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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Raiders Offense- Not as good as they could be

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Overview

On December 13th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to Sin City to take on the Las Vegas Raiders. In this Week 14 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

This will be the Colts third game against the Raiders in three years. In 2018 an Andrew Luck led Colts team won a game that was much closer than the 42 to 28 final score. In 2019 the Raiders pulled out a 31-24 victory in Indianapolis. No matter what you think about the Raiders recent struggles against teams like the Jets, they’re capable of beating anyone and head coach Jon Gruden always has a good plan for our Colts.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 14.


Offensive System:

Jon Gruden is famous for his version of the West Coast offense and it’s notorious complexities. Since returning to the sideline, Gruden’s system has unmistakably taken on modern elements. It’s not uncommon to see the Raiders use different RPO looks, wide receiver screens and different Air Raid concepts from bunch formations.

So what does all of this mean for the Raiders?

It means that Jon Gruden’s offense is one that can win games in 2020. It’s a good system but when you watch these Raiders rarely do you feel like you’ve seen something new. That’s not always a bad thing. When you watch the Jets and you feel like you’ve seen their offense and their narrow set of plays that’s not great, the Raiders on the other hand, seem to draw on a wide variety of plays that you’ve probably seen other teams use before. Even their trick plays are less than innovative, but they have such a deep well to pull from, they often find success.

Let’s take a look at what they’ve done this season:

Standard Gruden Stuff

The Broncos are showing a two high safety look with defenders lined up directly over the Raiders receivers. At the snap the Broncos send five pass rushers, dropping a safety to fill the hole left by the blitzing linebacker, leaving a single high safety.

The single receiver on the bottom of the clip runs a vertical route which works to pull the safety deep. The receiver who lines up off the line, in the slot, nearest to Carr runs a deep out. The receiver on the line, in the slot, runs a deep in. His route probably should have pulled the safety who dropped down, with him but that safety read Carr’s eyes and understood something about this offense; in many situations Jon Gruden really likes to take the short completion over the long 50/50 (or even 70/30) ball.

The receiver furthest outside runs a pivot route back to the middle of the field where the ball is delivered. He makes the catch, gets up field and works to pick up as many yards as he can before being brought down.

If I have one criticism of the way Jon Gruden has coached his offense in the past, it’s that his quarterback always seems to be afraid to make a mistake. In the past that has been true and at times it has been this season, but things seem to have changed some for this offense.

Change

Here the defense comes out in a man cover two look. A classic way to attack this kind of defense is in the middle of the field and that’s exactly what Derek Carr does. The Raiders send one receiver deep to Carr’s left. The three receiving options on his right run another series of routes that make it impossible for defenders to knock them off of their routes early. Hunter Renfrow runs an angle route, Henry Ruggs III runs a quick out while Darren Waller runs a vertical route that splits the safeties.

I was pretty surprised that Carr didn’t look to dump this ball off underneath to Renfrow, instead he made the more difficult throw to Waller. Carr obviously had the go ahead to take that shot if he got that two high safety look. Whether it is a difference in coaching, an increasing belief in the playmakers around him or a change in Derek Carr himself, these kind of throws have to be a welcome sight for Raiders fans.

The Colts often have two high safeties, so we might see a heavy dose of Darren Waller down the middle of the field.

Another Shot Down Field

Initially the Raiders keep 8 men in to block for Derek Carr on this seven step drop back. His tight end at the bottom of the screen quickly leaks out as a safety valve if needed but Carr has already seen everything he needs to see.

I’m not completely sure what coverage the Chiefs are in here, it almost looks like they’re playing man to man on Henry Ruggs and zone everywhere else, though it could be that either of their cornerbacks made a mistake and 21 is destroyed by a great route from Ruggs, so if you guys want we can go ahead and pile on him... this was clearly (it’s not clear at all) #21’s fault.

Regardless, Carr anticipates his receiver coming open and delivers a 20 yard strike. This Raiders offense looks far more able to hit on explosive plays than anytime in Grudens most recent tenure with the team.

