After playing a good game in Pittsburgh, expectations and confidence were high as ever as the Raiders returned home to play the division leading Minnesota Vikings. Everyone knew the Vikings were a good team, but there was a feeling that the Raiders were going to win this one. The Raiders were 4-4, but the way the offense was clicking and a stout run defense that has allowed only one 100 yard rusher in the last twelve games the Raiders looked like they had a good chance to shut down Adrian Peterson and put some points on the board. Neither Happened. Hype around the Raider’s weapons and fire power overshadowed an inconvenient truth, which was that Mike Zimmer is one hell of a football coach. Also, Zimmer has had one and half years to to teach his system to his young and talented defense. The Vikings are more entrenched in their system than the Raiders and executed their defensive game plan to a tee and the Raiders couldn’t adjust in time.
ZIMMER’S KEY-2 COVERAGE
The Vikings run a coverage called quarters, more specifically a variation of it called 2-read. Quarters is a combination between man and zone. I’m not going to spend too much time discussing the nuisances of the defense but essentially the corners and safeties are keying the #2 receiver (the 2nd receiver inside, typically a slot or TE). If the #2 receiver runs an an outside breaking route under 7 yards if this happens the corner will sit and break on the inside receiver (#2 receivers) and the safeties are locked onto the inside (#2 receivers) if they run vertically 7 yards or longer. The Outside Linebackers (or extra corners in a dime package) have inside wall and the middle linebacker is keying the number 3 receiver or dropping to any short to intermediate crossing routes. If you would like to read more about the coverage, James Light does an amazing breakdown of the coverage on his website: http://jameslightfootball.com/2015/03/04/breaking-down-2-read-coverage//
The coverage is complex and adaptable. If played right, the defense can do anything from potentially double covering outside receivers or bring 9 inside the box. This is where Zimmer’s coaching ability shines through. Play after play the Viking defenders did a great job of making the right reads, played with great technique and leverage, bumped and passed off receivers, and they didn’t miss tackles. On top of that the Vikings were getting good pressure with their front 4 and 5 man blitzes. The Raider’s had to minimize mistakes, maximize yardage against this defense and they just couldn’t do that on a consistent basis. A weakness of the defense is that you can match up your best receivers against their safeties, you can high-low them by flooding the outside with a short and deep route or you could get a true one on one by establishing the run and pulling in the underneath help with play action. It was clear, Musgrave wanted to establish the run and expose the the safeties with play action and matching them up with Cooper. However, the Raiders weren’t able to get consistent yardage through the run and kept putting ourselves in 2nd and long situations. To exacerbate the situation the Raiders elected to run inside zone plays on 2nd long and putting us in 3rd and long plays. I thought the Raiders were too willing to go to 3rd down. After 5 separate 2nd and 9-10, we ran the ball for short to no gains. I believe in Carr but you can’t be willing to expose your young QB to a defense that good in 3rd and long situations that many times a game and expect to be successful.
THE VIKING’S TECHNIQUE AND LEVERAGE MAKES LOMBARDI SMILE FROM ABOVE.
The pictures below show an example of why the offense was kept at bay. The play came on 3rd down and 9 (after a 2nd a long run for 1 yd.) and the Vikings had their Dime package in. This is an empty set like the diagram below. The Raiders tried to run another Chip Kelly staple concept called “Saints”. The first two progressions are the flat/go combo at the bottom of the screen. The corner did a great job of colliding the go route and passing it to the safety and then jumped on the flat route.
There was a chance Carr could have hit the go route in the high-hole (yellow square) but was pressured by by the DE (Everson Griffen), who was beating a normally reliable Donald Penn for most of the day. Cooper who was running the crossing route was passed over to another underneath defender twice. The backside post-stop route was covered by the a trailing corner and the inside wall defender. This play was the first pass of the day and I think the Raider’s offense knew it was going to be a long day.
Terrence Newman also played extremely well. At his age he isn’t relying on his athleticism, but he knows where his help is and his technique is impeccable.
On his first interception, Newman (top of the screen) was playing Amari as a trailing corner, there was no slot or TE to his side, so instead of playing over the top of Cooper, he trailed underneath him because he knew the safety was freed up to help him deep. The Raider’s ran the ball well out of this bunch formation last week vs the Steelers, as mentioned in my Raiders/ Steelers breakdown, so the linebackers who are the underneath defenders played run first.
Carr thought he could fit the ball inside because the LBs dropped back late but Newman made a great jump and easily made the interception. In addition to Newman’s 2 interceptions, he made an impact by making life difficult for whoever lined up on his side of the field with his excellent trail technique and instincts. On his second interception he was manned up with Andre Holmes without safety help and just made a great play on the ball to seal the game.
OUT-SCHEMED IN THE RUN GAME
I am not opposed to establishing the run, but against great defensive teams, you have to pick your spots and realize when you have to start airing the ball out. There were several reasons, why we couldn’t run the ball. The Vikings defense was simply stronger and played sound gap defense. Also, there were times when the Raiders run game wasn’t schematically sound.
