If we think of the great Raiders defenses of the past we think of a single high safety, Press Man coverage, and a destructive pass rush. Interestingly, we do not think of blitz and pressure packages. For as aggressie as he was, Al Davis generally shunned blitzes and prefered to rush with his best four. Of course, Al Davis made sure to go out and get the best front four he could find so that he could have devastating pressure without resorting to bringing extra men.
In 2016, the Raiders used their first round pick on Karl Joseph who was coming off a senior year-ending ACL injury. position. Many fans and analysts–including myself–were wondering whether Karl would play the Kam Chancellor-ish strong safety position or whether he was destined to be an Earl Thomas-esque free safety. In his rookie year, Karl ended up playing predominantly strong safety though it seemed that his skills may be more of a match for free.
In 2017, Karl is in his 2nd year of the NFL. He and Reggie Nelson have had a year together in this defense and their comfort level has made a quantum leap ahead and it appears that Ken Norton Jr and new acquisition John Pagano have great plans for Karl. John Pagano was a fantastic get and his stated first order of business was to clean up the communications in the defensive backfield and begin to teach them how to disguise their intentions.
What we’ve seen in the early going is that Coach Pagano has done exactly that. In addition, the increased cohesion with this group combined with the emergence of Karl Joseph as a pro player is allowing the defense to do new and interesting things.
One thing we’ve seen is that Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph have not been locked into traditional Strong/Free roles, but rather, either player can play either position depending on situation and play call. We can see Reggie dropping into the box often and Karl dropping back as the single deep safety and the very next play, Karl is hugging the line of scrimmage and Reggie Nelson is covering the deep back end. That’s fantastic because it allows the defense to do so much more in terms of disguise and reaction to opponent’s scheme.
The other thing we’ve seen is that Coach Norton and Pagano have worked up some pressure packages for the defensive backs and have been bringing Karl or Reggie to rush the passer in various ways.
When a defensive back rushes the passer (“DB blitz”) it is often the slot cornerback because he is lined up in a advantageous position, closer to the QB, in a blind area, and outflanking the offensive tackle.
What is interesting about the way the Raiders brought pressure from the DBs is that of the 12 DB blitzes, 7 came from Karl Joseph, 4 from Reggie Nelson, and only 1 came from the slot corner TJ Carrie. And many of Karl’s blitzes came “from depth”, meaning that Karl began his pass rush from beyond 5 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Most of us while watching the game will notice that Karl is blitzing, but we may not recognize all the intricate elements of the play design that allows Karl to run free or for someone to get a hit on the QB.
In this post, I will review four of Karl Joseph’s pressure packages, each very different and each with its own interesting design. I will break these down so that you see how it’s not just Karl, but it’s 5, 6, or 7 men each doing their job in a specific way that manages to get some favorable results.
— Ted Nguyen (@RaidersAnalysis) September 20, 2017
Blitz #4 : Mack’s 1-on-1
3rd quarter, 12:57, 1st-and-10 at the Jets 44 yd line
We mostly think of the primary goal of a blitz or pressure package is to get the blitzer to the QB. Yes, that’s often true, but it’s not always true nor is it the sole focus.
Another major reason to bring pressure is to have the defense dictate blocking assignments to the offense. If designed and executed well, a pressure package can get a blitzer blocked but get a favorable 1-on-1 for someone else, like say, some reigning Defensive MVP, who draws double and triple teams on nearly every snap.
Take a look
1.Rush lines with Bruce Irvin’s zone drop
Front 4 : Khalil Mack – Eddie Vanderdoes – Treyvon Hester – Bruce Irvin.
Eddie Vanderdoes will slant inside and Treyvon Hester will rush to the outside. Bruce Irvin will eye the Left Tackle (luring him) and then dropping into an underneath zone.
Karl Joseph will time up McCown and then come hard with an outside blitz lane.
Karl’s blitz will set up a nice 1-on-1 with Mack on the RG
2. Jet’s OL Pickup and McCown’s first read
If Karl did not blitz, the Jets’ OL would have yet another double team on Khalil Mack, but with Karl coming, it sets the right side of the OL to have 1-on-1s with each of Vanderdoes, Mack, Joseph.
Bruce Irvin freeze and locks eyes with the RT, trying to lure him to distraction.
Treyvon Hester loops to the right side in a backside containment lane.
