After the exciting offseason that had the team acquiring 4 big name free agents and having another seemingly good draft, the fanbase was ready for a major step forward from the previous year’s 7-9. Expectations were firmly focused on the Playoffs and many were calling for double-digit wins, a Division title, and possibly a deep run into the playoffs.
With three big free agents on defense (Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, and Reggie Nelson) and with Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards both one year more experienced and David Amerson growing into a superstud, the vision was that the defense would not just be good, they would be Dominant. Some went as far as to say “Better than Denver”-level.
After the Week 2 loss where the defense was humiliated on the field for the 2nd week in a row, the offseason optimism has given way to blind panic.
Playing defense is a team game. The saying "22 eyes seeing one thing" reinforces what a great defense wants to have and what is important to establish and build. It’s why it is so rare to find "Dream Team"-style defenses that are put together over one off-season. The communication (verbal and more importantly non-verbal), cohesion, and understanding of their roles and responsibilites take time to forge.
The Raiders defense has 3 new starters in the secondary and 2-3 new starters in the front 7 (with 1-2 others playing more significant roles than previously). This is in a defensive scheme that has been in place for only a year and that has been transforming over the past year as well.
No excuse. Just fact.
Having said that, the defense’s play HAS been poor. There have been major breakdowns in just about every conceivable way and at each of the three levels. No single player on the defense is free from blame, but at the same time, no single player is fully responsible for all that has gone wrong.
There’s insufficient time and space to assess and discuss each failure on defense.
This breakdown set will mostly focus on the the aspects of the Run Defense with an emphasis on the first two levels of the defense and some of those failures that have set up very difficult situations. We’ll take a look at how Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has set up the Raiders’ defense and has cleverly put stress on these younger and newer players and placed some players in compromising positions.
note : CLICK on the GIFs to be taken to the full size GFY. Click on the images to be taken to full-resolution image
Play calling is based on early success.
It’s far easier to make "good" plays later when the plays earlier have been effective. Early success will set the tone for later plays and allow greater freedom on play calls. Continue with what works or set the defense up for a downfield shot? Being effective early is a tremendous advantage and can resonate for a long time.
"Earlier" in this case refers to either earlier in a series or in the game.
For the Falcons, their first step was to establish their outside zone runs and firmly plant that in the defense’s collective head.
Here’s a closer look at two main outside zone runs. One is a toss play and the other is the classic “Stretch” play. These were early in the game and helped establish the effectiveness of the playside runs.
Key Concept : "Leverage" for a Run Blocker is establishing a position between the ball carrier and the defender.
Playside Run #1 : The Toss
Here’s the play :
1-10-OAK 46 (12:42) D.Freeman left end to OAK 39 for 7 yards (B.Heeney, S.McGee).
Now here is a look at the details using stills from the play.
The Green arrows show the blockers all getting out on the outside zone blocks. Notice two backside blockers who are releasing downfield : RG Chris Chester to pick up Ben Heeney and TE Jacob Tamme to pick up Keith McGill.
RB Devonta Freeman takes the toss and then cuts upfield.
Point of Attack
After Freeman takes the pitch he is looking at this field in front of him.
Bruce Irvin has outside responsibility and must Force the play to cutback inside so he takes on the fullback (outside green arc). LG Andy Levitre gains leverage on Denico Autry and is sealing him away from the play (inside green arc).
This gives Freeman a running lane that is over 5 yards wide. This beneficial for many reasons, but two primary ones :
- Downhill running. Freeman catches the pitch and has such an open and clean lane that he can run at full speed as if in the open field.
- Great vision. With so much space in front of him, Freeman can scan and see the field in front of him; he can see the blocks and the potential tacklers.
The defensive frontline’s mission is to make the runner’s path as difficult to traverse as possible. This means pinching the running lane down and cluttering things up. Causing disruptions and forcing the runner to slow down allows the defense to converge on him. A narrow running lane converts a shifty runner into a linear one and makes it easier for the linebacker to tackle the runner.
A wide lane and it’s more like trying to tackle a runner in the open field. Advantage: Runner.
That’s Malcolm Smith engaged with the LT #70 Jake Matthews and in the middle of the frame, Ben Heeney is being grabbed from behind by RG Chris Chester, otherwise Heeney would have been filling that interior gap.
After forcing the play inside, Bruce Irvin fights to get inside and chase Freeman. Malcolm Smith fights the block and takes away the outside, forcing the play to cutback inside.
