Lack of Attention to Detail sinks Raiders Run Defense vs. Rams

2017 Preseason Week 2 v LA Rams

Prelude

It’s still pre-season and the defense is still trying to work on some things and there is some clear experimentation going on, likely to try to determine what the strengths of these players are. In pre season games 1 and 2 there’s little true scheming and there’s no game prep and so there will naturally be some problem parts. The goal of preseason is not to make the fans all glowingly happy, but rather it’s to prepare both the players and coaching staff for the upcoming season.

Having said that, this defense is certainly very worrisome.

While most fans would categorically define last year’s defense as terrible, I would not go that far. I would certainly say that they struggled at times and that there were some clear growing pains, but that there were also some great moments and some inspired play. It did seem like the entire team was starting to come together right before … {This space intentionally left blank so as to prevent PTSD}.

And “Growing Pains” is how I felt about that, but growing pains means nothing if you do not grow INTO something. This year is a key year for this defensive unit to develop into something special. Last year, Ken Norton’s crew had 9 new starters. This year, that number is more like 2.

Even if they do not perform well, it would allay my fears if we could see some hallmarks of 2nd year growth; it would be nice to see continuity, communication, and cohesion among the players. So far, the primary problem has been the lack of continuity, communication, and cohesion.

To try to break down everything that was a problem is a Herculean task. Many are more obvious and no secret among the Raider Nation, so here I’ll try to point out a couple of interesting parts that you may have missed and may want to focus on in Game 3.

Corner Tackle

Defending the run is not a joyous task. It is not fun. Even if you play it absolutely perfectly and do everything to the book, you will still end up battered and bruised, often on the ground in the middle of a pile.

Deion Sanders is famous for making his “Business Decision” statement in relation to tackling a running back and that label has become the stereotype for many cornerbacks. Charles Woodson aside, most CBs don’t really want to have anything to do with run defense and even when they do, they are poor (reluctant) tacklers.

Offensive teams know this and many will scheme to force the opposing corners to make the tackle. The WR blocks the safety and that leaves the CB free to 1-on-1 against the 225 lb RB with a head of steam. If the CB comes thru, little gain for the RB, but if the CB doesn’t have that intestinal fortitude (h/t to Gorilla Monsoon), the RB will break off a nice chunk of yards.

 

Play #1 Sean Smith v Todd Gurley

 

It’s a 2nd and short and the Rams run into the left side of the line.

At first we see the defense meet Todd Gurley at the line of scrimmage and it seems like they may have stopped him, but then there’s a surge and Gurley (and his OL mates) powers on for about another 10 yards.

I think Matt Millen nearly lost his mind when this pile just kept juggernauting down the field and I don’t blame him one bit. It’s just infuriating to watch and you just think “WTF are those D-Linemen doing?”

However, on the endzone replay, we see this and that changes things :

 

Here’s the breakdown :

This is a DUO play, two double teams on the interior and leaving Bruce Irvin 1-on-1 with TE #89 Tyler Higbee.

 

1. The play

#30 Todd Gurley (6’1″, 227 lbs) is heading downhill into the B-Gap.

Bruce is going to walk #89 Higbee into that lane. #18 WR Cooper Kupp is blocking TJ Carrie, who is playing contain (“force”) and #17 WR Robert Woods is releasing inside to block Sean Smith who is on the outside.

 

2. In The hole

Bruce has cutoff Gurley path, but the talented RB jump cuts to the outside.

Robert Woods has completed whiffed on his block and Sean Smith (6’3″, 218 lbs)
has a clean 1-on-1 with Gurley in the hole.

Additionally, #35 Nicholas Morrow (6′, 216 lbs) is coming off his block and has inside leverage in the hole and (difficult to see) Cory James (6′ 229 lbs) is able to release and loop into the play as well.

Notice Reggie Nelson in the backfield. He came on a blitz from the opposite side.

 

3. The Hit

Does Sean Smith really want this tackle?

At 6’3″ with long limbs, it’s hard for Smith to get real low, but he’s not as low as he needs to be against the shorter RB. He’s giving a shoulder block more than a real tackle; the key being that he’s not getting his head across the ballcarrier’s body.

If he gets a little lower and can get his head across the body, Smith could wrap up Gurley and probably would have brought him down.

But instead…

 

4. Gurley absorbing

Gurley is absorbing Smith’s hit. But just behind him is Cory James coming to support. And hidden from view is Morrow.

 

5. What just happened?

Gurley kept his balance and somehow Cory James slid off and is now 3 feet away from the play. Sean Smith has bounced off and is now behind the play.

Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin are also behind the play.

And the only person on Gurley is 216 lb Nick Morrow, while two Rams’ OL are pushing on him.

No, not that upset about Morrow not being able to hold up, but am disappointed that Sean Smith came half-heartedly on the run support and that Cory James gave up halfway thru the play. Did he think “Sean got this” and ease up ?

This is a tough matchup. Todd Gurley is a very powerful and talented runner but for this defense to have success, Sean Smith needs to make this play.