On the left side, notice the disciplined rush lanes by Vanderdoes, Mack, and Joseph. Vanderdoes slants hard to the inside while Joseph loops far to the outside. This works to spread those blockers apart so that they cannot help each other. The Jet’s OL would love to be able to mash two rushers into each other, but these spread not only gives Mack a 1-on-1 with the Guard, but there’s open space to either side. Advantage : Mack!
3. Three 1-on-1s and Treyvon taking the double (from Bruce’s blocker), Bruce eyeing the slant
Subtle moment here is Bruce Irvin taking his drop and turning his head to find the route. He sees the slant coming and so knows where he needs to position himself to take away the passing lane. Fantastic play that gets missed all too often.
4. Mack wins his 1-on-1
Just Mack Things.
Khalil uses one of his power moves, grabbing the guards pads and then just tossing him to the side. Because there’s so much space around him, Mack now has a clear lane to the QB.
5. Bruce filling the passing lane
McCown wants to go quick to the slant receiver, but Bruce is in perfect position to break on the ball. McCown can’t make that throw and has to hold onto the ball.
6. Treyvon jumps the inside and loses contain
Rookie Treyvon Hester has the backside contain responsibility, but when he spies McCown and feels a weak inside shoulder by the tackle, Hester jumps inside and vacates his responsibilities.
If Treyvon had stayed outside, McCown would have had nowhere to go and Mack would have either killed McCown or flushed him into Hester.
That’s why discipline is important.
7.Khalil and Karl both come free but Treyvon is sealed inside
Once Hester jumps inside, it’s an easy seal for the RT and McCown breaks to the outside.
Mack comes free and so does Karl, but they can’t catch the QB before a huge gain.
The end result is disappointing because of a failed execution point, but the design of the play is key. The defense was able to do what it wanted : get Khalil Mack a 1-on-1 and then a chance to sack the QB.
Blitz #5 : Morrow clears the way for Karl
3rd quarter, 0:19, 3rd-and-8 at the Jets 44 yd line
This is vaguely similar to the previous blitz in that there is a 3 rush lane containment and a man coming free. The design of how this comes to be is a bit different though. Pay attention to how Mario Edwards plays the backside contain vs how Treyvon Hester played it in the previous blitz play.
This play IS designed to get Karl Joseph a free run at the QB. Here, the Raiders will bring 2 rusher (Morrow and Joseph) against one blocker (RB Elijah McGuire). Morrow takes the block and Karl gets an unobstructed free run.
1.Nick Morrow and Karl Joseph blitzing with Cowser zone dropping
Front 4 : Denico Autry – Jihad Ward – Mario Edwards Jr – James Cowser
Running back in the backfield and the Raiders will bring 2 blitzers while dropping Cowser. LB Cory James will also drop into coverage.
As in the previous play, take a good look at how the down linemen execute their rush lanes. Look at the Yellow lines. Notice how Mario Edwards loops to the right and Denico Autry loops around to the left. Then Jihad spikes hard to the inside at the center.
Like before, these shears the blockers and pulls them apart leaving space between in which the blitzers can work.
Both Nick Morrow and Karl Joseph will blitz thru the B Gap between the RG and the RT.
2. Three DL take containment rush lanes
The down 3 are attacking their rush lanes. Particular note to how Jihad and Denico are rushing and the space between them.
3. RB has to pick up inside (most dangerous) blitzer, Morrow
The rookie RB Elijah McGuire has to pick up one of the blitzers and of course, the most dangerous of the two is the first one to come through. McGuire steps up into the hole and gets his eyes right on Nick Morrow.
4. Morrow slides inside to further open Karl’s rush lane
Nick Morrow knows that the RB Elijah McGuire is going to pick him up and so now Nick’s job is to get the McGuire to clear out of Karl’s way as much as possible. Instead of coming through with a head of steam and trying to knock the RB over, Nick cuts to the inside and slows up.
This does two things :
- It gets McGuire to move to the inside, giving Karl more space to the outside
- It lures McGuire to come forward towards the line of scrimmage and get out of the way
5. McCown is eyeing his receiver downfield
McCown is looking for his receiver but the WR is still getting into his route.
6. Morrow takes it inside and draws the RB out of the way
Morrow stay at the line of scrimmage and runs right into the RG. The RB follows up by vacating the lane entirely to block Morrow.