Malcolm’s help should be coming from the inside in the form of Heeney and (last line of defense) Reggie Nelson.
How did that gap get so wide ?
Here’s a closer look at Denico Autry at the point of attack :
Denico engages the LG Andy Levitre and then decides to go underneath the block by using a Swim move to the inside. He wins the inside, but the problem is that the play is very quickly going to the outside. Levitre is happy to allow Denico to win that inside gap because it gives Levitre leverage, ie., it places Levitre in between Denico and the ball carrier, Devonta Freeman.
Studying Denico over the past year-plus, two things jump out :
- He’s very explosive and aggressive at attacking a gap
- Often, he will surrender gap integrity because of that
Denico wants to win the one-on-one matchup and penetrate into a gap. When he does it just right, he makes some splash plays, but at other times, he creates a big gap opening and he erases himself from the play.
One very important responsibility of each of the defensive linemen is to protect the linebackers. When Denico shoots a gap, he exposes his linebackers and compromises them; this is a very selfish move and compromises the team defensive integrity.
If this were an Inside Zone run (and possibly even a handoff to a Wide Zone run), Denico getting free like this make have allowed him to disrupt the play in the backfield. However, a toss play is designed to help the runner outflank the defense; Freeman has an extra few yards of lateral headstart and so it is important for Denico to work laterally to close that distance.
Playside Run #2 : Stretch Right
Here’s the play :
2-3-OAK 39 (12:09) (No Huddle) D.Freeman right tackle to OAK 36 for 3 yards (K.McGill)
Here are the details :
LG Andy Levitre releases to the 2nd level to block Malcolm Smith.
Two notable playside double teams :
- FB and TE double on Bruce Irvin
- RG Chris Chester and RT Ryan Schraeder combination block Denico Autry
Instead of a toss, Freeman takes a handoff and attacks the outside.
When Freeman approaches the point of attack, he again faces a nice wide gap that allows him to run at full speed and full vision.
Notice the leverage of the the blockers. Chris Chester has fantastic position on Denico to wall him away from the runner (inside green arc) while the double team effectively erases Bruce (outside green arc).
Ben Heeney is taking on Schraeder’s block, attacking the outside shoulder, and is forcing the play back inside where he has help.
A key concept of Team Defense is to force runners back towards the Help. A defender can be effective even if he does not make the tackle if he forces the runner into a "One Way Go" (ie., a runner has only one direction he can run to) and gives another defender a much easier tackle opportunity.
Keith McGill is the outside defender behind Heeney; he’s reading Freeman and deciding whether to commit to that outside gap or to cutback to the inside.
There are three defenders rallying to the ball.
McGill is closing in from the outside. Malcolm Smith and backside DT Stacy McGee are chasing from the interior.
This play had big gain written on it from the start but Heeney’s aggressiveness taking on the block and forcing the play back inside combined with the hustle from the other defenders held this play to a 3 yard gain.
However, this aggressiveness will become an important factor later.
First, here’s a closer look at Denico at the point of attack
Denico is a little slow reacting, gets his eyes on the RG and takes a hard punch by RT Schraeder that really loads him up to the inside so that Chester can gain leverage.
Denico gets his shoulders turned and then the gap is lost. He may have stumbled on the dirt infield or he may have tried a rip move. Or maybe he’s just overpowered by the combination block. In any case, Denico is sealed with ease which creates a "soft edge."
Chasing Backside Tackle
On these plays, Stacy McGee shows the kind of non-stop, high-motor hustle that we love. From his initial position lined up on the backside, he takes on the initial blocker and then keeps running to eventually chase down the play and get in on the tackle.
Here’s The Stacy Cam view.
Chasing the Toss
Stacy is lined up on the inside shoulder of the tackle (4i Technique). As the play goes away from him, he fights thru the block and charges down the line to get an assist on the tackle.
Chasing the Stretch play
Stacy lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard (3 technique). As the play goes away, Stacy fends off the block and runs down the play behind the line. He doesn’t affect the play, but he’s available.
The hustle of the backside tackle on the outside zone plays helps bring additional defenders to the point of attack and this appears to have been a key coaching point to ensure that the defenders are closing down the playside running lanes.
But this type of aggression is an exploitable trait and it shows up in a negative way on some other plays.
Khalil Mack is growing into an absolute Monster and he’s definitely the centerpiece of the Raiders’ defense. Any opposing offensive gameplan begins with “What do we do about Mack?”.
