On September 29, 2019 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Oakland Raiders. In this week four 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 2018, Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes while Andrew Luck threw three of his own. The final score was 42 to 28 with our Colts on top but the score was 21 to 28 heading into the fourth quarter. It was a game the Colts probably didn’t deserve to win as the defense didn’t look like it could stop the living members of the ‘72 Miami Dolphins undefeated team. I mean they couldn’t stop them as elderly men, not in 1972. It was bad. In fewer than 12 months, both teams are somehow very different than a year ago. Hopefully the result is the same.
Let’s figure out what we can expect in week four.
I took a look at this offense last year when the two teams faced off in week 8. I wanted to take a look at the all-22 from that game but NFL Gamepass isn’t pulling the all-22 up for that game. Normally, Gamepass functions fairly well, although if you use it often enough, things like this really start to frustrate you as they happen too often. Anyway, instead I’m going to blend the report I wrote last year with what I’ve seen them do this season to hopefully provide a more complete look at what Gruden will look to do.
Offenses led by Jon Gruden are infamous for many things, and famous for a few other things. Chiefly among those famous things are Gruden’s West Coast offense and the complexity of that system.
Jon Gruden is infamous for having never been able to effectively modify his system to the talent he has to work with. During his coaching career Gruden’s starting quarterbacks are an average of 34 years old. In 2019, 34 doesn’t sound that old when some of the best quarterbacks currently playing the game are in their late 30’s, but in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, 34 for nearly any quarterback was old.
Gruden has consistently ousted young, promising passers and replaced them with quarterbacks in their mid 30’s. So far he has chosen to stick with his promising young passer through his ups and downs.
Gruden’s system is based on basic West Coast principals. He likes to dial up a lot of short, high percentage throws but he will absolutely try you deep if the matchup is favorable. We’ll start off with a Gruden classic.
Spider 2 Y Banana:
Gruden breaks down this play here:
Now, there are differences given the formation and one of the routes run, but make no mistake, this was 90% the same as the play he draws up for Marcus Mariota. Carr had one read and it was to throw this ball to the receiver who went in motion. The other routes on this play were a diversion but it’s impossible to know that in the moment. Spider 2 Y Banana isn’t just a funny Gruden meme, it’s really Gruden’s favorite play and he has some very interesting ways to work this high-low passing concept into his game plan.
Gruden is a West Coast offense guy at his core, but so far he’s shown a diverse offense in his return to the sideline. He will often work in Air Raid concepts and even though 4-verts isn’t an Air Raid invention, this does show his willingness to push the ball down the field and take shots when he feels the time is right. I also noticed many more wide receiver screens than I expected from a Gruden team.
This play was all the rage in week 8 of 2018:
Last season it seemed like every team was breaking out some version of this play, because it was effective. Yes, Gruden steals plays and that’s okay, because it’s football. Everyone steals from everyone. With that said, it’s interesting enough to note that if you’ve seen an interesting, successful play design there’s a very real chance Jon Gruden is trying to figure out how to use it for the Raiders.
This play would have been difficult for the Dolphins to defend, but had they stayed in their assigned gaps, they would have had a real shot to make a stop for a short gain.
I wasn’t in the room when Gruden drew this one up, but I believe the receiver this ball was thrown to was the first option on this play. I believe that because all of the other routes are working to ensure he gets open. The back coming out on his route makes the outside linebacker on his side of the field position himself wide, to prevent the back from having an advantage in the flat. On the backside, both receivers run five yard in’s and are designed to pull the linebackers up. The tight end runs a post away from everyone.
All of these routes are working together to create a throwing lane and an open receiver. Had the defense not reacted how they hoped, Carr would have worked through his reads and there were enough options available that he still could have created positive yards. This is a well-designed play.
The Run Game:
Raiders power run game pic.twitter.com/bxx7F843wf— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
We’re going to talk about personnel soon, but just know they’ve made some changes to this roster since we saw them last. This season, they are going to keep the ball on the ground and try to pound opponents into submission. They love power run concepts, but will mix in zone runs from time to time.
Raiders interesting RPO 1 pic.twitter.com/OmfRe54U89— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Gruden’s offense isn’t what I would call innovative. Yes, there are some interesting concepts and occasionally there’s a well-designed play but for the most part it’s a modern West Coast offense that, for one reason or another, is usually pretty bland. With that said, this RPO look is unique.
