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2019 Opponent Scouting Report: Raiders Defense, proving it's still hard to find a pass rusher

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Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Overview

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.


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 23rd in points allowed while only forcing one turnover so far this year.

This should look familiar:

Because he Colts like to use this play, often. 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.

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.

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.

Baker Mayfield was 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 2019 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. So far this season the Raiders are tied for having the fifth fewest sacks heading into this game.


Defensive Line

With the fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft the Oakland Raiders selected Clelin Ferrell. I roasted the Raiders 2018 selection of Kolton Miller yesterday and at least one Raiders fan took exception so I’ll be nice, he is their new toy but I will say that Ferrell was a surprising pick in the top five and so far hasn’t played that well, which isn’t that surprising considering he is a rookie at a position that is often a difficult from college to the NFL.

Ferrell will start at one defensive end spot while Arden Key will start opposite of him. In the middle you will see a lot of Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall and former Colt Johnathan Hankins.

Somewhat surprisingly the Raiders are in the top half of the league giving up only 4.1 yards per carry and rank right above the Colts at 19th fewest rushing yards given up on the season so far. This early in the season there’s absolutely some context that needs to be given but long story short the Chiefs couldn’t get anything going on the ground so Patrick Mahomes decided to torch them for 443 yards and 4 touchdowns. I’m not sure what to attribute their lack of rushing success to in that game but in week three the Vikings came out and absolutely torched this defense.

Once again, Guenther’s defense is struggling to get off of blocks to make a play. Marlon Mack, if healthy, should see a healthy dose of outside runs on Sunday.

This wasn’t the only one

I noticed a couple batted passes and it’s something these Raiders seem to be making a conscious effort to do. I’m not sure it will have much of an impact, if any, but it’s something to watch for. If the Raiders keep batting passes at the line, eventually one of them is going to be tipped and they will get their second turnover of the season, eventually.

This Raiders defensive line is young and (we assume) talented. Arden Key hasn’t been great thus far and after three games of his rookie season it would be wildly irresponsible to call Clelin Ferrell a bust, but neither man has been able to get to the quarterback with any kind of consistency.

If the interior of our offensive line holds up in the passing game, I don’t think Jacoby Brissett will spend much time on the turf and I believe the Colts can find success on the ground if they work more outside zone run concepts. Given the Raiders holes at the second level of the defense, running up the middle may yield positive results as well.


Linebackers

At the time of this writing, I have no idea who will actually be playing linebacker for the Raiders. I have even less of an idea of who is healthy. Starting Mike linebacker Vontaze Burfict is dealing with shoulder, knee and elbow injuries. Maquel Lee was placed on IR after suffering an ankle injury in week three. Starting Will linebacker Nicholas Morrow also suffered an ankle injury which means that prior to signing Dakota Allen off of the Rams practice squad yesterday the only healthy linebackers on the Raiders roster were backup Will linebacker Kyle Wilber and starting Sam linebacker Tahir Whitehead.

This group is an absolute mess. Even if completely healthy a guy like Burfict is abysmal in coverage. But what he lacks in speed and agility, he tries to make up for with unbridled aggression.

Burfict has made a living being known as a really dirty player. Jon Gruden seems to have tried to build a bully this off season bringing in players like Burfict and Richie Incognito. Despite his label, Burfict puts a perfectly legal and absolutely brutal hit on the poor innocent running back who dared to block him.

Brufict hurt himself on this play.

If Brissett looks their way the TE’s could have a great day

This Raiders linebacking corps isn’t good... at all. That fact is multiplied by the fact that they may be forced to give real playing time to someone who woke up Tuesday morning as a member of the Los Angeles Rams practice squad.

I hate it when players get injured. I never want to see it. With that said I have to acknowledge that the Raiders injuries to their linebackers will present the Colts with some interesting opportunities that may not have existed otherwise.


Defensive Backs

The Raiders defensive backs haven’t exactly had an easy start to their season. They limited the Broncos to 249 yards passing, even though they were trailing for most of the game. Then the Chiefs came to town and threw the ball for 436 yards, but the Vikings only put up 174 yards passing, mostly because their rushing attack was so effective they had no reason to throw the ball a lot.

Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley will start at each cornerback position while rookies Travon Mullen and Keisean Nixon will help fill in on nickel and dime looks. Lamarcus Joyner and Karl Joseph will start at each safety spot while backups Curtis Riley and Erik Harris should see time in a rotation as well.

Like I said before, if you’re going to blitz in the NFL you better get home in a hurry, if not someone will be open. That’s exactly what happened here with an in breaking route to the middle of a cleared out defense.

This throwback was pretty

I love designed throwbacks but they’re usually difficult to setup as they take a long time and great execution. Here the Raiders allowed it to happen by biting hard on the outside zone play action which allowed Kirk Cousins to roll out and wait for his chance to throw the deep ball. I doubt this play is something we’ll see repeated but I would be surprised if the Colts didn’t try to work the play action pass early and often.


Final Thoughts

The Raiders are a young linebacker away from having a young talented defender at every level of the defense. What comes next is anyone’s guess but eventually they have to develop. This isn’t a great defense and they’re a worse defense given they’re dealing with so many injuries.

Once again, everything I’ve seen from this team tells me that the Colts shouldn’t have much of an issue in this game. Everything I remember from our match-up last season tells me that might not be true. I’ve never been impressed with Paul Guenther as a playcaller. I don’t think his scheme is that effective and I don’t think he makes the best use of the talent he has. He hasn’t done that since his days with the Bengals. At one time in Cincinnati he was given a very talented Bengals defense and oversaw their rapid descent into mediocrity. With all of that said, these Raiders can’t be overlooked as they do have talent, they just have gaping holes in talent between those talented players.