Over the past two years, there have been few answers about Mack’s run defense. Khalil’s combination of power, speed, leverage, violent hands, agility, and natural sense of how to play the run has led to a number of unhappy runners getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. Many teams have started to rely on just running away from Mack’s side.
In the pre-season, both Green Bay and Tennessee showed that there may be an alternate way to deal with Khalil Mack
The Packers started the game by running two QB bootlegs (one to each side) to firmly plant “QB contain” into his head.
The Titans’ “exotic” motion and Mariota’s hard bootleg action kept Mack off-balance and reduce his effectiveness.
An approach to slowing down the Mack Attack is to force him to play to his responsibilities. Rather than allowing him to play fast and aggressive, make him think and assess the play and get him to back off at times.
In the pre-season, both Green Bay and Tennessee showed that this may be a viable attack
The Falcons used the QB bootleg to fantastic success. There were 5 notable plays each of which had receivers running wide open. 4 of them resulted in completions while the 5th one was incomplete due to a poor (unpressured) throw.
During a 5 play span, the Falcons ran the QB bootleg at Khalil Mack every other play. The result was 3 QB bootlegs for 37 yards (12.3 avg) and 3 first downs.
Here an example :
1-10-OAK 27 (14:32) (No Huddle) M.Ryan pass short left to L.Toilolo to OAK 11 for 16 yards (R.Nelson)
Here are the details on the play
Offensive line fires off the ball and sells wide zone run. FB and RB carry out the fake.
Khalil Mack in standup position on the backside crashes down the line and chases the run.
Front-side TE crosses the formation against the flow of the run action as the QB keeps the ball and bootlegs out.
6 Defenders are clustered beyond the right hashmark (purple arc) with two others (Mack, Malcolm Smith) chasing the run play.
TE Toilolo releasing into the empty flat and QB Matt Ryan ready to pull the ball back and bootleg to a spot.
Toilolo is all alone in the flat. Man coverage means that Sean Smith has his back turned to stay with Julio Jones and this leaves Toilolo with room to run after making the catch.
Khalil has lost QB contain after buying the run. Here, he’s trying to recover, but Matt Ryan is “uncontained” and makes the very easy toss to the tight end for a 16 yard gain
It’s a pretty basic fake; any team with a wide zone run has this in their playbook, but the backside aggressiveness of Mack compromises the defensive integrity and allows for a big gain.
For Mack, this isn’t just about giving up a big gain, it’s an embarrasing mistake. He’s tricked by such a basic play and gets so far out of position that he’s a total non-factor. This is actually the 3rd of the 3 QB bootlegs on the same drive that Atlanta ran and Mack fell for it each time. Here’s the play sequence :
- Bootleg at Mack for 15 yards
- Tevin Coleman run for 6 yards
- Bootleg at Mack for 4 yards
- Matt Ryan pass to Aldric Robinson for 20 yards
- Bootleg at Mack for 16 yards
Mack not only fell for it, but he was suckered into it three times in rapid succession. From then on Khalil Mack had three things in his head every time the Falcons showed run :
- QB contain in case it is a QB Bootleg
- Chase the play
- Backside contain on cutback runs
This is how the Falcons were able to neutralize much of Khalil Mack’s effectiveness in this game, both in the run and the pass game.
Here are some additional examples of the QB Bootlegs
|1||2-4-ATL 26 (1:08) (No Huddle) M.Ryan pass short right to J.Tamme to ATL 41 for 15 yards (R.Nelson).||15 yds||A22 GFY
|2||2-4-ATL 47 (:13) (No Huddle) M.Ryan pass short left to A.Hooper to OAK 47 for 6 yards (K.McGill).||6 yds||A22 GFY
|3||1-10-ATL 38 (7:29) (No Huddle) M.Ryan pass incomplete deep left to M.Sanu.||Inc||A22 GFY
|4||1-10-ATL 39 (5:08) (No Huddle) M.Ryan pass deep left to A.Hooper to OAK 27 for 34 yards (B.Heeney).||34 yds||A22 GFY
Most of the disastrous plays that were happening on defense and that made the Raiders’ D look confused and constantly out of position were "counter runs". These run plays give a strong appearance of a run in one direction but has a designed cutback to the opposite side.
