. If he has enough space to throw the inside post then he’ll throw it inside. But he saw that the safety was sitting on the route and went to his second read which was Crabtree running the outside post. He was able to fit the ball in a small window and Crabtree made a great jumping grab for the first Touchdown of the day.
One thing that Musgrave has done differently than Kelly is vary his formation and concept combinations better than Kelly. The Eagle’s offense has been criticized for having too many tendencies and tells, as his formations and alignments often would give away the play. For example, whenever he would have an H-back lined up off the line, the defense would know it was going to be an Inside Zone with an H-back kick.
This image shows an example of the shotgun formation with the H-back (Lee Smith) off of the line. Here the Raider’s successfully ran the inside zone with a H-back kick out, a classic Chip Kelly formation/concept combination.
In this image, Musgrave also runs the same concept with the H-back aligned in the backfield, opposite of the defensive end he is going kick out. This small variance in formation allows the offense to run the same concept without giving a tell to the defense.
When Chip Kelly wants a more downhill running attack, he’ll line up under center to run or play-action pass. As an old-school pro guy, Musgrave is much less hesitant to run from under-center and has a bigger package of the under center run concepts than Kelly does. In the play below, the offense is in a bunch formation with Lee Smith, the H-back as the most inside receiver, this is key because the defense still has to respect the potential picks that can caused by a bunch formation but also have to respect Lee-Smith as a powerful downhill blocker.
The Raiders run a H-Lead Counter-Trey and get a 9 yard gain out of the run. The pro formations and running concepts adds a different dimension to the Raider’s offense and they have had success with hard nose running by confusing defenses by switching from a spread attack to pro formations.
The biggest difference between Chip Kelly’s offense and Musgrave’s however is the man behind center. Sam Bradford has picked up his play as off late but he has mostly been underwhelming, while Derek Carr has been a revelation and is playing like an elite quarterback. He has grown leaps and bounds this season and has answered a lot of the question marks surrounding him with performances like the one against the Steelers. Some of the red flags on Derek Carr included his pocket presence. Scouts thought that he would be fearful of the NFL rush and hesitate to step into his throws under pressure. Criticisms of his Rookie campaign stemmed from his poor yards per pass average. He rushed his reads at times and seemed unwilling to throw the ball deep. However he showed he could handle the rush, be patient, throw the ball downfield, and step into throws under pressure. Out of all of the beautiful throws he made vs the Steelers I thought this was the best one:
This is a dig/ hitch combo. Derek Carr is reading the underneath “inside-wall” defender, which is the inside linebacker that is circled. If the inside linebacker defender stays with the Hitch, Derek Carr is going to throw the ball behind the linebacker in front of the deep safety. The Linebacker does exactly that and in the face of the Blitz, Carr releases the ball before Amari breaks, while the defender still has inside leverage on him (NOW THATS TRUST). The ball is completed for a 22 yard gain and he does all this in the face of a blitz and interior pressure.
So in that one play, he showed that he can read a defense and force the ball deep when the defense dictates it, and step up and throw under pressure.
Again, you have to give Musgrave and the coaching staff tons of credit for trusting a young quarterback with so much. It has really accelerated Carr’s growth and allows him to play to his potential. They even trusted him to run an empty formation backed up against their own one-yard line. To put that in perspective, it took Bill Belichick years before he trusted Brady to do that! The offense has transformed into a liability to a team strength and it is exciting to watch the Raider’s on the cutting edge of NFL offensive strategy.
3 Things the Offense can improve on
The scary thing is the Offense still has a lot of room for improvement. Here are three things in particular:
1. TAKE CARE OF THE BALL! The Raider’s offense fumbled twice in the game and Derek Carr threw an interception in the red zone. You can’t have turnovers stop you from scoring more than the opposing defense stops you from scoring.
2. CATCH THE BALL! The Raider’s are 7th in the league in the dropped passes. One of those dropped passes turned into an interception.
3. GET ON THE SAME PAGE! the AC/DC connection has been nice but ever since the preseason, there has been multiple occasions when Amari hasn’t ran the correct route because he misread the coverage. This happened on a critical 3rd down when Derek thought Amari was going to stop his slant but he kept going causing the ball to be severely under thrown.
The rookie tight end, Clive Walford, has also struggled in this area. On Carr’s interception, he expected Walford to keep running but Walford stopped his route short. If this offense is going to take the next step, the young guys are going to have to get on the same page as Carr.
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