This great job of clearing the lane by Nick Morrow probably goes unnoticed by most.
7. Beautiful lane for Karl, Jihad splits the double inside, and Mario plays backside contain perfectly
Karl has that clear lane to get a free run right at McCown. Denico is looping outside and Jihad is actually splitting the double team inside.
Meanwhile Mario is not getting greedy. He’s playing team defense by holding his backside contain duties.
We can get frustrated when we see a DL seemingly not rushing the passer; sometimes it is because they are playing lane discipline and it is up to the other rushers to make the play.
8. McCown switches to his next read
McCown switches to his next read, who is also not open (nor ready to receive a pass).
9. Jihad and Denico both come free and chase behind Karl. McCown can’t escape because of Mario
There are three Raiders coming at McCown :
- Denico beats his man outside.
- Jihad clears the double team.
- Karl has a free run.
The only other pass rusher is Mario and he’s making sure McCown doesn’t escape.
Karl should have had the sack, but instead settles for a QB pressure and disruption. Mario finishes the play, fittingly as he was doing everything right.
Blitz #6 : Zone Dog
4th quarter, 12:49, 1st-and-10, Jets 25 yd line
In this Zone Dog, the Raiders will bring only 3 rushers, drop 8 into coverage and still get to McCown.
There’s a lot to love about this play because even though it’s a “blitz”–or better refered to as a “pressure package”–this play results in a “coverage sack.” The 8 in coverage have locked down the receivers and Karl makes the most of his 1-on-1.
Also, watching Denico and Bruce drop and scan with their eyes to find the routes should bring joy to your heart, especially if you’ve studied some of the younger players who drop to a spot (aka “Spot Dropping”) and are oblivious to what is occuring behind them.
1. 2 DL rush, 2 drop, and Karl blitzes
Front 4 : Bruce Irvin – Treyvon Hester – Jihad Ward – Denico Autry
Both outside players (Bruce Irvin and Denico Autry) will drop into coverage while Karl Joseph comes on the blitz.
Little subtlety here is how Karl uses Denico as a shield to hide behind as he rushes. He comes up right behind Denico and then just loops out all of a sudden at the end.
And again we notice the rush lanes of the DL. Treyvon takes the backside and Jihad protects the middle.
2. Denico lures the RT and Karl runs up behind him
Both Denico and Bruce try to lure their blockers before dropping.
And we can see how Karl was sneaking up on the OL and pops out once Denico drops.
3. Denico and Bruce both eyeing WR routes as they take their zone drops
On their drops, both Bruce and Denico are scanning to find routes and receivers so they can understand where they need to be to cut off potential passing lanes.
4. Karl dips v RT Shell as McCown eyes the downfield receiver
It’s not a great dip move but when you start off as 5’8″, it’s tough for the 6’6″ RT to get to him.
McCown is looking downfield for his receiver
5. McCown hopes his WR can clear Gareon Conley
McCown is looking at his receiver, but Gareon Conley has him locked up.
6. Bruce eyes the underneath crosser
Underneath, Bruce Irvin scans and finds the underneath crossing receiver. Together, Dencio and Bruce have the coverage.
7. Karl clear Shell and has a clear lane. McCown looks underneath but Bruce and Denico have coverage
Brandon Shell does get his hands on Karl for a little bump, but he can’t latch onto him nor can he punch Karl into the ground. As a result, Karl clears Shell, plants his outside foot, and is now ready to break back onto McCown.
McCown is now looking for his underneath receiver, but there’s that pesky coverage again. Remember there are 8 in coverage because of the 3 man rush.
McCown must feel that 5 blockers v 3 rushers will give him extra time to find a receiver.
8. Great pocket contain by 2 DL and McCown never felt Karl until too late
Perfect spacing by Jihad and Treyvon so McCown has nowhere to go even if he did feel Karl coming.
Then boom, strip sack.
This sack is beautiful because the design is fantastic, the pass rush execution perfect, and the coverage spot-on. Literally, the Raiders played this perfectly.
Blitz #7 : 0-Coverage, Malachi Crunch
4th quarter, 8:45, 3rd-and-10, Oakland 11 yd line
The previous three packages have all had one or more of the front four dropping into coverage so that the pressure package was not just about overwhelming the offensive line with sheer numbers, but about confusing the blocking assignments. Anything less than perfect communication by the blockers and some rusher is coming free.