This, combined with the QB bootlegs, played havoc with the Raiders defense at both levels. The DL was giving up huge gaps and the linebackers were getting false reads and attacking their initial reads while the runner was cutting away from them and hitting open field.
The success of the initial playside runs combined with the QB Bootlegs had out-of-sync play by all parts; some were over-aggressive, some mis-reading, some running out of lanes, some chasing ghosts.
It only really takes one or two defenders being out of position to give up a nice run and on a few of these plays, there were several players finding themselves in a bad place.
Here is an example of one such play:
Warning : There are numerous still on this play to detail some of the interesting nuances that were causing many of the defensive breakdown or that were exploiting the defensive play.
1-10-ATL 9 (1:53) D.Freeman up the middle to ATL 20 for 11 yards (K.McGill)
Here are the details on this play
Raiders defensive line is in a Bear Front with the three interior down linemen covering the Falcons’ three interior linemen.
The Falcons’ initial blocking is like standard Split Inside Zone run, meaning it is inside zone with the playside TE crossing the formation to the backside. In this case, both TE are breaking to the right. #81 Austin Hooper is releasing into the flat, while #83 Jacob Tamme is crossing as a blocker.
The RB #24 Devonta Freeman reads that initial B-Gap. The blocking has a built-in cutback lane to the backside and we will see this designed cutback exploits the Raiders’ backside defense.
Backside Three : Khalil, Malcolm, Jihad
The initial playside is the left side, targeting the A-gap between the LG and the C. Three key defenders on the backside are Khalil Mack standing up as the OLB, Jihad Ward as the backside DT, and Malcolm Smith as the backside ILB.
The play design will get these three to create a large running lane and the designed cutback allows the runner to hit that created gap quickly.
Malcolm has man coverage responsibilities on the TE #81 Austin Hooper. When Hooper releases into the flat, Malcolm follows, turning his back to the play.
On the snap, Khalil attacks the play, but on the handoff, he has to honor Matt Ryan’s QB bootleg action. As the runner takes the ball into the cutback lane, Mack is chasing the QB.
Jihad sees/feels/reads the inside zone action to the left and starts to crash down inside to help and get in on the play. The double team of RG Chris Chester and RT Ryan Schraeder engage him and help drive Jihad down and create a soft edge to the backside.
2nd Level Two : Ben and Keith
There are two key players on the initial playside, Ben Heeney and Keith McGill. As the play unfolds, these two defenders will have to chase the play down from behind and the way they handle this helps determine how successful the Falcons’ run will be.
Freeman will take the handoff and attack the initial playside gap. Ben Heeney will read the Inside Zone play coming up the middle. He finds himself unblocked and staring the play right in the face, so he will (naturally) attack hard and shoot that gap.
Keith McGill has man coverage responsibilities on Jacob Tamme. When Tamme crosses behind the formation, Keith follows.
Handoff, Backside Three
At the moment of the handoff, Jihad, Malcolm, and Khalil each reacting separately on the backside.
Eyelines : Backside Three
Jihad can’t really see the ball, but rather he’s reacting to the blocks and closing on the perceived target gaps. He’s crashing down inside towards where the ball is going (at this time).
Malcolm started off in the backside gap, but find himself out of position for man coverage on the tight end, so he is now turning and in chase-mode. Interestingly (frustratingly) Malcolm is actually standing in the target running gap and will now turn his back and run away from where the runner is headed!
Khalil has those QB Bootlegs in his head and will chase Matt Ryan on the fake bootleg action. Like Malcolm, Khalil is going to run away from where the runner is headed.
Handoff, 2nd Level Two
At the moment of the handoff, Keith McGill and Ben Heeney are also each independently reacting to the play with little recognition of the overall play or what each other is doing.
Eyelines : 2nd Level Two
Keith has man coverage. As the TE is crossing the formation, Keith has his eyes on him and is following.
Ben reads the Run Action. The A-Gap opens wide and Ben has a clear view of the Runner. With no blocker in front of him, Ben is ready to shoot up into the gap and make a big tackle for loss (or so he thinks).
Keith and Ben are going to have their paths cross and they will run into each other.
Just after getting the handoff, the runner takes hard against the flow and heads to the backside. Conveniently for him, the backside is wide open because key defenders are all out of position.