 


Play #2 : David Amerson v Todd Gurley

It’s a first down and Rams have a tight bunch formation on the right side of their offense. The TE #89 Tyler Higbee is lined up to the inside and the 2 WRs, #17 Robert Woods and #18 Cooper Kupp to the outside.

On the play, Khalil Mack slants to the inside. When Mack takes the inside and the play gets outside of him, it’s all up to the DBs now.

The Rams get hat-on-hat on the outside and Gurley runs down the sideline for a nice gain.

It’s not a huge run and in terms of breakdowns, it’s not devastating, but it does show something that may end up being a concern.

 

Here’s the breakdown :

1. The Initial Play

Mack slant in, Woods, Higbee, and RT Rob Havenstein get outside to block. Todd Gurley takes the toss behind those guys.

 

2. The support

#35 Nick Morrow (playing the LB position), CBs TJ Carrie and David Amerson take on blockers. Off the screen, S Reggie Nelson comes up to support and will be left unblocked.

3. After the Toss

There are two engaged blocks :

  • Inside, #79 RT Havenstein 6’8″, 328 lbs on #35 LB Nick Morrow 6′, 216 lbs
  • Out in front of the play is TE Tyler Higbee 6’6″, 257 on TJ Carrie 6′, 204 lbs.

The WR #17 Robert Woods 6′, 193 lbs is getting out and will take on David Amerson 6’1″, 205 lbs

4. Woods v Amerson

Rams get hat-on-hat like it’s drawn up. But this is also how the Raiders want it drawn up. There is outside presence with both TJ Carrie and David Amerson creating a wall that should force Gurley back inside. With Nick Morrow on the inside, this should funnel Gurley right into the unblocked defender, Reggie Nelson.

There’s just one problem, Gurley decides to keep it outside and attack the CBs instead of taking on the S.

And that decision looks very good, especially when you take a closer look at how Amerson has engaged his block :

4a. Amerson Zoom

Look at two things on Amerson : head and hips.

His head is turned away from the play and so he cannot see what’s going on; he may be assuming at this point that because of his presence, that Gurley will be cutting back to the inside.

His hips are also flipped away from the play and his legs are crossed (ie., his right leg is crossing over his left leg). He has no physical leverage here; he cannot make any play to his right. All his body mechanics are aligned towards the sideline.

5. Split the CBs

TJ Carrie struggles against the bigger TE and cannot anchor at all. He’s just absorbed. Part of this may be the dirt field?

Gurley gets into the lane between the CBs and now we can clearly see how Amerson can’t get an arm on the RB.

Nelson has to play and protect that inside lane and he is counting on Amerson and Carrie to cut off the outside.

This isn’t a huge gain (it ends up being around 5 yards), but it’s still a poor play by the outside CBs that shows either lack of fundamentals or (more likely) less of an interest in playing hard-nosed run support.

Amerson has made some nice run plays in the past, but he’s also been a touch slow or hesitant in support. It would definitely help if Amerson were more consistent in run defense.

 

A Little Thing

There were a few of these odd “little things” that showed up on video. Here’s just one that I think exemplifies some of the out-of-sync that’s going on and that is so frustrating.

This is an inside zone play to the left side

 

Here’s a link to the full play : GFYCat

Cory James attacks the hole and retreats and crosses in front of Mario Edwards. Edwards is not able to bring his legs but he continues to try to make the tackle anyway, by going over the top of Cory. Unfortunately, Mario ends up delivering a Sean Smith-like bump rather than a real wrap up hit. As a result, Gurley is able to keep churning his legs and getting 4 more yards out of it.

 

Finale

The defense is rough and there haven’t really been that many stretches of play where you can really feel that the defense is starting to come together. The most frustrating aspect may be that so much of what is happening are not huge problems; they are little things that need to be “cleaned up.” But with so many of these little problems, the whole thing looks a mess.

The good news is that if they can clean up a lot of this, the team could come together in a hurry.

But the worry is that there has yet to be a clear indication that they can and will do it.

Week 3 against Dallas is going to be a huge test. Even if Elliot doesn’t play, it will still give the run defense its biggest challenge. The Dallas offensive line will challenge each member of the up front defense, not just in strength and power, but in technique and positioning, and perhaps most of all, attitude.

The Dallas offensive line is coming after the Raiders their intent is to absolutely dominate our defensive unit and grind them to burger. Any of these little sync problems will be exacerbated and if the CBs are hesitant and passive, it will be doubly bad.

This weekend, keep an eye out for these types of plays. Watch when the ball goes outside and see how much the CBs want to make the tackle or take on the blocker. In the hole, if the CB is left free, watch for how hard he drops down and drives into the runner.

One last thing that is interesting.

Jihad Ward will be back (though I’m not clear on whether he’ll be starting or how much he’ll play)

I mention this because Jihad’s combination of size, length, strength, and natural athleticism are the physical attributes you love to have to defend Wide Zone run plays. It would be very nice if Jihad’s progressed to the point of being an effective run defender that will be able to disrupt those Wide Zone runs and to protect the young and light LBs behind him.

 

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