In an effort to get a little bit more inside the game, Alen Dumonjic, an x’s and o’s football junkie who blogs for The Score, will give us his insight on the intricacies of the game. Look for his analysis before each game.
BREAKING DOWN THE RAIDERS OFFENSE
They often use 10 (1 running back, 0 tight ends), 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end) and 21 (2 running backs, 1 tight end) personnel on offense with various formations, such as Twins (two receiving threats to same side of formation), Doubles (twins to each side), and Singles to each side.
Along the offensive line, the Raiders use a lot of zone blocking in the running game while using a form of zone blocking in pass protection. Zone blocking is by far the most popular form of blocking in the NFL today, as it is easier to teach than man blocking and can adapt to any defensive front thrown at it. It also helps teams get away with inferior offensive lineman, which is the case in Oakland at the tackle positions, which will be touched upon later.
The Raiders often use five- and six-man protection, with the sixth man being a running back who has a check-release option out of the backfield. The check-release option asks the running back to block any incoming blitzers. If none are presented, the back releases into the open field and serve as a check down option for the quarterback.
The offense is led by running back Darren McFadden, who leads the league in rushing. The Raiders like to run a lot of inside and outside zone, just like many other teams do. Their running game also consists of a tosses and draws. These four types of runs are commonly seen in the NFL and make up most teams run games, along with counter trey and power.
The passing game makes explosive plays down the field, and consists mainly of three- and five-step drops and is set up through the success of the running game. Play action is a big part of the passing game, and there are specific routes that can be seen when watching their passing game. They are:
- Bender (vertical route in seam)
Coach/playcaller Hue Jackson likes to run a slant/flat combination route concept. The outside receiver (#1) runs a slant route while the inside receiver or tight end runs a flat route. This is a good concept against man coverage, particularly against Cover 1 (which the Patriots have feature), as it will draw the outside linebacker or nickel cornerback to the flat route, which frees up the slant route by the outside receiver. The cornerback is in a trail position on the outside receiver and is not able to make a play on the ball if the slant is thrown right, which is in front of the jersey numbers of the receiver.
One other concept that must be talked about is four verticals – four threats attacking the deep parts of the field. The two outside receivers in this concept run “go routes” on mandatory outside releases while the one of the two slot threats will run a Go route, with the other slot running a “bender” route. Bender routes are option routes that read the middle of the field by identifying how many safeties are high. If there is one safety high, the slot receiver will run a Go route. If there are two safeties high, he will run across the near safety and split the two down the middle of the field.
Two of the biggest issues for the opposition when facing the Raiders receiving corps are their vertical speed, and yards after catch ability. The Raiders have used a lot of flanker screens to do damage after the catch as well as many “go” routes in their passing game. The go routes in particular have caused some problems by eating the cushion quickly that defensive backs give to the Raider receivers and applying pressure. These routes are a staple of the passing game, which has the quarterback read deep to short on a lot of his five step drop backs.
Raiders offensive tendencies:
- When they go to empty, watch for flanker screens.
- Will go up-tempo at times.
- In split backs, will motion out McFadden.
- Will sometimes look to attack deep first play after change of possession.
- Gadget plays near midfield (own 45).
- RB Michael Bush comes in on pass downs at times (i.e. 2 minute offense).
- Will run play action and bring play side TE on a shallow cross across the formation to the backside.
- LT Jared Veldheer and RT Khalif Barnes both have issues with their kick slide (back pedal after the snap), as they will slide aggressively outside and leave an opening inside for the pass rusher.
BREAKING DOWN THE RAIDERS DEFENSE
Defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour have caused problems for interior offensive lineman, as they have been stout up the middle against the running game as well as applying pressure against the pass. The two players have been an integral part of the 4-3 over and under shifted defensive lines that the Raiders like to use.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they have not had the same success against the running game on the exterior of the defensive line and with the linebackers. Both have struggled tremendously against runs to the outside, as they have issues playing disciplined in pursuit, taking good angles and shedding blocks. MLB Rolando McClain has had a lot of issues this season against the run, after a promising rookie season last year, with poor tackling fundamentals and struggles getting off blocks.
In pass coverage, the Raiders play a significant amount of man coverage. They rely frequently on “man-free (aka Cover 1 with man underneath one deep safety), Cover 0 (straight man), Cover 1 Robber and Cover 2 man to defend the pass, which gets them in some trouble against crossing routes. The crossing routes end up rubbing (or “picking”) defenders off, which leaves a wide receiver running free. Against the Jets last week, all of these coverage’s were seen throughout the game, with Cover 0 noticeable against the rmpty set (no backs in the backfield). Below is an image of Cover 0.
The Raiders will mix in zone coverage from time to time, using Cover 2. They typically go to zone coverage when they are ahead, or in third and long (a frequent blitz down to force a bad decision or checkdown).
The Raiders biggest weaknesses on defense are the lack of quality technique and fundamentals. These issues have led to struggles against the quick passing game, specifically against screens passes to running backs and wide receivers.
Raiders defensive tendencies:
- Will get over-aggressive in pursuit of run game, which leads to play action for offense.
- LB Rolando McClain will come up to jam the crosser underneath and will leave a hole behind him for a throw. Patriots could look to a Hi-Lo concept here.
- Against three TE set or 2 TE and extra OT, will go to 5 man line with Guards and Center covered (Jam front).
- Struggle versus screen passes and outside runs, struggle shedding blocks and taking quality angles.
- Blitz on third downs.
- Play zone mainly on third downs and with lead late.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Patriots slot receivers vs. Raiders CB Joe Porter: The Patriots should look to take advantage of Raiders cornerback (#28) Joe Porter when he is in the game. Porter is very aggressive at the line but struggles with technique and getting in and out of breaks.
- Patriots crossing routes and hi-lo’s vs. Raiders man coverage: The Raiders play a significant amount of man coverage and when face Trips Bunch or Empty Sets, they struggle because of the spacing of the offense and can be taken advantage of on crossing routes. Crossing routes cause rubs (or “picks”) against man coverage. Hi-Lo concepts are another advantage against man coverage, as the defenders are often in a trail position. With the accuracy of Tom Brady, this could be huge for the Patriots. Look for TE Rob Gronkowski in particular here, as he will see some of LB Kamerion Wimbley who is stiff in the hips and struggles changing directions.
- Raiders running game vs. Patriots: Will the Patriots defense show up with quality play? They have had a lot of issues with fundamentals this season and are slow reacting to plays. If the Patriots slow or shut down the Raiders running game, they have a very good chance of winning. I believe Belichick will look to force Jason Campbell to beat him, which increases the chances of winning for New England.
- Patriots interior OL vs. Raiders interior DL: The Patriots will be tested by Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. They are excellent.
- Raiders vertical passing vs. Patriots secondary: As noted, the Patriots have had a lot of issues defending the pass this year. They are giving up nine yards per pass, and the Raiders will do them no favors, as they feature rookie Denarius Moore who averages 20 yards per catch. The Patriots must win at the line of scrimmage with their defensive backs, allowing them to get a leg up in the battle downfield.