From left to right :
- Ben and Keith have run into each other, taking two unblocked defenders out of the play
- Jihad is closing towards that original target gap and being washed down inside the hashmarks by the RT Schraeder
- Malcolm is chasing the TE in the flat and has his back to the play. Interestingly, the WR is dropping down with a crackback block on Malcolm, which is unnecessary
- Khalil is chasing the QB and recognizes the run far too late. The TE is assigned to block Khalil, but since Mack is so far out of position, the TE has nothing to do.
The running lane is huge.
There’s no Raider remotely near the runner and Devonta Freeman just runs upfield.
* * *
The cutback was a critical moment of the play. So much happens inside the trenches so rapidly that it can be difficult to recognize and understand, so here is a slower, detailed look at what is happening in there and what we can glean from it.
Cutback Interior Details
Here’s a clip of the Falcons’ interior combination block :
This is an interesting block because typically on an Inside Zone run, the backside Guard-Tackle combination block ("Deuce block") will block the DT and then release to the backside LB like this :
The RG #65 Chris Chester releases downfield and picks off the backside LB Malcolm Smith while the RT #73 Ryan Schraeder slides into the area that Chester vacates.
Notice that this would create good leverage for a run to the left side, ie., if the RB hits the left A-Gap, then the Falcons’ blockers would be between the defenders and the runner.
But that is not how the Falcons block this play.
Instead, they Invert the Leverage :
RG Chris Chester will release and crash towards the initial playside, doubling on NT Justin Ellis. Then Chester releases from Ellis and blocks the LB Ben Heeney.
When Chester releases, the RT Ryan Schrader will not slide to replace Chester, but he will rather continue to block down on Jihad Ward. This gives Ward a gap to attack, which he thinks will take him to the ball carrier.
So if the RB runs into the left A-Gap, then the Falcons’ blockers seem to intentionally be putting themselves away from the ball and allowing the Raiders’ defenders to get superior leverage.
Also, take note of where on the field Jihad is : about 2 yards outside the hashmarks.
Doubling on Jelly
NT Justin Ellis recognizes the RB is cutting away from the left side A-Gap and is trying to shed the Center #61 Alex Mack, but #65 Chris Chester is now crashing down and prevents that from happening. Once Chester seals Jelly, he will release to pick off Ben Heeney.
Note that this looks more like a conventional C-G Combination block ("Ace") for a play to the right side.
As this happens, RT Ryan Schraeder continues to block down on Jihad and drive him inwards.
Chester is at the 2nd level and blocking from right-to-left on Ben Heeny. Schraeder also has superior leverage on Jihad.
Recall earlier when we noticed how Stacy McGee was hustling so hard to chase after the ball from the backside? Now, here’s where the Falcons are taking advantage of that effort and using it to create a larger backside running lane.
Jihad is getting washed down, but that is in part to the fact that he attacked inside when he initially read the running play to the opposite side. Jihad loses about 4 yards of backside containment responsibility and that allows Freeman to have a very easy run.
The interior blocking sets up like an initial Backside Deuce block that suddenly changes to a Playside Ace.
This is the largest indicator that the Falcons’ had designed intentional cutbacks into their running attack and that many of the runs were planned from the start as a fake to one side and then cut to the other. This particular interior blocking would actually make the original target gap a failure.
It’s a slight and subtle tweak to the standard blocking assignments and so it’s very easy to miss, but the results were definitely In-Your-Face.
This may help inform how the LBs make their reads. Interior LBs initially read the guards to recognize the run, but now they have an additional read to see if the OL will suddenly invert their leverage which gives a strong indication of a counter run.
Kyle Shanahan and the offense have clearly scouted the Raiders’ defense and recognized that there is a tendency to vacate the backside. He then designed an offensive approach to stress that area of the Raiders and then exploit it.
Normal Inside zone and Split Zone plays would likely have been successful, but by making some slight adjustments to the blocking scheme and using some other play calls to get the defenders thinking too much, Shanahan was able to create large running lanes for his two RBs as well as very easy pitch-and-catch situations coming off the run fake.
