The optimistic view is that all that work is starting to pay off; the pessimistic view is that the Raiders struggled to run the ball against a terrible KC Team until late in the game when the Chiefs had already mentally checked out. The truth lies somewhere in between, naturally, but what is most encouraging are the incremental improvements that are showing up and that may or may not have contributed to actual on-paper stats.
A Minor Adjustment
The Toss was a major weapon for DMC in 2011, but when the Raiders used it in Week 4 against the Broncos, it was a failure (as was much of the Raiders' offense). In Week 8, though, the Toss play was actually fairly successful, gaining solid yardage. But more important than the yardage was that the play had a different look and feel to it as it unfolded. There had been an adjustment made and it made the play unfold in a fundamentally different way. While it may not be continually effective going forward, it should be more effective than otherwise. Here's the full writeup on it [link]
There was a new running play unveiled Sunday, the Inside Handoff Counter play. It looked WEIRD and it worked WELL. A Great combo! This is the 11 Personnel (1RB/1TE, 3 WR) set against Nickel. Palmer is in shotgun with McFadden lined up to one side. Myers motions and then lines up uat the other RB position. On the snap, the Guard and Myers both pull/lead to one side, but McFadden gets the inside handoff, takes 2 steps to the opposite side, then he plants his first hard and cuts back all the way to the other side, with 2 lead blockers. They ran it 3 times and it was effective each time. More notably, it did not really FOOL the Chiefs; they played it pretty well. It's just that the Raiders blocked it up very well. One benefit of this counter-action is that it really helped set the blocking, especially on Derrick Johnson (beast!); it basically helps the offensive line get the proper (inside) leverage on their defenders.
Brandon Myers Redux
Brandon Myers' run blocking has been well-documented. His In-line blocking is really not effective; he's continually losing his one-on-one matchups on both the playside and the backside and quite often his man will be the key to making the play work. Instead, too often his man breaks the play down. On Sunday, his inline blocking was not much better.
But there's good news. What showed up against the Chiefs is that his LEAD blocking is actually VERY GOOD. He is nimble and gets out in front of the play and get a good hit that holds or moves the defender. He gets good pad level, sees his target, and executes nicely. Expect to see more variation in how Myers lines up and motions in the run game. This may be a key to the continued success of the run game. There was one play I noticed a 2 TE set with Myers and Ausberry lined up outside of him. This was clearly an alignment to help Myers with his block. Unfortunately, Ausberry's combo block was not good and it didn't help Myers at all.
Keep an eye out for 2 TE sets and see if Richard Gordon might set up outside of Myers a couple of times. This has a potential of setting a hard edge; with just a little help, Myers should be able to set that block.
I've mentioned since the Miami game that McFadden does not seem to use the hard backside cutback at all. His vision is to the target gap and then one gap either direction. But against the Chiefs, he was cutting harder and had at least one time where he looked backside.
The Inside Counter play is a PLANNED backside cut play and I think that is brilliant. Building in a play that intentionally forces McFadden to do all the things (vision, plant, hip turn, explode, etc) that he would do on a normal cutback on a stretch play. This lets his practice those techniques in a very efficient fashion.
The play was successful and McFadden ran it beautifully. That should tell him something: he can run a cutback and he can tear open a defense with it. He just has to get that feel and now he's getting some reps at it. He should start getting a little more confidence in it and we might see him breaking it off in the normal course of a game. Look for this. When McFadden breaks off a 40 yarder on a backside cutback, it will be time to celebrate because the running game has arrived.
The previous game showed some (seeming) impatience on McFadden's part. He was either feeling impatient, did not trust his blockers, or saw daylight and ran to it before the timing of the play. This happened multiple times in the previous game and was really problematic.
Here's an example [link].
Whether that was McFadden himself reacting that way or if it was the Coaching staff instructing him to do that (for some reason), we'll not know; but what we do know is that it didn't happen this week against the Chiefs. McFadden was back to maintaining his solid 2-3 yard buffer behind his lead, reading his holes, and then making his decision and hitting it. In fact, it seemed like he was even more patient and calm this week than at any time this year.
Nickel and Dime
An interesting note about some of the earlier 4th quarter successes in the running game : they were against the Sub Packages, either the Nickel or the Dime packages. So they were running against defenses that were paying pass and had sometimes 2 DL and 3 or 4 LBs. In fact, the 28 yarder was against Dime Personnel. That may temper some of the exuberance about the running attack.
But this is very important because of the Raiders' no huddle potentials. The standard personnel is 21 Personnel (2RB, 1TE, 2 WRs) and it has generally been McFadden, Reece, Myers, Moore, and DHB. This personnel forces defenses to decide on base personnel or a subpackage. Reece and Myers are both flex players whose pass receiving effectiveness is diminished when matched up against DBs. That means the Raiders HAVE to be able to run against Sub Packages in the No Huddle and that will give them the desired mismatches against opponents.
You're supposed to be able to run against Nickel, but that hasn't been true for the Raiders this year. This could show up and make the No Huddle more effective.
This may have been the best game the interior linemen have played this year. Wisniewski was an absolute Hero at center and both Brisiel and Carlisle had more sustained solid play and fewer poor plays than earlier. More importantly, the synchronization among these three continues to improve. You pay attention and you can start seeing them move in unison, taking their steps together, even some of their arm movements in conjunction. When it's all working right, they get the Chiefs' interior players to slide along the line.
It wasn't all perfect. Carlisle and Brisiel did lose some one-on-ones. Neither of these men has the strength to match up against monsters like Dontari Poe or (more notably) Pitoitua. They have to use combo blocks, technique, and just get movement to help counteracts the strength disadvantage.
