The Raiders have had quite an interesting 2021. From Jon Gruden resigning in disgrace, star wide receiver Henry Ruggs killing someone in a drunk driving accident to cornerback Damon Arnette brandishing a gun and making death threats on social media, things have been rough this year for Vegas. Despite all of that, these Raiders are one win away from securing only their third winning season of the past 20 years.
Let’s see what we can expect in week 17.
When Jon Gruden was asked to resign, Rich Bisaccia was asked to take over as head coach of the Raiders. Bisaccia, a long time special teams coordinator, wasn’t going to come in a change much after five weeks had already been played but he took over all the same. This offense, like all Gruden offenses is rooted in West Coast philosophy. Over time Gruden added a lot of other concepts and borrowed from other systems but short throws and yards after the catch are engrained in this system.
Time has been short for me this holiday season so I’m going to borrow from a previous Raiders breakdown that is still relevant to this offensive system, even if it isn’t from this season. It should still give you a general overview of the system we will see this Sunday. Once we get to the position groups, I’ll give you plenty to digest from the 2021 season:
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.
You’ve probably seen this play:
Well, maybe you haven’t seen this play but you’ve seen plays similar from multiple teams this season. Yes, Gruden is stealing plays and that’s okay, because it’s football. Everyone steals from everyone. With that said it’s interesting enough to note, 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 ins 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, he could have still created positive yards. This is a well designed play.
Throwing lanes can be created many ways:
Once again, Gruden tried to create a throwing lane by making linebackers step up instead of back into coverage with play action. The idea is the same, a receiver goes deep to stretch the deep defenders over the top and the linebackers look to stop the run and Jordy Nelson is open because of it.
Jon Gruden is no longer a head coach in the NFL but his staff, team and system remain. When watching Gruden call plays for the past few years I often found myself unimpressed with his usage of specific players including quarterback Derek Carr.
in the five games Gruden called plays for the Raiders Carr averaged 321 yards, 1.6 touchdowns and .8 interceptions with a 64% completion rate per game. In the 10 games since Carr has averaged 275 yards, 1.2 touchdowns and .8 interceptions with a 71% completion rate. He’s also been sacked much less often in the 10 weeks since Gruden left, three times per game, compared to only two times per game.
Since taking over as the play caller, Greg Olson has given Carr more opportunities for short high percentage completions, as evidenced by his jump in completion percentage and drop in sacks. Though that jump in completion percentage has not resulted in more points for his offense.
Raiders QB- silly throw pic.twitter.com/6lgvzOPU2v— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
At his best Derek Carr throws with great touch and anticipation. Here the Raiders roll out a smash concept on the left side of the formation. The running back runs to the flat, drawing a defender up, one receiver runs a hitch at nine yards and Hunter Renfrow runs a corner route. Carr sees the linebacker carry Renfrow up to the safety who turns to run with the savvy route runner.
In reality this is great coverage, maybe he could have played it better as Renfrow made is break, but ultimately the DB is in-phase with Renfrow and the ball from Carr is put in an absolutely perfect location. You’ve heard it said that there is no defense for a perfect pass and that cliché applies here.
Carr’s touch really stood out to me
It’s possible that this has always been a part of his game and I’ve just not noticed in years past, but I’ve never seen Carr throw with this kind of touch, this consistently.
This play closed out their game last week against the Broncos and while the defense makes this read really easy, leaving the tight end wide open, the throw itself impressed me.
He could have lead him more, sure but in that situation it was more important to get the completion than risk an overthrow. The part that stood out is how he turns this ball over. You can’t turn the ball over like that without throwing it hard, you can’t get that kind of height on a ball without taking some off of it.
I have always taken for granted how difficult it is to get the ball to turn over this way. When I was much younger, I could do it when playing catch but I had to really throw it hard. There’s no way I could have made the ball float over the head of multiple people, putting that much air under the ball and had it turn over that way. And it’s completely fair to question my judgement of this throw based on my own ability to throw a football in my early 20’s. I never played quarterback, so that’s fair. Here’s a clip of someone better at throwing a football than 99% of everyone who will read this article:
After missing a floater, @MemphisFB Signee @seth_henigan throws it for Keagan Cunningham for the TD. Henigan screams “Hes a big time Player!” Coming to the sideline— Joshua Price (@JoshuaPrice_TV) December 26, 2020
13-7 @DentonRyanFball over @Lobo_Football 3:15 2Q #txhsfb @friday_stars @GameOnSportsPro pic.twitter.com/eXx0IPbrFl
I get it, this kid is a high schooler, but the fact remains he signed a scholarship to play quarterback for a division one college football team, if we’re being honest, this kid is better than us at throwing footballs. And this kid can’t turn the ball over.
Don’t believe me? Take a ball outside and see if you can get it to turn over. Betcha can’t.
Bottom line, this throw is really tough to make. It’s the kind of throw you expect to see from guys like Aaron Rogers, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. Derek Carr isn’t the first guy you think of with a ball like this one.
Movement in the pocket
No one will confuse Carr for an elite threat to scramble but I saw several examples of him feeling pressure and stepping up to make throws. The Colts defensive line will need to ensure those interior lanes are filled and Carr doesn’t have room to maneuver.
Derek Carr isn’t the best quarterback the Colts have seen this season but he is better than he had been given credit for, recently. He isn’t above making mistakes and he probably isn’t going to take over any games, but thinking Carr isn’t capable of making big time throws and putting up points, is incorrect.
You will probably see some of backup Peyton Barber but the star of Vegas’ show in the backfield is Josh Jacobs. Jacobs is really good.