On this particular play, all three primary units had major failures :
- Defensive line play gave up the entire backside
- Outside linebacker lost track of the play and gave up backside contain
- Inside linebackers lost track of the play and were caught away from the play
Here are a few other notable Counter or Cutback Runs to look at :
|1||2-1-ATL 34 (14:32) (No Huddle) D.Freeman left tackle to ATL 42 for 8 yards (R.Nelson).||9||A22 GFY||EZ GFY
|2||1-10-ATL 20 (1:28) (No Huddle) D.Freeman right tackle to ATL 26 for 6 yards (R.Nelson, D.Amerson).||6||A22 GFY
|3||1-10-ATL 41 (:35) (No Huddle) T.Coleman up the middle to ATL 47 for 6 yards (M.Smith).||6||A22 GFY
|4||1-10-OAK 33 (6:29) D.Freeman up the middle to OAK 24 for 9 yards (D.Amerson).||9||A22 GFY
|5||1-10-ATL 25 (12:00) D.Freeman right tackle to ATL 37 for 12 yards (D.Amerson).||12||A22 GFY
|6||1-5-OAK 13 (4:41) T.Coleman up the middle for 13 yards, TOUCHDOWN.||13||A22 GFY
Non-Counter Cutback Runs
Not every cutback run was designed necessarily as such. It’s a well-understood part of the wide zone run that there are cutback opportunities and generally, the biggest runs will come when the runner is able to cut to the backside.
The same backside discipline issues that plagued the Raiders on the designed cutback runs were also problematic on the non-designed cutbacks.
This is a major fundamental issue that has to be righted because it means that opponents may not have to rely on Atlanta’s specific game scheme in order to gash the Raiders’ run defense.
In the Week 1 victory over New Orleans, a big concern was the lack of an interior push; this allowed Drew Brees to have a clean pocket and easily see his receivers so that he could get off his passes in under 2.5 seconds.
A relatively unnoticed personnel adjustment from Week 1 to 2 was a change of the DL. The starting interior three went from having the PB&J (formerly Meat and Potatoes) duo of Justin Ellis and Dan Williams playing together to having either Stacy McGee or Denico Autry playing in his stead. This was presumably to address the interior rush.
Typical down interior 3 : Stacy – Jelly – Denico or Stacy – Jelly – Jihad
This had a predictable negative effect on the run defense.
At 6’6", Denico has great length and is a great penetrator; he definitely a far superior pass rusher than Dan Williams has ever been, but he’s not yet a reliable all-around defender. As the saying goes "You don’t pound nails with a knife."
Even by the current Raiders’ standards, Jihad is inexperienced. Not only is he a rookie, but he’s a developmental talent and right now he’s having a very difficult time in many phases of the game, perhaps the most obvious being that blockers are initiating contact with him rather than vice versa.
Physically Dan Williams is a more effective run defender and perhaps more importantly, he’s more experienced and would be less prone to these types of mistakes.
Perhaps the biggest missing piece is the player that went out in Preseason Week 1. When Mario Edwards injured his hip, the Raiders had no viable replacement for him. And the defense has been awkwardly trying to fit the front seven ever since.
Just compare the way Denico handled being at the point of attack to how Mario did (from Preseason game 1 v Arizona) :
There is no one else on the interior that plays with the power, explosiveness, and violence that Mario does.
Consider that the Defensive front was expected to start off as Mario – Jelly – Dan, with Jihad Ward working in when he’s ready. What’s on the field now is a big step backwards and perhaps part of the problem is that in Training Camp there was not enough work done to prepare for this possibility.
Darius Latham is an interesting wildcard. He has shown superior run defending skills and has been getting some playing time, but it may be too early to expect substantial contribution by the undrafted rookie. This is definitely a personnel decision to pay attention to.
Mario’s not coming back until Week 10 at the soonest, so there’s no use in bemoaning it (and there’s really no sympathy from anyone in the League about an injured player anyway).
Ken Norton has to figure out what combination is going to be most effective and then to get them working well together. Since Mario went down, this group has not been playing well.
Offensive play calling is based on success. The more success they had the more they were able to do and more it affected the Raiders’ defense.
When the pressure gets put on and the defense is struggling, there’s often a call for "Someone make a play!" and that can be good, but often it can lead to "Hero Ball" where players increasingly lose discipline and try to do too much just to make a big splash play.
When the opposition can feel it, they are able to even further goad the defensive players in mistakes.
This game started to feel like that.
As the game progressed and it became clear that the defense was barely able to slow down the Falcons’ offense, the players started getting worse. LBs were being more aggressive and jumping gaps too soon, letting runners get out. DL were attacking gaps harder and contain defenders looked like they were starting to guess on plays.
This lead to more problems.
Once the Falcons’ running attack proved to be so effective, a very basic play action fake drew the entire second level up to the line of scrimmage, leaving the field free for the receivers to run around in.