Before the snap, Derek Carr knows that he has two receiving options to his right, there’s one defensive back, therefore the linebacker will be covering one of his receiving options. When the linebacker doesn’t immediately bail in coverage, Carr knows he will have an easy completion.
This isn’t your grandfather's RPO, because if it was, you’re probably handing this ball off. Traditionally, one receiver to Carr’s right is going to run a slant behind that linebacker. Because that linebacker doesn’t bite on the run, traditionally, you hand the ball off and let him go. (The story in that link is really cool, read it.)
With this RPO, because the linebacker didn’t immediately bail to defend the pass, Carr is throwing the ball. This is a slight shift that could have a lasting impact for the future of the RPO in the NFL. This isn’t a fad that’s going away, kids, we’re working RPO’s with different spacing now. If teams are going to defend this kind of RPO, it means they have to defend them in a different way than more traditional RPO’s and if the defense guesses wrong, a normal 7 yard slant could turn into a big touchdown run.
Now, some people might think that I’m getting ahead of myself here. After all this could have easily been a pre-snap RPO like the ones I talked about last week when previewing the Atlanta Falcons offense. So how do I know this wasn’t decided before the snap?
Raiders interesting RPO 2 pic.twitter.com/l19L7PGUQ9— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Watch Derek Carr’s eyes... well, alright, I know it’s a little grainy (thanks Gamepass) but look at the direction he’s looking, he’s staring at Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Damian Wilson #54. When Wilson stays home, Carr pulls the ball out and slings it to Hunter Renfrow.
In a way this was both a pre and post snap RPO. Carr knew he had a favorable matchup before the snap and his post snap read made this an easy decision.
Is football fun:
Raiders flea flicker pic.twitter.com/V1LOaP1lK5— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Every now and then Jon Gruden will send his guys out there and with a wry little smirk and he’ll dial up something with a little pizzazz and let his guys have a good time. And every now and then he’ll do it out of desperation, losing by three touchdowns halfway through the second quarter.
Tomato, tomato. (Read that out loud and change the emphasis on the second “tomato”, I just realized this doesn’t really work in the written form. You’ll get over it.)
Raiders can push the ball beyond 5 yards despite common belief pic.twitter.com/znGVIWZVCC— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Here the Raiders dial up a play designed to attack multiple levels of the defense. Given the single high safety on this play, Carr knows he’s going to have a favorable one on one matchup at one level of the defense. The outside linebacker covered the back in the flat, the cornerback was responsible for the receiver running the fly route which left the middle linebacker chasing to catch up to the tight end running the deep out. This was a well-timed play call against man coverage. The quarterback did a good job recognizing the numerical advantage he had on the play and read the defense well, connecting on a nice gain.
This Raiders offense isn’t what I would call dynamic. It’s not always coming up with unique looks, they use spacing well, as evidenced by that last play, but it doesn’t feel like the perfect play is always being called. You don’t feel like you’re watching a play caller like Sean McVay or Frank Reich.
The system is obviously sophisticated but I can’t help but feel that Jon Gruden is better in meeting rooms, coming up with the gameplan and designing plays than he is on the field. Knowing what to call and when to call those plays, once bullets are flying on Sunday is important. Regardless of this fact, great players make great plays and sometimes that’s all it takes to win games in the NFL. Let’s jump into who will be running Gruden’s system.
Derek Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2016 before playing these Colts in week 16. Trent Cole was playing in his last season in the NFL. On the year Cole finished with four QB hits and just two sacks. One of those sacks would come with 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter against these Raiders. Trailing by 19 points Cole’s sack would break the leg of Derek Carr ending his season and the hopes of what looked to be a strong AFC contender. This is him mic’d up for that fateful game. He knew right away his leg was broken.
Since that time Derek Carr and the Raiders have faced a lot of adversity. There have been questions regarding Carr’s future with the team. Thus far Gruden has stuck by his quarterback but time will tell. In my opinion, it would be foolish to move on from him as Carr does a lot of things really well.
Raiders Carr likes this route pic.twitter.com/iGOPfDH7ui— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Carr audibled to this play. He did a good job recognizing the mismatch and the single high safety. He throws a great pass and lets his receiver go get it. This is Derek Carr at his best.
Carr changed this play too
Raiders Carr likes this route pt. 2 pic.twitter.com/LziZT6ejti— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
This is why you keep a guy like Derek Carr. He can make good reads, good decisions and throw great passes that not every guy can make.
