After a much-needed bye, we are back with Raiders week!
This week, the Kansas City Chiefs defense takes on a struggling Oakland Raiders offense in what must seem like a relief after a game against the high-flying Los Angeles Rams. There was reason for optimism after the Rams game, so most Chiefs fans are excited to see a healthier, rested defense take the field against a pretty poor offense.
Like every week, we’ll go through the opposition’s personnel, then dive into some of the things that showed up on the tape and where the Chiefs can find success in this week’s matchup!
The Raiders offense
Derek Carr is the guy under center for the Raiders. He’s...well, not been good, especially lately. Averaging 198 yards passing and one touchdown a game over his last six, he’s not put much on the board for his offense. On top of that, he’s taken 4.0 sacks a game in that time period and has to go up against the best pass rush in the league. At the least, he hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 5.
At running back, the Raiders feature Doug Martin as the primary back, rushing for 4.47 yards per carry. He doesn’t feature much in the passing game, instead giving way to Jalen Richard as a third-down back. DeAndre Washington will spell the other backs on occasion. The Raiders tend to be a pass-heavy team, but two weeks ago had their season high of 33 rushing attempts.
11-year veteran Jordy Nelson leads this Raiders wide receiving corps. He’s a step slow, albeit still a good route running receiver. He’s second on the team to Seth Roberts, someone the Chiefs have seen for the past few years. Martavis Bryant has been traded for, cut and re-signed by the Raiders this season, and he’s missed the last two games due to injury. He’s missed practices this week, so we’ll see if he goes this Sunday. If he can’t go, rookie Marcell Ateman will see a bigger role in their offense.
At tight end, the Raiders are led by Jared Cook. Chiefs fans are familiar with the former Titan, Ram, and Packer from last year — beating Eric Murray up and down the field in the first matchup of the year. He’s tied his career high in touchdowns and is seven receptions and 70 yards away from the best numbers of his career. He’s a major factor in the Raiders passing game. Lee Smith will see plenty of the field as a blocker, as the Raiders like to utilize 12 personnel often.
Finally, the Raiders do boast a good interior offensive line, with Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson up the gut. All three players are powerful run blockers and stout pass defenders. It will be difficult for the Chiefs interior pass rush to have the same effect it has had in previous weeks. The same cannot be said about right tackle Brandon Parker and rookie left tackle Kolton Miller. Both have been poor this season, and are part of the reason why Derek Carr has been sacked as much as he has recently.
How to defend
Cook in the red zone
The Raiders have leaned HEAVILY on Jared Cook in the redzone against single high safety looks. In consecutive weeks they split him out wide in 12 personnel and ran a double move to the pylon, then went empty out of 11 personnel and ran a pick/wheel to free him for scores. pic.twitter.com/IqmBfHv7RE— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 29, 2018
Cook is Carr’s safety blanket between the 20s, but Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson features Cook heavily when in scoring range, especially when facing single high coverage shells.
As shown above, Cook is schemed open to the pylon in both plays. In the first, Cook is matched up against a safety in 12 personnel with the Arizona Cardinals in their base defense. Cook is wide to the boundary with an attached tight end in a 2x2 alignment. The Cardinals are showing a Cover 0 look initially, then rotate the safety to a single-high look. Cook shows an underneath route off of a vertical stem, and the coverage safety bites on it. Cook runs a double move, and the fade is wide open at the pylon with the deep safety unable to get there.
In the second play, the Baltimore Ravens are in a Cover 1 shell, and the Raiders go empty with Cook as the No. 3 in their 3x2 alignment. Cook sells a flat route and waits for the strong No. 1 to set the pick, then turns upfield on the wheel route. He’s wide open at the pylon again, and the deep safety can’t get to the boundary.
The Chiefs are well aware of Cook’s ability, especially in the red zone. With the lack of talent and commitment to featuring Cook, the Chiefs may find themselves wanting to bracket him if the Raiders find themselves in scoring position, leaving the cornerbacks on more of an island than they typically would. Sutton has had a greater propensity to run Cover 0 in the red zone and force the ball to come out quicker than the offense would like. Dialing up some well-timed heavy blitzes can help prevent some of these longer developing routes to get off the ground.
Throwing to the flats
Every one of these plays was from the first half of the OAK/BAL game. Needless to say, Derek Carr loves throwing to the flats. Playing off man and attacking downhill on the throw with the cornerbacks can help the Chiefs minimize yardage and stymie the Raiders short passing game. pic.twitter.com/Y1vGOUxp9c— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 29, 2018
The Raiders throw short a lot. Carr is dead last in the league in both completed air yards per throw and intended air yards per throw, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. As shown in the above video that is only from the first half of last week’s game, Carr will throw short time and time again.
The Chiefs have trended less and less with their press-man coverages in recent weeks, and I’d recommend they give some space to the Oakland receivers again this week. Playing off-man and keeping the receiver in front of them on the multitude of routes into the flats will allow the cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers the ability to play downhill and blow up these plays for short gains. With some of the levels combinations on some of these routes to the boundary, the Chiefs defensive backs could see an opportunity to jump routes for interceptions that will surely go for scores.