Here the Raiders try to run inside zone vs a 5 man box. The key blocks here are the center and guard combo to the linebacker (Greenway). Right before the snap the front side DE and DT shift slightly inside.
This causes the Center (Bergstrom) to think that the DT will shoot the play side A gap and instead of doubling the backside DT, he doubles the play side A gap and the backside guard is left with a 1 on 1 block with the backside DT. This leaves no one to block the LB and the running back cuts back right into Greenway and he makes the tackle. The Raiders haven’t ran much true zone read, probably because they are afraid to hurt Carr but in a game this important against a defense this good, it would have been ideal especially in this situation.
If the Bengals are willing to do it with Dalton, the Raiders should take advantage of Carr’s athleticism more! If the backside tackle blocked Greenway instead of the DE and Carr read the DE, this play had a much higher chance of succeeding.
NO RUN GAME= NO PLAY ACTION
As mentioned earlier, you can beat 2-read by sucking up the underneath coverage with the run game and putting your receivers in one on one match-ups with corners or safeties. But since the Raider’s couldn’t run the ball very well and the Linebackers weren’t coming up quickly and stayed in their passing lanes.
Here the Raider’s try to get Barr to bite on a run fake and throw a skinny post inside him. Barr is keying the offensive tackle.
He stays disciplined with his reads and doesn’t come up on the fake too quickly because he doesn’t respect the run game.
He sees the Tackle pass blocking and drops back into the passing lane and deflects the ball for an incompletion. This play was another example of how well coached Zimmer’s defense is.
What the Raiders did Right
All hope is not lost, the Raiders did do somethings right and it was a one touchdown game for most of the 2nd half. Although the Raider’s couldn’t isolate their receivers with play action, they were able to isolate the Viking’s corners/ safeties with outside high/low route combinations. On the Raider’s first touchdown, the safety and corners switched responsibilities. The Safety moves inside the box and is going to squat on any short outbreaking routes and the corner has a deep half. The running back releases into the flat and safety jumps the route leaving the TE (Clive Walford) 1 on1 with the corner. Walford runs a good corner route and Carr hits him for a touchdown.
On the Raider’s second touchdown, the Raiders run a deep smash combo.
Here Cooper runs a deep curl route which holds the corner, leaving 6-5 Andre Holmes 1 on 1 with the Strong Safety Andrew Sendajo, who is 6-1 and doesn’t have the best ball skills. Carr throws a high jump ball for Holmes who is able to bring it down for a touchdown.
And of course, with every loss there were multiple missed opportunities. Down 20 to 14 late in the 3rd quarter, the Raiders came out in a tight doubles formation. At the bottom of the screen is Crabtree (#1 receiver) who is running corner-post and Walford (# 2 receiver) running a curl route.
As mentioned earlier, the safety will lock on 2 if he runs vertical pass 7 yards. On this play, Walford (#2 receiver) ran a 10 yard curl which prompts the strong safety to his side to jump the route, leaving the corner 1 on 1 with crabtree. Because of the tight split, the corner (Newman) expected an outside breaking route and he lined up outside shade of Crabtree.
Newman bites on Crabtree’s first outside move and was wide open for a possible game winning touchdown. In a similar situation last week against the Steelers, Crabtree ran a seam down the middle of field for a beautiful game winning Carr touchdown pass. That play like this one was in the second half, against a 2-high safety look deep down the middle of the field. However, against the Vikings, the protection broke down and Derek Carr was sacked for a ten yard loss. If Carr had an extra 0.5 seconds, he might have seen Crabtree, but instead the DE (Griffen) dove into Penn’s knees causing him to fall into Carr’s lap.
Football is the ultimate team game. If you have the perfect play design against the perfect defense, the play doesn’t work if one player doesn’t execute even if the other ten execute their part. Ultimately, the game wasn’t lost on that play, but it is interesting to think that one of the only differences between this play and the game-tying touchdown against the steelers was one block.
Hope for the Future
One of the things that sold me on Carr when he was coming out of Fresno even after all the criticism he faced after his rookie season was his obsession with football and film study. Ultimately, I believe Carr is going to look at the film and see what he missed and learn how to approach beating 2-read coverage more efficiently. Not only should he look at the missed opportunities, but see how other quarterbacks would attack a Mike Zimmer coached defense and be ready for the future.
Additionally, this is Musgrave’s first year running this system as an offensive coordinator. He is going to learn from this game and be prepared to put together a more complete and efficient game plan the next time he faces Zimmer.
The Raiders had their chances but they narrowly missed. The Vikings are a better team at this point of their development but the Raiders have better top end talent but the Vikings are more complete and a much deeper team. Unlike in years past, the Raiders look like they have the coaching staff and front office to develop this team and build depth. It is important to remember that the Raiders are ahead of schedule in their growth into a playoff team and that the future is still bright in Oakland.