Raiders vs Bills: How Rex lost the Chess Match to Carr

After the game on Sunday, Bills safety Corey Graham had this to say about the Raider offense, “We tried it all from coverage from blitzing to everything you could really ask, we tried it all and it just seemed like it would be a little short here, just miss it here, little things here. They just got to rolling and things went in their favor. It sucks when you’re like man, you couldn’t ask for a better call and somehow they got a catch out of it…”

Although Graham seems to attribute a bit of what the Raiders did to luck, he did reveal that Rex Ryan and the Bills tried to throw everything they could at the Raiders, but Derek Carr and the offense figured them out, had all the answers, and beat them with precision.

The offense has really grown a ton not just from last season, but they’ve progressed nicely during this season. Everything looks smoother now, more automatic. Guys are on the same page and if it weren’t for some drops and a bad penalty the Raiders might have put up 50 points on a good Bills defense.

Reading Rex’s Disguises

Rex tries to trick Carr into throwing hot to Rivera by showing blitz with a 2-high safety look. Initially, no one covers Rivera. Rex wants Carr to throw hot to Rivera and have the safety fly down and try for a pick or tackle him for a short gain.

However, Carr recognizes that he has six blockers in to protect against six rushers and takes his time in the pocket, which allows Rivera to put a nice outside stick move on the safety to get by him to convert on a third and long.

More Disguises

As Richard motions out of the back field, the defense is forced to show part of its hand. A corner widens out with Richard revealing that the Bills are in a zone coverage, but the safeties are still being deceptive. They are showing a two safety look but as the ball is snapped one of them comes up into underneath coverage revealing that they are in a cover-3. If Carr doesn’t see this he almost would certainly throw the dig route to Cooper and risk a big hit on his star reciever. But Carr does see the rotation and moves onto his next progression which is Walford running a drag underneath of Cooper’s route. The safety is occupied covering Cooper, leaving Walford wide open. Carr delivers the ball on time and on target and Walford is able to get some yards after the catch.

Carr 2-high Killer

Beating 2-high coverages usually require throws with precise trajectory. Passes have to be high enough to get over the underneath coverage, but fast enough to beat safeties to receivers. Carr has been lethal when defenses play 2-high coverages because he has great control of his ball trajectory. Last week, he used his skill to beat Carolina’s tampa-2 coverage repeatedly with some beautiful throws in the middle of the field. Carr continued that success against cover-2 against the Bills.

The Bills are in a Cover 2. The Raiders want to flood the two deep zones with a  three verticals concept. Amari Cooper is in the slot closest to the quarterback and outside of him is Seth Roberts. Cooper runs a deep cross to the other side of the field and pulls the backside safety with him.

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So, Carr goes to his next read which is Roberts running a seam route. Carr is able to throw the ball right over the backside safety but with enough speed to beat the frontside safety. However, Roberts isn’t able to secure the ball. It was one of the many passes that were dropped that day.

Beating 2-Man

2-Man is another 2-high coverage. It is simply man coverage underneath with two safeties helping deep. Running seam routes against it could be difficult because the defense could play tight man coverage with safeties waiting on the hashes right on top of the seams. Fortunately, Carr learned how to throw the back shoulder seam ball, which is nearly impossible to defend when thrown right. Carr threw the game winning touchdown pass to Clive Walford last week against the Panthers with a back shoulder seam ball and he did it against the Bills but this time to Rivera.

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Huge Drive at the end of half

The Raiders opening drive suffered a 50 yard Amari Cooper pass being taken away because Austin Howard was lined up too far back after he was warned. Other drives were stalled by egregiously dropped passes. The offense was threatened with the reality that they were only going to come out of the half with six points until the defense got the ball back with 30 seconds left. With the ball on their own 15, the offense came to life and captured some momentum back with a masterfully executed two-minute drill to get the Raiders a field goal.

After a 22 yard pass to Cooper, Carr hit Crabtree for a 17 yard gain with an absolute dime. The Bills only rush three and drop eight, so Carr knows he could take his time.

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Carr calmly goes through this progressions and navigates the pocket until he gets to this third progression and hits Crabtree on a dig route. He fits the ball perfectly in between three defenders and Crabtree make a contested catch. 

The Bills secondary dropped back further on the next couple of plays and Carr responded by hitting a couple of check downs to put the Raiders in good position for a field goal.


We all remember seeing Peyton Manning moving up and down the line of scrimmage, yelling, and gyrating his arms to set the protection or change the play or both. Carr isn’t at his level of intellect yet, but you could see it developing. Carr’s responsibilities and freedom at the line are growing every game and you’ll notice him doing crazy Manning-like things at the line on almost every play if you watch for it.

Beating Cover 0

In the fourth quarter, Rex realized the strategy of rushing three against Carr wasn’t working and decided to get more aggressive after Carr beat the three man rush with a big throw once again.

Both safeties walked into the box leaving the Bills in a cover-0 situation. After seeing both safeties in the box, Carr gave Cooper a signal to run a double move on 6th round rookie, Kevon Seymour. Cooper beat Seymour by faking a slant before leaving him in the dust with a mean cut upfield. Without safety help, Seymour was toast and Carr laid the ball out softly for Cooper who scored a 37 yard touchdown


Run Audible

Carr also has an excellent understanding of the run game for a young quarterback.

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On this play, he sees a potential blitz or twist up the middle with the inside linebacker so not only does he check into a run play, “angle opposite”, he also brings Roberts closer to the line to account for an extra defender.

The Raiders do a good job of executing their blocks. Roberts makes an excellent block on the safety backside. Running back, Jalen Richard reads his blocks, cuts it back to find himself one on one with a cornerback. Richard makes the safety miss and gets decent yardage out of the play. Remember this play as it will play a vital role in the next play that we will discuss.

2 Pt Conversion

After scoring their last touchdown, the Raiders needed to score a two point conversion to gives themselves some cushion with a 14 point lead rather than a 13 point lead.

The Raiders bring Roberts next to the line to give the defense a similar look as the “angle opposite” play that they ran earlier in the game. The Bills are in a man coverage with a bracket on Cooper. Safety, Graham (#20), is suppose to lock on Roberts in man coverage but loses him because of some pre snap and post snap deception.

Carr acts like he’s telling Roberts who to block and then carries out a play fake that has Graham completely convinced a run is coming until he realizes Roberts is running a route across the formation. Graham is too late, Roberts is wide open, and Carr hits him for an easy conversion.

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Metrics and stats don’t record Carr’s intellect. This type of mental impact can’t be recorded but it’s clear that Carr’s intellect is a big part of why this offense is so potent. Rex is known for his exotic defense with multiple looks and he threw everything but the kitchen sink at Carr and the Raider offense. Like a chess champion against a novice, Carr was able to see what Rex was trying to do ahead of time and come up with a fitting counter strategy more times than not. But it also speaks to how in sync the offense has been lately, as they were able to handle all the changes at the line and still execute at a high level.

Ted Nguyen is a football coach, offensive coordinator, QB coach, teacher and blogger. He graduated from UC Davis with his degree in English-Critical Analysis. He enjoys long walks on the beach and researching and writing about the latest developments and trends in football strategy.

3 comments on “Raiders vs Bills: How Rex lost the Chess Match to Carr

  1. Another fantastic article. Thanks Coach.

  2. This has got me thinking that the reason that we’re doing so well late in games, and not as well early on is that we’ve had time to lay down some chess type strategy first, and by the end of the game we’re using what the other team has been doing well against them. Seriously legit stuff.

  3. Awesome read. I love it. Can’t wait to see what we do to the Chiefs. Musgrave and Carr together are a killing machine.

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