The Colts have history with the Raiders end arounds

Obviously Carr had to unload this ball earlier than he wanted to due to pressure in his face, something the Colts hope to get a lot of on Sunday, but the start of this one gave me flashbacks.

From 2019

Jon Gruden understands the Colts defense and since his return to coaching he’s done a really good job exploiting its weaknesses, like it’s tendency to promote overpursuit. The Colts defenders often fly to the ball fast and if the offense sells you on a look to the right before coming back to the left, it’s tough for all of those fast flowing defenders to change course in time.

I believe back side containment will be a point of emphasis for the Colts defense this week.

Good play design

There’s nothing exotic about this play but it’s designed and run well. The motion shows the Chiefs are in man coverage Ruggs comes around to run the out route and pulls with him the chasing DB as well as the DB positioned on that side of the field. A linebacker bites up to play the run on the play action and the tight end is left all alone in the back of the end zone.

Ultimately I believe one of those defensive backs made a mistake, which one I can’t be sure but there’s no way a defensive coordinator wants a Henry Ruggs III out route double covered at the expense of a wide open 6’6” red zone nightmare in Darren Waller.

Gruden is good against this defensive system

This play is designed to beat cover two. I’ll start by talking about the running back, he runs a short curl route that both linebackers over the middle react to.

The two tight ends run to spots that are traditional weak points of the cover two; the intermediate sideline and the deep center of the field. The corner bit terribly on a half hearted play fake to the back which put him at an even greater disadvantage than he otherwise would have been. The safety on this play is an impossible situation, no matter what he chooses, unless he gets really lucky, someone’s touchdown reel at the end of the season is going to feature him, even though it’s not really his fault.

This could have been made better, however, by the linebackers. Had only one of the backers reacted to the running back’s route and the other been aware of the route over the top (or had they just been in Tampa two, where the middle backer runs a deep zone in the deep middle) then the safety would have been more able to cover near the sideline.

No matter what the Colts did or didn’t do on this snap, this play from the Raiders is too good against what the Colts do defensively to not see it in some form on Sunday.

This Raiders offense will look to challenge the area’s the field where the Colts are likely to be the weakest and they’ll do so often.

Floods

A great way to beat most coverage is with flood looks. If you bring a man from the backside of the play, you can almost always beat man coverage with that crosser. If you just rely on running more receivers into a single area of the field, you can almost always beat (flood) zone coverage and possibly win from multiple routes. For a quarterback it cuts the field in half and gives him as simple of a throwing progression as you can get in the NFL, most of the time a quarterback can see all of his receiving options without moving his head at all.

Here the Colts are in man coverage but like many modern West Coast teams, the Raiders fake an outside zone on the back side of the play and roll their quarterback out on a naked bootleg.

Darren Waller, who motioned before the snap, makes it look like he’s going to block the back side defender on a split zone run. Instead he slips out of the backfield and is all alone to pick up 7 or 8 easy yards.

Matchups

Jon Gruden will make sure Derek Carr knows what matchups he should look to exploit and anytime he gets that look, he’ll be sure to test it. Rock Ya-Sin has had an up and down two years as a Colts cornerback. If he is manned up down field, against literally any Raiders receiver, expect the Raiders to throw his way. This isn’t shocking analysis but we should expect to see it from every team we play for the rest of the season until Ya-Sin either proves he can cover without panicking and grabbing on, or his snaps continue to decrease.

Awareness

I want to tell you how much I hate the idea of dropping pass rushers into coverage (like Kemoko Turay does here) but this isn’t the place for that. Here the Raiders get into a quick hitting pass play to combat the Colts who are showing a heavy blitz at the snap.

Alright, I’m going to talk about it some. In theory the called defense isn’t a bad idea and Turay played some coverage in college, so if you surprise Carr it could lead to an easy interception. In practice, it almost never works that way.

