By: David Kang
This article is a little bit different than my previous ones in that it focuses more on the Raiders offense as a whole rather than just Derek Carr’s performance alone.
In 2016, the Oakland Raiders had a fantastic regular season. They finished with a 12-4 record only to be ousted in the playoffs due to an injury to Derek Carr. The team’s success was largely derivative off of their success on offense and the further development of their young quarterback in Derek Carr. However, so far in 2017, the Raiders have failed to maintain their sterling offense that they had the previous season.
In 2016, they scored an average of 26 points per game, which was good for 7th in the NFL and had the 8th best DVOA on offense. Through 6 games in 2017, they have only mustered 20.7 points per game (13th in the NFL) with the 17th best DVOA on offense in the league. While these numbers are not bad in it of themselves, this sort of offensive output cannot compensate for the putrid defense on the other side of the ball (Raiders’ defense is 28th in DVOA).
The strangest thing about this dropoff is that there are not too many changes from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, the Raiders had the 5th hardest schedule in terms of opponent DVOA, and in 2017, the Raiders have had only the 11th hardest schedule in terms of DVOA (Although the sheer DVOA number points to 2017 as being slightly harder than 2016 by .2%). Their offensive personnel remains essentially the same with only changes being Marshall Newhouse replacing Austin Howard at RT, Marshawn Lynch being the primary RB over Latavius Murray, and Todd Downing, the QB coach from 2016, replacing Bill Musgrave at OC.
The biggest change out of those three is obviously the change in offensive coordinator. The Raiders under Musgrave and now Downing have always been a quick spread attack from the shotgun while primarily using gap schemes as the basis for their running game. However, under Downing, the Raiders have started to apply more and more outside zone in their running game.
Nonetheless, my biggest gripe with the Raiders offense so far this season is the lack of play action, predictability, and overall conservatism, all of which showed up to harm the Raiders offense against the Chargers in Week 6.
With regards to play action, the Raiders under Musgrave did not utilize play action much in their offense. According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders have only utilized play action 15% of the time in 2016, which ranked 27th in the league. There are no definitive numbers for the 2016 season, but in my cursory viewing of their games so far, it seems the Raiders have only decreased their usage of play action. In Week 6 against the Chargers, the Raiders ran play action once out of 31 passing plays, which is 3.2% of the time.
Although not running play action is going to destroy the offense, when you combine it with the utter predictability of the running game, defenses will key off and start to swarm on the run game very quickly. Against the Chargers, the Raiders lined up under center 20 times on offense and ran the ball 19 times, a whopping 95%. The Chargers defense must’ve been told in the scouting report about the Raiders tendencies as they all played extremely aggressive against the run every time the Raiders lined up under center.
Jahleel Addae, the FS in this situation, lines up 15 yards deep into the field, but knowing the Raiders tendencies, does not backpedal at all and approaches the play in a downhill fashion. The Chargers also put 8 in the box all close to the LOS.
Watch the eyes and body positioning of #20 here. He’s seeing run all the way and manages to get his nose in there for a tackle on Marshawn.
Aside from schematic predictability of the run game, the offense has simply failed to execute as well.
The Chargers lined up with 8 in the box again, but #24 the CB is lined up too far away as the run is going away from his direction with the counter, so this ends up being 7 blockers on 7 defenders. #93 does a good job of stalemating a double team here, which prevents Hudson from climbing to the second level to #51 the LB. #92 gets turned by the LG but maintains his ground, which shrinks the size of the hole. #56 does a great job of meeting the puller in the hole and manages to stop Marshawn for only 3 yards.
Here, the Chargers only have 7 in the box, leaving 7 on 7 again in terms of blockers and defenders on this outside zone play. But the center (Rodney Hudson) leaves the right guard (Gabe Jackson) out to dry by failing to chip the 1T, leaving Jackson a very difficult reach block, and results in a holding call against Jackson.
You can see just how aggressive the Chargers are playing against the Raiders here and the degree to which the Raiders receivers are left on an island. With the talent they have outside, the Raiders would be wise to use play action and pass plays under center more often and let their playmakers get open down the field. It’ll help will create more explosive plays down the field while also stop defenders from cheating up so much in the run game.
This can be seen in their one pass play under center:
All the Chargers LBs bit hard on the run despite there not even being a play action pass, which leaves their WRs isolated on the outside. Jahleel Addae does a good job of being disciplined and getting out to his zone (though I doubt he would have if there were a play action fake), but he does not get out quick enough for the outside shoulder fade to Cooper. Carr throws an accurate ball and Cooper manages to catch it but is unable to hold it as he’s going to the ground. The Raiders also failed to line up correctly and got called for the illegal formation.
The Raiders also do not run frequently out of the shotgun, and this sort of imbalance by formation really precludes an offense from being cohesive and build counters and fakes off of various different base plays. The Raiders do run some jet motion fakes under center, but this still largely ignores the passing game from under center as stated before. From shotgun, the Raiders ran the ball 4 times out of 38 plays with one of the attempts being an RPO.
The other big knock that I have with this offense is the overall conservatism of the offense considering their personnel.