So why would Gruden ever consider getting rid of him?
Raiders QB Derek Carr doesn't set his feet, overthrows TE and throws an interception. pic.twitter.com/W3l5cwZOnW— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Plays like this come to mind. This should have been a first and ten near midfield. Instead Derek Carr gives the ball to the other team in field goal range. Obviously, Carr doesn’t just throw a crazy number of interceptions.
Raiders pressure causes overthrow pic.twitter.com/rtSnk2vR0x— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
These are the types of things that have been known to drive Jon Gruden absolutely insane in the past. Maybe the back doesn’t pick up the first down if this pass is better, but it would at least give him a chance to make a play.
I really don’t know what to say about this play
Raiders were flagged for OPI on this play pic.twitter.com/qqb2ABTEMK— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
But if I know anything about Jon Gruden, he turned a wonderful shade of purple whilst holding in the rage that this cluster of a play created.
Derek Carr’s biggest problem is that he’s inconsistent. Every quarterback struggles when facing pressure, but Carr’s problems extend beyond that. Some downs, he goes out and you think you’re watching the NFL’s next great quarterback. Some downs, he goes out and you’re pretty sure Gruden is going to cut him at halftime.
For the long term, I feel that Gruden and Carr can continue to grow and develop together and as Gruden continues to learn how to best use his quarterback I feel they can be successful. The alternative is potential quarterback purgatory and Derek Carr is a better option than that alternative. The outlook for this Sunday is much more favorable for the Colts as these two men just haven’t found their way yet.
Gone are the days were the likes of Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch toted the ball for the Oakland Raiders. Instead the Raiders are leaning on a stable of backs that feature Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and first round pick Josh Jacobs.
I’ve said repeatedly how I don’t believe running backs are worth first round picks. I stand behind that, but that’s a different conversation for a different article because for most of the young season, Josh Jacobs has looked like the Raiders only hope on offense.
Raiders Josh Jacobs is for real pic.twitter.com/TgrIe6twHf— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Like I said earlier, the Raiders like to use traditional gap scheme runs but will mix in zone runs like this one. Jacobs has looked, early on at least, like a workhorse back with the kind of speed, vision and power you look for when you try to find a starting running back.
Raiders run game pic.twitter.com/B4O9DeJJdq— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
Week one saw the Raiders run Jacobs 23 times. It’s no coincidence that the Raiders came away with the win. Not that Jacobs running the ball led to the win, but rather you tend to run the ball more when you’re not losing by multiple scores early in the game.
With that said Josh Jacobs is built to carry the load. At 5’10” 220 pounds Jacobs is the prototype. I believe the Raiders will look to establish the run early on and we will see a heavy dose of Jacobs on Sunday.
We have to hope
Raiders RB Josh Jacobs with the solid inside run pic.twitter.com/jqCz34YX1k— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
That Darrius Leonard is healthy and ready to go because Jacobs could make it a long day if the Colts can’t fill their gaps and make stops before he gets loose in the secondary.
Jacobs has been the guy
Raiders RB DeAndre Washington with the tough run pic.twitter.com/LMqUhg503i— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
But DeAndré Washington is a capable backup if needed. If given the choice, if what we’ve seen so far this season is any indication, the Raiders would prefer to give their first round running back the opportunity to earn his fifth year option.
One thing the Raiders don’t do much of, which is odd considering their West Coast roots, is throw the ball to their backs that often. Jalen Richard has five catches so far, just for reference Nyheim Hines has eight catches this season while Marlon Mack has four of his own, while Carr has thrown six more passes on the season than Jacoby Brissett. Again, this isn’t necessarily how the Raiders will operate all season long. After only three games it’s tough to determine what is tendency and what has been done due to game situation.
Derek Carr will have some options to throw to, but I don’t expect them to be listed as running backs.
I could dedicate this entire section to a former NFL superstar receiver who is no longer on the Raiders roster. After all did you really expect me to write an entire, in-depth breakdown of the Oakland Raiders and not mention Raiders legend Tim Brown?
Alright, just kidding TB was better than AB but Antonio Brown was originally slated to play a big role for the 2019 Raiders and I’m 99.9% sure Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock wish they had given Tim Brown a contract instead. You know that story, I’m not going to type it again. At the risk of sounding cliche, I’m going to focus on the guys who are actually going to be playing this Sunday. I also could have mentioned Raiders and Seahawks legend Jerry Rice.