I’m not sure if Carr ever saw Turay at all, in the end it didn’t matter as his back was turned to the QB and Carr delivered a good ball to the receiver running the slant for a first down.

Razzle Dazzle

Even though this play didn’t fool anyone on the Vikings defense, Derek Carr still fits in a touchdown pass underneath the deep safety. Jon Gruden will run a couple of “fun” plays every game. I’m not sure what he’s going to pull out but I hope the defense is paying attention to which offensive linemen declare eligible in short yardage situations.

In most games we’ve often seen the Raiders use bunch sets to try to get their speedy receivers a free release off the line of scrimmage, which isn’t new to this season. What would be new is if they heavily featured the same looks against the Colts as they haven’t done so in recent meetings of the past. Which brings me to my final point about this Raiders offense, it’s versatility.

Jon Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense isn’t highly creative, but it’s versatility can be overwhelming. They seem capable of running any conceivable play from any formation and seem to be able to change what they do based on what the opponents defense is giving them. Jon Gruden wants to have fun and will mix in some trick plays but his foundation on Sunday will be a bevy of plays designed to challenge the Colts zone coverage while mitigating a defensive line that has provided opponents with relentless pressure for most of the season.


Quarterback:

Derek Carr has had an interesting career, a MVP candidate in 2016 (before a sack against the Colts broke his leg) to many questioning his future as the starting quarterback of the Raiders in 2019.

When watching Carr it’s obvious he isn’t on Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson’s level but Carr is a good quarterback. One criticism of Carr’s recent play was often his apparent fear of taking shots down the field, but that’s just not the case this season. The Raiders have invested heavily in weapons on offense and it seems that Carr is willing to take chances that he may not have been in years past.

Another aspect of Carr’s game that has impressed me this year more than in years past is his ability to extend and make plays off script.

Making a play on 3rd down

Here Derek Carr has three receiving options to his right and one to his left. It’s likely that his first reads were to his right. We see Carr look right, find no one open and realize that he’s been in the pocket too long, moves forward to his left, sees his receiver and throws a ball where only his receiver will have a chance at it.

This obviously wasn’t designed, Henry Ruggs was just running a scramble drill, Derek Carr was working without a script and the Raiders converted a third down with a play that not many NFL quarterbacks can make consistently.

Should have been a free play

Somehow there was no flag thrown on this play but there should have been and Derek Carr probably thought there was going to be one. Either way he had one on one coverage on his outside receiver who ran a vertical route to the back of the end zone. Carr drops in a perfect pass over the defender in the perfect spot for his receiver to make the catch and get both feet in bounds. Great route, great throw, great catch.

Patience

So this play was less about keeping it alive and more about just waiting for something to happen. The Chiefs defensive line wasn’t putting any pressure on Carr so he just dropped back and waited for something, anything to happen. Finally his tight end came open for just a second and Carr fit the pass in, another off script play.

There has been some bad, too

The Chiefs show a split safety look before the snap. After the snap they swap Tyrann Mathieu for Daniel Sorenson. Derek Carr, once again, has three receiving options to his right and one to his left. I believe that he saw Mathieu drop to the center of the field, assumed there was only one deep safety, stepped up in the pocket and unleashed a pass before he ever realized Sorenson had replaced Mathieu over the top.

It’s also possible that he saw him and just made a bad decision to throw the ball, either could be true but had he seen Sorenson, I imagine Carr would have simply thrown the ball away and tried to make another play on the next down.

Derek Carr isn’t a great quarterback but he’s good enough to win most downs and with a talented team around him, that might be all he needs to be.


Running Back:

Josh Jacobs is in his second season out of Alabama. While his statistical output is down compared to a season ago, watching the tape, it’s pretty apparent that Jacobs is a very talented back. His ability to change direction and finish runs with power is fun to watch and he’s quick enough to be a threat to hit on long runs anywhere on the field.

Jacobs did miss last week with an ankle injury and he was replaced by Devontae Booker, Jalen Richard and Theo Riddick, who struggled to get much going.