Carr completed 21 of 30 passes for 171 yards in this game for a 5.7 Y/A, and as you can see above, attempted only 6 passes past 10 yards of the LOS with the majority of his passes coming within 5 yards. The Raiders have one of the best WR duos in the NFL with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree with a solid complement in Seth Roberts. Their offensive line is the best pass-protecting unit in the NFL per PFF, which might be skewed by how quickly Carr gets the ball off, but the talent in their offensive line is undeniable with the only question mark being RT Marshall Newhouse. Their QB has one of the best arms in the NFL, yet majority of his passes are short. While that is partly on the quarterback, the majority of the blame based on play design goes to the OC, who should try and attack more downfield.
The Raiders rely primarily on quick game for their passing attack, which, by putting their receivers in space and in position to get YAC, acts as an extension of the run game. The problem with relying too much on these sorts of throws is that it requires constant, perfect execution of the offense to move down the field and the defenses will start to sit on these throws if you don’t test them deep. Compounding that with the explosive weapons they have on offense, it is very confusing why they do not attack downfield more often.
Rather than just show all the short passes the Raiders threw, I will do the opposite and just show how much more explosive they can be if they just dared to throw deep more often.
There’s 56 seconds left in the 1st half, the clock is running after a completed pass, and the Raiders are driving on 1st and 10. The Chargers blitz with a Cover 3 look behind them.
This leaves Amari Cooper 1 on 1 on the outside against Casey Hayward. Amari Cooper runs a great out an up move, which successfully baits Hayward, and beats him down the sideline. Carr throws a tiny bit late but throws with good air on the ball, which gives Cooper a chance to make a play on the ball. Cooper does exactly that by high pointing the football in the air for a great 31-yard gain. All of this is great except Gabe Jackson gets called for a bogus holding call, which nullifies everything.
Here’s the play in its entirety
In this next play, it’s the 3rd quarter, with the Raiders up 3 on 1st and 21. The Raiders have the outside receivers run fly routes with the left WR2 running a skinny post, the right WR2 running a post/in route, and the RB running a simple curl out of the backfield. The Chargers show two high safeties in a Quarter-Quarter-Half look with the Cover 2 look to the boundary side and Cover 4 on the field side.
The play is primarily designed as a high-low throw based on the RB underneath and the right WR2 running a post/dig behind him. Usually, Carr is quick to look off the receivers downfield into a checkdown in to the RB early, but he does the opposite here. He knows that Addae is too far away to make a play on the dig, and the only way he can fit a pass to it to Roberts is if he moves the LBs away from the throwing lane. He does this by looking to the RB out of the backfield early and pump-faking. He successfully baits the LBs and throws an errant pass that is a little high and behind Roberts, but Roberts makes a tremendous grab for a 15 yard gain.
The play in its entirety:
The following play is the only PA pass that the Raiders ran the entire game. It’s the end of the 3rd quarter with the Raiders up 3 on 2nd and 17.
The Chargers blitz 5 with the extra blitzer coming from the slot. The Raiders run a split zone look with full slide protection and Cook being responsible for the EMLOS, which is Melvin Ingram here. The play action freezes the Chargers for a quick second, which neutralizes the pass rush, and causes Korey Toomer to hesitate just a second in dropping into his hook/flat in what seems to like a Cover 3 look. This allows Seth Roberts, the WR2, to slip behind Toomer and in front of Boston. Carr throws an accurate pass with good timing moving to his left, and the result is a 12-yard completion.
Here’s the play in its entirety:
Aside from the plays shown above, the Raiders only attempted a pass down the field on 3 other occasions. One was a deep corner-post by Amari Cooper that should’ve been called for defensive PI, another was an interception in a miscommunication between Carr and Crabtree, and the third is a TD pass that Ted Nguyen (@RaidersAnalysis) expertly diagrammed here.
In terms of how Derek Carr himself actually played, he did what he was asked of by the offense. He wasn’t tasked with doing anything extremely difficult as the playcall demanded short quick passes, which he delivered accurately. The few difficult throws were outlined above and executed well, and he had only a couple mistakes otherwise with the biggest being his second interception.
A flaw that has shown up repeatedly throughout his career is Carr’s reaction to pressure. The pocket condensed a little bit on him, and he got way too skittish despite having more than enough room to throw the pass. His mechanics went awry with his footwork being all over the place and him short arming the throw. The result is a very inaccurate pass that Marshawn tips into an interception.
Above all, the biggest problem with the Raiders offense comes down to being way too predictable with the playcalling and the conservatism. Carr has done fine in executing what’s been asked of him, but the result is that his play can be described as tepid at best. In order for the offense to be explosive again, the Raiders need to be far more aggressive and various in their playcalling, or else the season will keep spiraling down into a quite rather large regression to the mean from last season.
[Side note: The demise of Amari Cooper has been a little bit overplayed in my opinion. Last year, Amari tended to loaf whenever he knew the play was not going to him. Let’s just say that he’s been loafing a little bit more than he’s been used to, which I think has messed with him psychologically, resulting in all the drops. Physically, I think he looks the same as he always has as shown by this, this, this, this, this, and this. Just the drops have plagued him heavily]