As I was watching the Sunday Night game featuring the Cardinals and Bengals, I couldn’t help but marvel at the level of execution both offenses were demonstrating against two elite defenses. They were putting on a clinic, as both quarterbacks were making throws after throws. Carson Palmer was torching the Bengals with beautiful intermediate and deep throws, while Hue Jackson was taking advantage of match-up problems by pitting Giovanni Bernard against the linebackers and beating them to the drum of 128 yards receiving. And to think the Raiders had Hue Jackson (now the hottest head coach candidate) and Carson Palmer (now a MVP candidate) as our head coach and starting quarterback. But alas, thinking about the “what-ifs” or “what-could-have-beens” has never accomplished anything, instead we can learn from these two teams. What is it that makes them so good? How are they so consistent? The answer is continuity.
Carson’s first year as a Cardinal was not nearly as successful as his current campaign. His touchdown/interception ratio was nearly even at 24:22. The following year, he tore his ACL. Meanwhile, the media and Bengals’ fans were starting to call Dalton a bust. However, both teams stuck with their quarterbacks and coaches through the turmoil and the results speak for themselves. The Raiders can learn from these two teams. Carr and Musgrave’s offense has shown signs of being absolutely dominant but in the last two games, the offense has been plagued by inconsistency. A lot of these problems are a result of growing pains. Yes, we were spoiled by an amazing 3 game offensive run, but the truth is we have a second year quarterback, a rookie starting receiver, a paper thin offensive line, and a coordinator in his first year running the spread. Many of the issues we are facing on offense aren’t due to the system. The system has proven it could be wildly successful, but the players and play callers must be more consistent. Consistency comes with experience but can only come with continuity and patience. It is the difference between making your blocks at full speed or hesitating because of doubt, sitting in the zone or running past it, getting rid of the ball on time or being late a half second. The Raiders have to believe in the system and continue to develop. If the offense isn’t showing signs of improvement by next year then we should be talking about changes, but for now continuity is vital.
Why were we so out of sync against Detroit?
Coach Jack Del Rio said he couldn’t give an answer for why the offense was so out of sync. The answer is that Musgrave, Carr, the offensive line, and receivers all had bad days. Musgrave was more aggressive than I thought after reviewing the film but there were some bad play designs and he didn’t call enough shot plays. Derek Carr might have had his worst game of the season, but it wasn’t all his own doing. He made some bad reads and was inaccurate at times but his receivers weren’t always in the right spot and dropped a couple balls. The offensive line was inconsistent in run blocking and pass blocking in critical situations. Again, these mistakes seemed to be a result of growing pains and could be corrected by more repetitions and game experience.
Detroit’s Defense: Lion see, Lion do
After Detroit played Green Bay, I thought they would use the same game plan against the Raiders: man us up and be extremely aggressive with their blitzes. Instead, they rarely blitzed and sat back in their quarters coverage which is very similar to what the Viking’s did, which you can read about in my Offensive Analysis of the Vikings Game. One of the differences between the Lion’s coverage and the Viking’s coverage is that they were willing to play Lock coverage more, which means that in certain situations or against certain personnel or looks, they are going to just lock a defender on an offensive player (man to man), usually with a safety playing over the top for deep help.
The image above shows a 3rd and 6 situation. The Raiders are in a 3 by 1 formation with Crabtree as the number 3 (closest receiver to the QB) in the trips set. The two defenders to the top of the screen are locking with Cooper and the RB on the offensive right. The corner at the bottom of the screen is locking with 1 and playing him with a bail technique because he knows he might not have safety help. The free safety and strong safety are playing trap coverage with inside wall help from the inside linebacker.
The Raiders elect to run a Stick concept at the bottom of the screen, which is a good quick play to beat quarters. Carr’s read is the strong safety. If the strong safety flies out with the shoot then Carr is going to throw the Stick route to the #3 receiver (Crabtree).
The strong safety (circled in red) moved out with the shoot by #2, but there was a miscommunication with Carr and Crabtree. Running the Stick route requires the receiver to read the defense. If he has space, the receiver can sit, but if a defender is too close to the landmark, the receiver is suppose to work his way outside, away from the defender. Crabtree sat but Carr threw the ball as if Crabtree was going to work his way outside. The Inside Linebacker was very close to the stick landmark, so Carr was correct and Crabtree should have adjusted his route to break outside more. This play was the beginning of many miscommunications and missed passes which threw off the offense.
Carr’s Bad Reads
Throughout the game, Carr made bad reads and missed a few opportunities to extend drives. In this image, the Raiders are in shotgun with two backs in the backfield and 3 receivers split out. It was 3rd and 8. Cooper is singled up to the top of the screen, Seth Roberts is in the slot, and Andre Holmes is outside at the bottom of the screen. The corner on Cooper is playing 2-read with the safety. If he sees a swing or quick outside breaking route by the running back to his side, he’d jump it and leave Cooper one on one with the safety, which is why I am a little confused to why both backs ran hitches around the same area. Olawalde, the back on Coopers side might have ran the wrong route as high/low combinations were very productive for the Raiders against this defensive scheme the previous week.
Olawalde should’ve ran a shoot and triggered the corner to jump his route but instead the corner stays on Cooper, playing on his outside hip because he knew he had inside help from the linebacker and safety.
Carr should’ve seen the corner’s outside leverage and moved on to his next progression which was Roberts running the dig from the other side of field. Roberts ran a good route then easily got inside the wall defender and was open for the first down. Instead Carr tried to force the ball to Cooper and the pass was incomplete. On the next play, the Raiders punted.