Raiders RB- Josh Jacobs is really good. This was ruled down by contact. pic.twitter.com/Sbfh9pUs60— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
Jacobs will make some runs this Sunday, no doubt but I’m pretty excited about seeing him against this Colts defense:
Jacobs is really good but look how loose he carries the ball. Shame Leonard is out. pic.twitter.com/hjCsv0wxeM— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
When I pulled these clips, Darius Leonard was scheduled to miss this game. Turns out the decision makers over at the CDC are Colts fans because Darius Leonard is playing and I would be shocked if Jacobs didn’t put at least one ball on the ground this week.
Jacobs has only fumbled twice on the season because he’s good at anticipating when hits are coming and pulling the ball in tight before contact is made but sometimes it feels like Darius Leonard comes out of nowhere and there’s no way he’s watching film of Jacobs thinking he’s not going to get a fumble this week.
Jacobs might get his yards, but the Colts defense is going to get that ball.
The Raiders most dangerous receiving threat:
Despite looking like a Disney Channel child star whose acting career didn’t survive puberty, Hunter Renfrow is an excellent receiver. What he lacks in top end speed he makes up for with great routes and soft hands. Don’t let his I-know-Shia-LaBeouf-and-need-money looks fool you, Renfrow is legit.
Other names to know:
Zay Jones, Bryan Edwards and Foster Moreau.
Jones and Edwards have both been targeted 52 times on the year and both have been productive. They have 34 and 30 receptions, respectively, but Edwards 16.9 yards per catch is the most amongst current Raiders players with at least 20 receptions.
Foster Moreau will be filling in again at tight end for the injured Darren Waller. Moreau isn’t the type of game changing talent that Waller is, but he is very good all the same. I expect Moreau to have a big day statistically.
One last Raider target I should mention is DeSean Jackson. Last week he had four catches for 44 yards. In his seven weeks in Vegas he has hauled in 11 catches for 228 yards and a touchdown. Jackson was upset with his usage with the Rams, who he played for the first seven games of the season. So far, in the same number of games with the Raiders he’s been targeted once more than he was during his time with the Rams- a team that has clenched a playoff berth. Jackson is past his prime and playing for a team unlikely to make the postseason.
Edwards is 6’3”
Raiders WR's- Brian Edwards pic.twitter.com/LTHMty9xMq— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
And he can make plays with his length.
I get this is just a screen
Foster Moreau might have a day pic.twitter.com/N7u8Z5tluG— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
But it shows that the Raiders will look to get Moreau involved in a multitude of ways. The Colts can’t defend tight ends, we’ve seen it all year long and this weekend won’t be an exception. Moreau is going to get his.
This isn’t the most talented group the Colts have seen this season but they aren’t a bad corps. They can hurt you in a lot of ways but their most talented player, Darren Waller, will miss another game and I expect the Colts DB’s have a decent day in coverage.
From left to right: Kolton Miller, John Simpson, Andre James, Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker.
Jon Gruden’s offensive line draft picks have always been headscratchers. He over-drafted Miller, over-drafted Parker and he over-drafted Leatherwood. Of the three only Miller has been good and it took four seasons of development to get there for Miller.
Parker and Leatherwood haven’t just not been good, they’re awful. Leatherwood was moved inside to guard, a common move for young tackles to get up to speed. So it’s not a huge indictment that he’s playing at guard. What is concerning is that he’s playing so poorly at guard, so far he’s given up 8 sacks.
Parker simply lacks anything resembling lateral agility.
Raiders OL- stunt inside, loop around edge gets home for the strip sack. pic.twitter.com/7zmHPDQon1— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
I’m excited to see what the Colts young defensive line can do rushing Derek Carr this week.
For all of their shortcomings in pass pro, they’ve done a better job recently opening running lanes for their backs.
This is a really good run blocking unit. pic.twitter.com/fvb9Wnu6OU— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 27, 2021
Rushing to the left might be their best bet given the fact that Miller is their best offensive lineman by a wide margin.
Left guard John Simpson was taken in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He wasn’t as over-drafted as the other guys I’ve already talked about but compared to those other guys, I loved his film while at Clemson. I didn’t think Simpson was going to be that good, but his tape was fun. He was super aggressive when run blocking, he went forward with reckless abandon and he usually did so off balance, leaning forward the whole way. He liked to hit and I liked his demeanor. He was a subpar athlete and his pass pro was questionable at best.
So far, based on what I’ve seen of him with the Raiders, most of these issues remain. He has become more patient but the technique issues I saw a Clemson haven’t improved enough to overcome his lack of lateral agility. That said he is a guy that can move people when combo blocking and that’s certainly valuable.
This unit is solid when working those combo blocks and inside zones, but they’re going to struggle when tasked with one on one assignments as they lack the needed athleticism to move laterally because Jon Gruden hated offensive linemen who could move side to side- Kolton Miller notwithstanding.
The Raiders offense has only managed to score more than 17 points, one time since their week 8 bye. It was a week 12 Thursday night game against the Cowboys that went to overtime. I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone why you should take results of Thursday night games with a grain of salt, but I’ll go ahead and type it anyway. Thursday night games are garbage. They’re a subpar product the NFL throws on TV as a cheap money grab. The players are not prepared, they aren’t healthy and most of them are just starting to feel “better” after their last game. Very little should be taken from those games, positive and negative.
Having said that, outside of a single outlier- a game that shouldn’t have been played, for half of the season this Raiders offense hasn’t been good at doing the one thing an offense must do to win; score points.
Assuming the Colts don’t lose 9 more players this week to yet another round of positive Covid tests, I believe Indy will roll, no matter who starts at quarterback for the Horseshoe.