If Jacobs doesn’t play this weekend the Raiders will almost surely become one dimensional on offense, if he does play the Colts front seven might have their hands full.

Setting up defenders

After Jacobs makes it through the line he runs right at his left tackle who is engaged with a Broncos linebacker. By pressing into this block the safety who is running to tackle Jacobs has to come up toward the line which means that once Jacobs makes his cut the safety has no chance of catching him. Had Jacobs simply cut that way after making it through the line initially the safety would have (in theory) taken a better angle and stopped him short of the goal line. Instead Jacobs gets in for six while displaying everything you can want from a back all on one play.

Hitting the backside

“Backside contain” is a term I say a lot more than anyone who doesn’t work in the sport of football at any real capacity should say. Normally whoever I’m talking to gets this glassy look in their eyes and I know I’ve lost them but this play, right here, is why I spend so much time complaining about backside contain.

I’m not 100% sure who should have had contain here but I believe it was #55 Bradley Chubb. He squeezes down to prevent getting kicked out of the play completely, but in doing so he failed to keep the back from getting around the edge into open space. This is something the Colts have to be on top of if Jacobs can go on Sunday.

Nice route

One underrated aspect of Josh Jacobs’ game are his abilities as a receiver. His ability to change direction in space opens the door to him being open if Carr looks his way. On the year he’s averaging around three targets per game. I don’t foresee this being a big part of the Raiders offense, especially if Bobby Okereke plays, but it’s something that I could easily see the Raiders going to if they needed a big third down conversion.

I understand the hit was illegal, but just look at it

How often do you see a defensive player fly that far after getting hit by an offensive player? Leading with the helmet or not, Josh Jacobs has some serious power in those legs of his.

The Raiders rushing attack is a top ten attack in the NFL this season and they’ll look to continue that against a seventh ranked Colts rush defense. With the Colts defensive line, seemingly, at full strength I didn’t see anything on tape to suggest that the Raiders run game is capable of winning this game on its own. The Raiders could absolutely make some noise on the ground but the Colts front seven is just better.


Pass Catchers:

Names to know: Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, Nelson Agholor and Henry Ruggs III.

You might also see veteran tight end Jason Witten “running” around throwing as many blocks as he can. Witten is on this team but he isn’t much of a threat at 38 years old.

Waller leads the team with 77 catches 742 yards and 7 touchdowns. If you don’t know Waller’s story, once you read about him it’s tough to root against the guy. If Bobby Okreke can play this weekend it will be a big boost to the Colts efforts to cover the athletic tight end. Either way the Colts are going to have their hands full.

Hunter Renfrow doesn’t exactly look like a NFL receiver:

NFL: MAR 01 Scouting Combine
More believable as a kicker
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

But he’s not bad at this whole catching passes thing.

Nelson Agholor might be most famous for this highlight but he’s actually had a good year with the Raiders. The 27 year old receiver has caught 6 touchdown passes and is averaging 16.2 yards per catch. Agholor has become a serious deep threat in this offense.

Henry Ruggs III was selected 12th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. So far Ruggs has flashed his talent and big play ability but has struggled to produce with any consistency, as many rookie receivers often do. He is coming off of the most productive two game stretch of his young NFL career so we’ll see if his usage and production continues to climb or if the Raiders will look elsewhere against a talented Colts defense.

The Raiders have a lot more talent running routes today than they did a year ago. But make no mistake the best of the bunch is still Darren Waller.

Covering him is a problem

Waller is 6’6” tall and ran a 4.6 second 40 yard dash time. Most NFL teams don’t have a linebacker that can run with him and most NFL teams don’t have defensive backs that can match his length.

That leads to plays like the one above. Derek Carr throws the ball to his back shoulder in the middle of the field, over one defender and between both safeties. As much as I love the guy this isn’t a throw you make to someone like Jack Doyle. Darren Waller has seriously special abilities.