A Zone defense with LBs sellling out on every run fake meant huge vacant zones for receivers. This leads to more man to man calls, which may have not been Game Planned and prepared as much, leading to mistakes.
Mistakes upon mistakes and then it just gets out of hand and there’s nothing to do about it.
The defense may not have been quite as bad as it showed last week. Part of the failing may have been that it got out of hand quickly and that the young DC and the young players all panicked a little bit.
Kyle Shanahan and the Atlanta Falcons’ offense had the Raiders’ defense well-scouted and developed a great gameplan to take advantage of some inherent weaknesses in the way the front line played the run.
On the flip side, the Raiders’ coaching staff saw these same deficiencies on display in the Pre-season (notably Green Bay and Tennessee) and had not addressed those issues until they were exposed this past week.
The Defense prepared for a Falcons’ offense that was not on the field. Whatever they were working against in practice and whatever reflexes they were honing and whatever reads they were perfecting in the film room were all nullified by Atlanta’s new approach.
For a young defense, in-game adjustments can be very difficult. The scheme has been in place for a little over one year and so there is very little to fall back on. Many of the players are young and they have little experience to rely upon. The Defensive coordinator is in his 2nd year running things and the game may still be running a little fast for him, particularly when the opponent has unveiled a new offense and are using quick tempo No Huddle attack.
Things that were visible :
- Raiders defenders were very aggressive at attacking and closing on the playside
- Backside defenders were out of sync with each other
- Inside LBs were jumping first read and taking themselves out of the play
This debacle forces the Defensive Staff to address these points, especially with Tennessee’s "Exotic Smashmouth" offense which has many of these same principles.
Expect that practice is going to emphasize the correct eyelines, the correct assignments, and to work against these offensive plays so that each defender is playing the play as it should be.
That’s an expected adjustment for the Week 3 Game Prep. Get them trained up and work out those mistakes.
Perhaps the familiarity against Tennessee will help, but there’s also a chance that Mike Mularkey will use an offensive scheme that is substantially different from the previous one.
Ken Norton was outmaneuvered by Kyle Shanahan; he cannot allow that to happen two weeks in a row.
There were many failures on defense, but there were a few moments where the Defense did do things right and that gives some hope for the future.
Here there’s a Scrape Exchange between Khalil Mack and Ben Heeney that holds Tevin Coleman to no gain.
2-10-ATL 4 (7:11) T.Coleman up the middle to ATL 4 for no gain (B.Heeney, K.Mack).
Khalil and Ben exchange responsibilities. Khalil crashes inside while Ben loops to the outside to play Force. Mack gets inside so quickly and disrupts Coleman and Ben cleans it up.
And here’s an example of Denico Autry nicely playing the point of attack on a stretch play and the defensive front being able to converge and again keep Tevin Coleman from gaining any yards.
2-4-ATL 21 (5:15) T.Coleman left tackle to ATL 21 for no gain (B.Irvin; D.Autry)
This time Denico runs with the blocker and closes down the running lane. Backside defenders chase and also shut down cutback lanes.
The Raiders’ defense is capable of playing solid–and at times spectacular–run defense. But it requires them to play fundamentally sound and to play in sync with each other.
The Raiders’ run defense gave up 139 yards on a 4.8 avg and looked completely confused and outmatched last week. There are many reasons for why that happened, including poor preparation, unsound defensive line play, aggressive and unsound linebacker play, and an excellent gameplan by Atlanta that exploited the obvious flaws.
Going to Tennessee, the Raiders defense will have to fix the myriad issues they had and get the player prepared to play good sound football, starting principally with the defensive line. If the DL does not play sound, there’s not much hope for the linebackers.
The problem areas have been put on display. There’s no hiding from it.
- Playside linemen have to close running lanes
- Backside linemen have to chase while closing down cutback lanes
- Linebackers have to be aggressive but need to read and recognize the play much quicker
- Schematically, the contain OLB’s duties has to be resolved and then practiced
- And everyone has to work together
Perhaps the biggest step forward for the defense will come from improved Game Preparation. Linemen, Outside Backers, Inside Backers, Safeties, Cornerbacks; they all had difficulty recognizing and reading the play and often they were reacting to initial reads that were completely wrong.
It’s up to Ken Norton–and from reports, Jack Del Rio also–to fully recognize the weaknesses of the defense and then to coach up the players and get them ready.
The early response has been good; practices have been very positive, but as the old saying goes, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."
Sunday is time to eat.