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2018 opponent scouting report: Raiders defense, it’s really hard to find a good pass rusher

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

On October 21, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to face the Oakland Raiders In this week eight match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.

The last time these two teams faced off in 2016, Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes and DeAndre Washington ran in two more while Andrew Luck threw two touchdowns of his own but was intercepted twice as well. Those interceptions are interceptions all the same, but if it makes a difference to you, the reader, Andrew Luck was playing with a torn Labrum. This match up will provide two teams in vastly different situations this time around. Hopefully the outcome will also be vastly different.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week eight


Defense

Those that are familiar with Jon Gruden, know he is an offensive coach. Therefore his defensive coordinator is usually free to install their own system and call their own plays, it’s a good job, especially if you’re good at your job. In 2014 Paul Guenther took over as defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals after Mike Zimmer left to be the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Zimmer was an aggressive play caller famous for his use of the double A-gap blitz out of his 4-3 base defense. He perfected his scheme and created sustained success through creative blitz packages. When Guenther took over, the creative blitz packages remained but they rarely made an appearance. Guenther departed from his mentors aggressive style and instead seemed content to only rush four. Despite this departure Guenther’s defenses were never worse than 16th in the league for points given up and ranked as high as 2nd in 2015.

If Guenther is famous for anything, it has to be the rarity he sends a blitz and the very high rate his teams play zone coverage. Guenther does do some interesting things with formation, at times their defensive ends will rush from a two-point stance while other instances will show them in a more traditional four man front. Jon Gruden believed this was the man he needed to run his defense and so far the results haven’t been great. The Raiders are ranked 25th in yards given up and only two teams have allowed more points. They are dead last with seven sacks on the year and are giving up a league worst 8.4 net yards per pass attempt. They are also allowing nearly 132 yards rushing per game, which puts them at 27th in the league.

You know how week one of every college football season usually has national powerhouses playing against schools like Ball State as a tuneup game to work out some kinks and create some confidence in blowout fashion? The Indianapolis Colts offense finally looks like it’s going to be healthy and this has all the makings of a tuneup game in the middle of the season for our Colts.

This should look familiar:

Because he Colts ran the exact same play against the Bills. Here, the Raiders come out in a nickle look to combat the Chargers three receiver set. The Chargers offensive line does a good enough job executing, the back side tackle wasn’t great but that was a very difficult block to make, but with that exception the offensive line did well. Ultimately, if you’re the Raiders you have to have someone, anyone on your defense make a play. Someone needs to defeat a block, shed it, slip it, avoid it all together. the Raiders simply didn’t have anyone that could do that on this play.

They show blitz far more often than they call it:

Here you’ll see a linebacker creep towards the line of scrimmage, only to drop into coverage. The Raiders once again only rush four while playing a cover three.

A rare blitz and man coverage:

Here the Raiders actually do send more than four rushers while playing man to man coverage. The tricky thing about sending a blitz and playing man to man when you’re a mostly zone coverage team; if you don’t hit the quarterback, there’s a very real chance you’re giving up a nice gain. The Colts offense looks like it may be at nearly full strength for the first time all season, which finally means Andrew Luck will likely have some guys on the field that will be able to beat man coverage.

They still only rush four:

At first glance it looks like they’re sending the house, but they’re not. What they’re doing is dropping a defensive end into zone coverage somewhere he should never be. Further the traffic that the misdirection non-blitz rush created made this play possible. There’s a combination of questionable play calling and poor talent. No matter how you cut it, clips like this one lead me to believe Luck might end up having yet another nice day.

Baker Mayfield is a rookie and he threw a rookie pick here:

With that said, like all NFL defenses these Raiders are capable of making plays if the Colts give them the opportunity. I believe the defense comes out here in a cover four and plays with good depth across the board. This turnover was created when Mayfield stared down his target and threw the ball late. In the Big 12, Mayfield can get away with this, but the Raiders defense is better than K-State’s.

Ultimately it’s tough to play effective defense in 2018 without being able to generate a pass rush somehow, someway. These Raiders have been almost completely unable to get pressure and Paul Guenther doesn’t have an answer. This Raiders defense isn’t good and like their offense, no one is bothering to match the scheme to the players they have on the roster.


Defensive Line

Bruce Irvin, Maurice Hurst, Johnathan Hankins and Arden Key are the four defensive linemen who have led the team in the number of snaps they’ve received. What’s interesting is that Our Lads (which is usually very accurate) lists Fadol Brown and P.J. Hall as starters along with Hankins and Irvin. Frostee Rucker has also received a lot of playing time and so what this tells us is that the Raiders will look to rotate their defensive linemen often.

Arden Key was considered by many to have first round ability and undraftable off field issues. The Raiders took a chance on the young pass rusher and despite playing more downs than any other Raiders defensive lineman he only has one sack on the season.

Johnathan Hankins was, as you know, released in the off season by the Colts for well discussed reasons. In my opinion releasing Hankins still seems like a mistake and big Hank is playing well for the Raiders.

Maurice Hurst’s heart kept him off of 31 other teams’ draft boards. No doctor would clear him to play football, and it’s easy to assume they wouldn’t clear him due to the risk of him quite literally dying on the field. Instead Jon Gruden threw caution to the wind and took the talented defensive tackle in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft. Hurst has shown a lot of promise and my hope for him is that his heart holds up and he is able to cash in on a massive second contract.

This Raiders defensive line is full of talented individuals who play poorly together as a unit.


Linebackers

Tahir Whitehead is a below-average to average linebacker who leads the Oakland Raiders in defensive snaps. Whitehead has been in on more than 99% of the Raiders defensive snaps and we can expect to see more of that this weekend.

Marquel Lee is likely to play the majority of time next to Whitehead. Lee is also a below-average to average linebacker. The Raiders cut 73 year old Derrick Johnson and will trot out Emmanuel Lamur as the third linebacker.

This linebacking corps is what we all believed the Colts linebacker corps would be coming into the year. Fortunately the Colts have found some very good players and the Raiders... well the Raiders have not. The Colts tight ends should feast on Sunday.


Defensive Backs

Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson will look to play a lot at safety. Meanwhile Leon Hall, Rashaan Melvin, Gareon Conely and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will all make an appearance at cornerback.

This is easily the most talented unit the Raiders have, with that said you can have an amazing group of defensive backs and unless you have some sort of pass rush it just doesn’t matter.

Former Colt Rashaan Melvin had been starting and playing a lot for the Raiders, until their week six game against the Seattle Seahawks where he only played seven snaps. Melvin took to Twitter to voice his frustrations and when asked about it, Jon Gruden said the following:

Melvin is on his seventh team. Maybe he is confused about what technique he is using. He is frustrated. I can’t blame him ... He is a good kid

Ouch. I do like how he tried to save it at the end, I’m sure Melvin felt better about the brutal start after being called a good kid at 29 years old.

Gareon Conley’s name has been floated in trade rumors and normally I would say that no team would ever consider trading a young corner with the physical ability that Conley has but this is the same Raiders who traded Khalil Mack, so who knows. On Sunday we can expect to see Conley even if he doesn’t get any help from the front seven.


What to Expect from the Colts Offense:

The Colts put together a complete game offensively a week ago against a very talented Buffalo Bills squad. This Raiders defense isn’t in the same class as the Bills. If the Colts go into the game as healthy as they were last week, there’s no reason to think Marlon Mack could not have another 100 yard rushing performance, which would be the 5th time a back had a 100 yard game in Andrew Luck’s career. Speaking of Luck, I see no reason to expect him to do anything other than what he’s been doing almost all season long. This has the potential to be another fun game for Colts fans to watch.