Early in the 1st quarter, Carlisle gets tossed backwards by Pitoitua; at the end of the play, Carlisle is 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, on his knees, and facing the sidelines. He got blown up bad. But watching the line movement of the play, it appears that Veldheer let him down; it looks Veldheer was supposed to combo block before he releases to the next level, but since the linebackers were filling so quickly, Veldheer released immediately and doesn't even get a decent punch. If Carlisle was expecting that counterbalancing help, it would explain how he got destroyed so badly.
Here are two previous posts on how important sync'ing that combo block is (from the Falcons' game)
Bad : [link].
Good : [link]
One of the major negatives, though, was that neither Brisiel nor Carlisle was able to get Derrick Johnson blocked. Johnson moves so well, is so quick and strong, uses his hands so extremely well, and has that fantastic vision where he seems to be able to track BOTH running back and releasing linemen that it really was a chore to get him blocked. There were several occasions where one of them releases to get to Johnson and just whiffs. They look so slow compared to Johnson.
On a side note, Derrick Johnson being a stud and nearly impossible to block is not news to anyone. In fact, watching him in the backfield gave me flashbacks to the 4 Goal-to-go Michael Bush runs for 2011 and particularly the 3rd and 4th downs that were at the goalline, both of which were blown up by Johnson. Man, I hate that guy (ie., I wish he were a Raider).
Wis was really awesome. As mentioned, those interior DLs like Dontari Poe and Pitoitua (and even Jerrell Powe) are big and brutely and have lots of raw power. Wis' forte is not power (he's not Barrett Robbins) and he's had some problems in the past against powerful defenders. His technique and quickness are fabulous, though, and on Sunday, those talents won out. Time after time, against these guys, Wis got onto them in great position and had the leverage advantage. At worst, he was able to manage to give minimal ground and keep the defender engaged and unable to release to make the play. That's all you can ask.
There were a few times when the defender seemed to have crossed Wis' face, but he got an underhook and was able to ride out the DT with his shoulder. On another play, late in the 2nd q, Bailey gets really low and explodes with superior leverage; Wis niftily step and Aikido-tosses the 7 yards away from the playside! (One negative of this is that he exposes his teammate Carlisle in space against Dontari Poe).
By the way, remember that big 28 yard 4th quarter DMC run? Wisniewski released and blocked Derrick Johnson on that play. Yeah, it was that kind of day for Wis.
His worst play was missing DJ on a run blitz (b/c he was combo'ing with Carlisle) that got Goodson for a loss. Other than that, he was doing a great job.
Watch the running plays and focus on Wis and you may start to feel a little bit giddy. This may be an indication that Wis is finally rounding into shape after missing all that time. I would expect that he will be very solid from here on, so keep a close eye on him this coming week against those athletic defenders of Tampa's.
As much as the interior improved, the edge linemen seemed to regress even more. both Veldheer and Willie Smith were having trouble consistenly getting onto and maintaining their run blocks. Tamba Hali gave Veldheer fits and it should be the other way. Teams are supposed to be able to run AT him, but Veldheer seems to be lumbering just a bit making it difficult to maintain his feet. if he can't keep moving his feet, he can't stay on someone like Hali.
There's something wrong with Veld. He's either playing hurt or he's psyched out; either way, he seems half a step slow. This isn't to say he's being beaten every time out, he isn't. There are a number of times that he looks very good and his best play of the night was one that McFadden cut away from. Veldheer had a nice Kickout on Pitoitua and then released to lead the play downfield, shoulder-to-shoulder with Carlisle. He had another notable nice block on McFadden's inside counter play (the big 28 yarder); Veld latched onto his man, turned him to the inside and kept him there. Nice seal really exposed the edge for DMC.
Willie Smith seemed to be being beaten on each play. It was another tough night for him and at this point, it seems like he needs to have help often.
It appears there has been another adjustment to the offensive line blocking. Since the Falcons game, the number of backside cutblocks has diminished. Early in the year, it seems like the backside linemen were cutting the linemen on EVERY play. But in the recent times, as the running game has shown some signs of life, the backside cutting has not been nearly as prevalent.
If this is true (I have not actually counted the cutblocks... yet), then this is a very important adjustment and one that makes alot of sense. With blockers not used to play-after-play of cut blocks and if they are not able to practice full-speed cutting in practice, then it's unsurprising that the cutblocks are not consistently effective. A bad cutblock is FAR WORSE than a bad wham or scoop block; a bad cut lets the defender run totally free with the blocker on the ground (sound familiar?), while a bad stand-up block can often slow down the defender at least a little bit (or perhaps make him round a looping route).
The offense is evolving and there are continued changes and it's actually quite interesting to see how an offense grows and develops from the ground up. At this point, the team is nearing the midpoint and there is clear growth and improvement and change. The offense is not the same entity it was at the beginning of the year and in fact, it's starting to diverge from its Kubiakian roots.
The running game is getting better for a number of reasons, not the least are the adjustments that the Coaching staff are implementing. The main offensive plays are in place and so we are seeing more installations each week and it's giving a bigger feel to the offense overall. Blocking is changing, DMC's approach to the line of scrimmage is changing, there are new plays being added, and it's resulting in the recent successes.
Of course, those recent successes coincided with playing two of the worse teams in the NFL and another week of improvements and successes may not provide more answers (since Tampa may also be similarly dismissed afterwards). But the improvement still counts. It still matters. The opponents are still quality players with unique strengths and weaknesses. Every week of experience helps the team get better and the successes help the confidence. This running game is getting better and they may be starting to really believe.