The Oakland Raiders leader in both targets and catches probably isn’t someone you had heard of before this year. Darren Waller’s story is one that you should read if you like reading stories about redemption. For the purposes of this article I’ll just say, now that I know his story, I’ll be cheering for this guy for the rest of this season and hopefully many more to come. Waller is a 6’6” 255 pound tight end who is going to create matchup problems for every team in the league.
Tyrell Williams is second on the team with 17 targets and 14 receptions. Williams is a 6’4” 205 pound redzone threat, catching three out of Derek Carr’s four touchdowns this season. Hunter Renfrow is in his rookie season out of Clemson, and so far his NFL career has been most known for being a constant punching bag for his coaches and teammates jokes as shown on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Despite the ribbing, Renfrow has made an impact in the slot this season.
This isn’t an overly talented unit
Raiders creative play design pic.twitter.com/ugeVJJWPVz— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
But you can’t blame Jon Gruden for trying to find ways to use his diverse group of pass catchers. Here he gets J.J. Nelson in space to pick up a few yards.
Waller in action
This is the kind of play Jon Gruden dreams about at night pic.twitter.com/qfzNB2NKoJ— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
I was joking when I said that this is the kind of play that Gruden dreams about, kind of. Ultimately, this is everything he wants. It’s a short, high percentage throw. It gets the ball in the hands of a play maker, and if he is able to make the first defender miss, this turns into a big gain. With Malik Hooker out, it’s imperative the defense tackles well in open space this week.
Most Colts fans have probably lost track
Ryan Grant, ladies and gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/imB6rC5w4H— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
But Ryan Grant is on an NFL roster and I’m not sure this qualifies as a “revenge game” for Grant but I think I speak for all Colts fans when I say, we aren’t worried about it.
These guys aren’t great
Raiders, even when the play call is good, they struggle to execute pic.twitter.com/QmNk0Vt9IL— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
This was a third and three. The Raiders run a pick play. This pick play never draws a flag and it works, often. Here, the Raiders receivers can’t execute and the result isn’t want you want if you’re pulling for these Raiders.
This receiving corps isn’t very good. It’s not deep. Williams, Waller and Renfrow are nice pieces. There’s a real chance Waller starts for most teams in the league, but ideally no one is counting on Williams and Renfrow to be the guys who lead the way at receiver.
Here we arrive at probably the best offensive unit these Raiders have. Kolton Miller will start at left tackle, the infamous Richie Incognito will start at left guard, Rodney Hudson is starting at center, former Colt Denzelle Good is their right guard until Gabe Jackson returns from a torn MCL and Trent Brown will start at the other tackle spot.
This unit has given up seven sacks, but based on what I saw, most of those could have been eliminated by better play from their quarterback.
I’ve wanted to use this play somewhere
Raiders 9-man max protect. pic.twitter.com/5VFRkbxOrB— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
It’s not that hard to give your quarterback time to make a throw when the only two guys who aren’t blocking are the quarterback and a single receiver.
The weakest link
Raiders offensive line failure pic.twitter.com/5kvX6YQ4Pv— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 23, 2019
First, I want to qualify what I’m about to say with this: the Vikings have a couple of great pass rushers. Now, to my point; Kolton Miller was a terrible draft pick at 15th overall and he’ll never live up to that draft slotting. If I’m Matt Eberflus I’m figuring out every possible way to attack the second year left tackle to try and get pressure on Derek Carr.
All in all, this is a good offensive line. The thing holding this line back are the Raiders skill position players which is wildly uncommon in 2019.
These Raiders are averaging just 16 points per game so far this season. They’ve averaged 12 points per game in the past two weeks. This isn’t a team that seems like they’re going to put it all together, dig deep and find their way after a rough start. This seems like a bad football team.
With that said, in week eight of the 2018 season Jon Gruden and his bad (1-6) football team had the Colts’ number for three quarters. It’s easy to forget that going into the fourth quarter the score was 28 to 21 with the Raiders on top. Luckily, football games always end after four quarters, but the fact of the matter remains, the final score of 42 to 28 doesn’t tell the whole story.
I don’t believe this Raiders team is better than that Raiders team. Not yet anyway. With that said, we shouldn’t be surprised if this offense moves the ball better than they have all year and the final score is closer than many expect.