Those previous pressures all had some kind of nod to coverage, meaning they built in a way to help the coverage somehow.
This play is different. An “All Out” blitz is sometimes called a “Casino Blitz” because it’s gambling that the 1-on-1 coverage can hold up long enough for the rushers to get there. It’s an all-or-nothing type of blitz and it’s fun as hell when it works.
It can also be called a “Zero Blitz” because it is a true Zero coverage where there are zero safeties to help.
On the plus side, it generally means that the defense is bringing one more rusher than there are blockers. Let’s take a look :
1. 6 man, all-out Blitz, Morrow from the left and Karl from the right, no help in coverage
Front 4 : Bruce Irvin – Eddie Vanderdoes – Denico Autry – Khalil Mack
Front four are all coming and notice how Bruce, Vanderdoes, and Denico are all going to slant hard to the inside. This squeezes the blockers together and then leaves the outside blockers with little or no help. Four blockers will take three rushers and so that will end up leaving two free rushers.
This time Nick Morrow (left) and Karl Joseph (right) get free runs at the QB.
2. True Zero Coverage, 1-on-1 across the board with no help
With a 6 man rush, it is a true Zero Coverage. This is man-to-man all across and there is no safety to help. Reggie Nelson is matched up with the RB at the top of the image.
3. Four DL occupy 5 blockers and both outside blitzers come free.
Take particular not of Bruce Irvin. He attacks so hard and so sharply to the inside and it takes the left tackle with him.
Nick Morrow may not have expected it; his rush lane looks like he expected the LT to take him so Morrow’s rush is a loop to the outside. If he recognizes the man blocking assignment, then he would be able to take a more direct route to McCown, perhaps getting to the QB just a split second sooner.
4. Nick Morrow hits McCown as he releases
Morrow does get a good hit just as McCown releases and it does affect the throw just a touch, but not enough to make a difference.
A half step sooner and that pass may fly up in the air and possibly be an interception or more likely an incompletion.
5. 1-on-1 matchups everywhere
As we can see it’s 1-on-1 all over the field.
6. Open middle and it’s a race to the ball
The ball is away and the middle of the field is open with no safety help. The WR gets a half step on Amerson to the inside and it’s a race to the ball.
7. Throw is actually not great. It’s high and back to Amerson, but great catch by the WR
The throw is not great. Ideally McCown would have put it lower and out in front of the receiver, away from Amerson. But instead, it sails and comes back towards Amerson. The WR leaps and attacks the ball to catch it.
Amerson actually does a great job of attacking the receiver hands with a “split-and-strip” move, but the WR expertly catches and clears by securing the ball into his right arm.
The blitz is done very well and wins in two ways by getting two free rushers. The 1-on-1 coverage was very good and the Jets just made the play. That’s the Casino Blitz for you.
At the time, the Raiders were up 42-13 and nearing the end of the 4th quarter.
It was a great time to use it because (a) it’s a fun reward for the rushers to attack like this and feeds the “Mad Dog” mentality, (b) it works like a live practice to force the coverage to play 0 coverage, and (c) it puts it on film and now opposing QBs have to know that the Raiders have a 0 Blitz in the playbook.
To be great, to be really great in the long term, a defense has to be fundamentally sound and able to execute their primary base plays. A defense based solely on blitz and pressure packages in order to get to the quarterback is a high risk one. We all remember the Mad Scientist defense that took 10+ weeks for the players to start to get the communications down so that there weren’t coverage busts all over the field.
I’m not surprised at how effective the rush was on these plays, but what did catch my notice was how impressive some of coverage was. I’ll specifically call out Bruce Irvin, because he’s had some trouble getting to the QB in these first two weeks, but he’s helping the team in other ways. On three of these pressure plays, Bruce is doing something that makes the rush better.
What’s exciting about what we’re seeing here is that the coverage and the communications among the players seems to be better than it has been at any point last year. And then the coaches are able to layer pressure packages on top of that. These attacks are not the main focus of the defense, but they are a really nice useful weapon to use.
It’s like the defensive equivalent to using Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back : you can’t use it every down, but you choose your spots and you can gash the opponent.
So in the next few games when you see Karl or Reggie or maybe Gareon/TJ/Sean/David/Nick coming thru and hitting the QB, keep your eyes out and check out what the play design was. I bet it will be a good one!