Just outruns him

That’s Darren Waller outrunning a Kansas City Chiefs’ safety. There’s nothing special about the route, Daniel Sorenson just isn’t used to getting absolutely roasted by a tight end, but Waller is that good.

I haven’t spent much time talking about Hunter Renfrow, except for that bit I did about how he looks. I just want to point out that number one; I’m right, if you told me he was a kicker, I’d believe you. If you told me he was the Raiders second leading receiver I would assume you were lying or extremely gullible.

But it’s true Renfrow is second on the team in targets, receptions and yards. He runs great routes underneath and somehow always seems to find ways to get open. He’s probably not a threat to score from 40+ yards out, but Renfrow is a consistent chain mover who the Colts will have to account for.

This group is much more talented than they were this time last year and they’re only going to get better as Henry Ruggs III continues to develop and grow into the pro game. In the next couple of years watching them battle with the Chiefs is going to be a lot of fun for me as a guy who lives in Kansas City and has no rooting interest in either team.


Offensive Line:

Word came out tonight, as I was just putting the final touches on this article, that rumors have started to flow out of the desert and one of those rumors is that the Raiders expect to get back Pro Bowl right tackle Trent Brown back for what would be his third game of the season after dealing with injury and COVID-19 complications for much of the season. Getting him back will completely change the complexion of this line.

From left to right:

Kolton Miller, Denzelle Good, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Trent Brown.

Run Blocking

It’s tough to know if the last three games have been a fluke or if it’s who the Raiders are but they haven’t run the ball consistently well in that span. With that said there have been blips all year. Here they do a good job with a split zone left. This is another play that Jacobs decides to cut to the backside but the offensive line (and tight ends) block it perfectly.

First the flowing tight end doesn’t get a great block on anyone but is in the way of not one but two edge defenders who would have made first contact if not for his effort. Patrick Omameh and Gabe Jackson put DT #73 on skates before Omameh gets his mits on a linebacker which ultimately gives Jacobs a free run at the end zone. This is what the Raiders have been able to do, they just haven’t been able to do it completely consistently.

Ignore the caption of this next clip

I wasn’t even drinking when I wrote it. But whoever decided that Darren Waller was a good fit for one on one pass protection instead of running routes, might have been above the legal limit.

Not only does Waller get beat around the edge the rest of the line is pushed back into Derek Carr’s lap giving him nowhere to run to. Far too often I saw similar plays to this (though most without a lost fumble), where Carr was being pressured without any real hope of success given the called play.

This was a brutal game for the Raiders

And it was brutal for their offense, in no small part due to the pressure given up by the offensive line.

Poor Derek

Like many people who closely follow the Draft I believed that the Raiders over drafted Kolton Miller. To my surprise he’s been a lot better than I expected but I expected so little from him starting 12 games in any single season would have been quite the accomplishment.

I, somehow, was wrong about Miller. He isn’t a great left tackle, in fact he’s probably right around average but he’s going to continue to grow and get better. For some reason I thought it was 74 (Miller) who struggled when it was actually 75 Brandon Parker, who I was also very low on during his pre draft process. So far it looks like I might have been right on Parker but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to matter if the Raiders do in fact get Trent Brown back this week.

The Raiders offensive line also struggled against the Jets. The interior of this line cannot stand up to the rotation the Colts can throw at it. Derek Carr will face pressure and he will get hit. If the Colts can bring him down at a similar rate as last week’s five sack performance against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans, the Raiders won’t have ever had a chance. If they can’t this one migh end up being closer than it should be.


Final Thoughts:

The Raiders offense is, right now, an average unit. They have the potential to be much better than average but they’re not doing a great job protecting their passer and their run game has been lacking in recent weeks. The talent is there, the production is not.

If the Colts defense comes into this game mostly healthy, I don’t see this one going the Raiders way, although stranger things have happened... the Browns will finish this season with a winning record, if that’s true (and it is) then anything is possible.