Based on his stellar play of late, it is easy to forget that Carr is only a second year quarterback. He still has tons of room for improvement and I believe his work ethic will get him to be consistently elite. Raider fans have to be patient. Second year quarterbacks are going to have stretches when they show their youth.
Inconsistent O-Line Play
After a bad game on the ground last week, Musgrave found creative ways to get defenders out of the box. Here the Raiders are lined up in a strange formation. Things are going to get a bit tricky, so pay attention and keep in mind that the Raiders have to have seven men on the line to make a legal formation. Here the Raiders bring in Khalif Barnes as an eligible receiver in the trips set. He is the #3 receiver (closest to the QB). However, the #1 (furthest receiver from the QB) is also on the line and is covering Barnes off, making him ineligible. On the other side, Amari Cooper is lined up off the ball, meaning there are seven men on the line of scrimmage, making this a legal formation. Still with me?
This is a run/pass option, which will be discussed more later. Because Cooper is off the ball, he can go in motion. He motions across the formation. Carr is going to read the defense and see if he has a numbers advantage. If there are’t not enough defenders going outside the box with the motion, he’ll throw the quick screen to Cooper. However, two defenders go out with Cooper, so Carr hands the ball off for the run. The formation and motion leaves only 4 defensive linemen against 7 offensive players (5 linemen+ 1 QB+ 1 RB). The Raiders should have easily popped off a long run. Coaches can do all the scheming they want, but if the line can’t block it right, it won’t matter.
The key block here is the double team between the center and right guard. The center (Hudson) and right guard (Webb) should have doubled the DT (CJ Wilson) and let Murray run right though the A-Gap ,where there was nobody left but the free safety. For some reason, Hudson leaves the double team to chase the corner who was lined up on the far left, and Webb gets devoured by Wilson, who destroys the play.
The Offensive line has been solid with their pass blocking all season, but the run-blocking has been subpar. The right side of the line has been the culprit more times than not. It’s definitely an area that has to be addressed in the offseason.
Poor Play Design
The previous play was an example of good play design, let’s look at some examples of poor play design. This play was on the first 3rd down that the Raiders had to face. It was designed to be a quick screen to Jones. This play might have been designed to go against Quarters but the Lions are in a basic cover 1 (man to man with one free safety). The receivers in the trip set block and Jones goes out on a swing route.
Running a swing against man to man isn’t typically a great idea because the defender has such an easy route to the ball.
The linebacker that is locked on Jones sees the route and breaks on it causing him to reverse field for a gain of 1. The Raiders punt the ball on the next play.
Against Cover 1, A better way to isolate a running back with a linebacker is to have receivers run verticals to clear space and give the running back an in or out option option route underneath, much like what the Bengals did on the Sunday Night game with Bernard.
The Final Drive: A Fitting Conclusion
The final drive was a result of a culmination of all the factors discussed and ended with a safety. The first play was a naked bootleg backed up on our own goal line. On the play, Walford was called for holding but luckily the hold wasn’t in the end zone, so the Raiders initially avoided a safety. But the penalty put the offense in 1st and 14. On the next play, the Raiders used a power formation to single up Cooper. He ran a slant, beat the corner, and was open with room to run after the catch but he dropped the ball.
On second down, the Raiders run another run/pass option. An outside zone run (top of the screen) with a double in combination on the backside.
Carr read the inside linebacker (circled in orange). The linebacker played the run, so Carr chose to pass, but he misread the pass read.
The pass read was the strong safety, who covered the first in route. By covering the first in, the strong safety left Roberts wide open. He might not have gotten the first down, but it would have gotten us to the ten yard line or further. Instead, the offense was put into a 3rd and 14 situation and the left tackle (Penn) was called for a holding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety and put the game out of reach. That final drive included poor play calling with the bootleg, Cooper dropping a ball, Carr making a bad read, and finally an offensive line breakdown in a critical situation. All of which make a very fitting end to a forgettable day on Offense.
There were a couple of good signs that Raider fans can find some solace in. Musgrave showed some signs of progress as a spread offense play-caller. Last week, I was critical of him for running the ball on 2nd and long situations. This week, he was much more aggressive in those situations. Here is an example of his new found aggression. This is a fake bubble screen with two verticals.
Walford did a great job of fighting for inside position on the inside wall defender and Carr just threaded the needle for a long completion.
Not only is this an example of Musgrave’s growth as a play-caller, but it reminds us of Carr’s immense talent and Walford’s potential.
Raider fans should also be very encouraged by the use of run/pass options in our offense. The raiders dabbled with some of these concepts early in the season but went away from them. This is the first game they actually used them consistently. In the image below, The Raiders run a sweep play to the the to the offensive right but run a pass concept with the backside TE and two receivers. Carr is going to snap the ball and get his eyes on the backside inside linebacker (circled in orange). If that linebacker plays the run, then Carr will pull the ball and throw the pass concept. If Carr reads the play correctly, it will give the O-Line and Running back a numbers advantage running the sweep.
Here, 55 played the run and Carr hit Rivera on the seam route for a 21 yard gain. Later in the game, Musgrave ran this same play but this time Carr handed it off for a successful run play.
Seeing cutting-edge concepts like these makes me believe that this system is going to work. Carr and the offense will get better at running these concepts with practice and game repetitions. Although it is painful to watch our team drop a winnable game, we have to be patient. The mistakes that made are correctable. The nucleus of talent is there, the Qb is there, the system is there but only continuity will allow them to jell and grow together.