OAK runs a TON of inside zone and split zone out of 11. In the 1st, the backside OLB is unblocked, but his hesitation leads to an open gap and big run. The 2nd shows a split zone with the TE coming backside to seal the OLB. The playside OLB has to get off the block for a stop. pic.twitter.com/EruaMpWp0C— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 29, 2018
Oakland likes to use a lot of 12 personnel when running the ball — something that the Chiefs don’t defend particularly well — but they’ve hit on the bigger runs recently out of 11 personnel. They have not run outside the tackles as much over the past couple of weeks, and it’s tended to be through toss sweeps and end-arounds. Where they’ve made their bread and butter recently is inside zone running behind their interior offensive line.
Oakland will routinely leave the back-side EDGE defender unblocked on these runs and allow the running back to key off of him, as shown in the first example. If he collapses to the back, the running back can hit the play-side gap(s) and leave the EDGE defender chasing. If the EDGE plays contain, the tackle blocking down and sealing the interior defenders leaves a giant gap for the back to sprint through.
In the second example, we see the Raiders line up with a tight end in an H-back position with a safety in the box. After the snap, the tight end comes across the backside of the formation to seal the backside EDGE defender. Because the Ravens are in man coverage and the box safety has pass-first responsibility, the safety also follows the tight end backside. This leaves the play-side blockers hat-for-hat. The inside linebacker does a great job of reading the play, filling the primary gap that the back wants to hit, then shooting it and slowing the back down. If he doesn’t, this is a touchdown on a nice play design. Instead, the EDGE is able to get off of his block just enough to make a stop short of the end zone.
Both of these plays show the importance of squeezing the gaps in the Chiefs defensive fronts, especially from the EDGE defenders. Playing laterally and squeezing the B gap can force more hesitation from the Oakland inside zone running game, and that allows the front to rally to the ball easier. While this can lead to setting a softer edge against the run, the ability to move laterally and bounce plays outside after the initial cut isn’t a strong suit for the Raiders running backs, especially if the Chiefs defensive backs collapse on the run like they have over the past few weeks.
Counter moves against the tackles
Raiders RT Parker has a problem oversetting against EDGE rushers. On back-to-back plays, Parker sets too deep and the gentlest of arm overs throws him off balance, resulting in the EDGE meeting the QB at the top of his drop. pic.twitter.com/8adiZJOMbw— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 29, 2018
After years of having a top-shelf offensive line, the Raiders have started to lose some of the quality they had. While the interior of the line still is capable of playing at a high level, the Oakland tackles have had a lot of struggles. They’ve been beaten regularly by good and poor EDGE rushers alike, but one of the spots where they’ve especially struggled is with counter moves.
The above video shows back-to-back plays where Ravens EDGE rusher Matthew Judon uses an arm over and a club as an inside move against Parker. Judon had gotten some pressure around the outside all game and finally got home on the play before this one. That’s right, Judon got sacks on three consecutive pass rushing reps. Judon — a strong player with good power — is able to take advantage of an over-setting Parker on both of these plays. Neither one of these clubs get Judon’s full strength behind them, but both knock Parker off balance and allow Judon to be in Carr’s lap at the top of his drop.
Justin Houston has always had a counter that he could go to, and Dee Ford is utilizing his very effectively this year. With Chiefs outside linebackers coach helping both players to develop effective pass rush plans for various matchups, expect to see Ford and Houston with multiple pressures, hits and sacks coming off of inside counters.
The bottom line
The Oakland Raiders do not have a good offense.
They have scored more than 28 points just once through 11 games — a 45-42 barnburner against the Cleveland Browns early in the season — and they’re averaging 15.4 points per game over their last five games.
These games are tough to look at and find things that the opposition does “well” and what the defense can do to take it away — quite simply, they don’t do a whole lot of things well. The Arizona Cardinals earlier in the season were a similar study, but with a new offensive coordinator and some workhorses, there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the Cards.
This Raiders team doesn’t have those glimmers of hope. Cook has played well, and Martin has shown glimpses, but Carr and the route distribution in the passing game have really limited their ability to move the ball and put points on the board. Sure, they’ll attempt a deep pass now and again, but when Carr has struggled with his accuracy on those passes and the tackles allow pressure on deeper drops, the easy route is to go back to check-downs and short outs.
I’m not fully writing this offense off. Jon Gruden might have a couple tricks up his sleeve to try to catch the Chiefs off guard. But with the Raiders certainly needing to put up major points to keep up, and Bob Sutton’s dominance of everything Derek Carr-related, I don’t think they can find the success needed to keep this a close game.
I expect big performances out of the Chiefs pass rush, and I expect the run defense to be able to play more downhill going against a team with less misdirection than in previous weeks. This would be a great game for some players returning from injury to get in and get comfortable on the field with the rest of their teammates in a blowout.