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Some thoughts re: Raiders D v KC

A few quick notes about the Raiders' defense :

The defensive line's approach changed when Quinn went out. It seemed the original gameplan was to play contain on Quinn and make(let?) him throw the ball. Raiders blitzed him twice. The first got him spooked and he immediately bailed on the pocket, the second took him out of the game (Rolando).

When Cassel went in, the Raiders' dline was much more aggressive. The gameplan against Cassel seemed to pressure him into making poor decisions. Cassel responded with some mistakes (or miscommunications with his receivers) but also with some excellent throws. Two stood out: the deep cross to Bowe that went for 46 yards (an interesting play to look at later) and a perfectly thrown 7-route (corner) against Tampa-2; that throw was placed in the perfect location and Breaston dropped it. At the end of the game, the blitzes were merciless.

Rolando's blitz was an excellent design. Branch and Wheeler were blitzing and took angles to split the defenders, giving Rolando a clear lane to run through. In fact, in general, the blitz designs are really beautiful, because they are clearly designed to open running lanes for the blitzers. In many ways, we can imagine a blitz as being like a running play; the leads are tasked with creating openings (running holes) and then the blitzers run thru them to the target (QB). Often in the past, "blitzing" meant that a non-DL was going to be running into a lineman or into the back of one of the DLs. Now, it's much more "coordinated."

Wheeler blitzed several times and was very impressive. Someone check and see if he played running back in high school, because he showed some RB-type skills! On three notable blitzes (including the Pat Lee highlight int), Wheeler was blitzing. Often we see blitzers just running straightline into a pile or a blocker, hoping that something good will happen (Bresnablitz). Wheeler would delay his blitz, see the blocking assignments, read the line flow, and then loop to find a running gap. He then showed explosion through the gap. Obv part of this was the play design; the linemen were attacking to open these holes, but like a good, patient running back, Wheeler allowed these holes to open.

DL was doing a great job of protecting the 2nd level again. The same way an OL prides itself on keeping a QB clean, the DL is priding itself in keeping the LBs clean.

Richard Seymour looks healthy.

Chiefs' LG Allen and C Lilja looked terrible. Hard to say if it was the Raiders' DL making them look bad or if they are just subpar linemen at this point. Seymour, for instance, could do almost anything he wanted against Allen. On one of the first plays of the game, Seymour just pushes him to his knees (with a little forearm shiver to the throat). [link]

The Communication among the defensive unit looks fantastic. This is perhaps the biggest thing to be excited about. You can regularly see guys talking and coordinating with each other and getting on the same page. It's spooky because it's diametrically opposed to the last few (10?) of years and is EXACTLY what Raiders fans want: The defense is starting to work as a unit.

Watch and pay attention to the pre-snap on the defensive side. Watch how they are motioning and making calls to each other and they adjusting/shifting. In times past, they just lined up and that's it. When they were talking, it was because there was confusion. Obviously it's not perfect,but for 7 games into the new regime, it's impressive.

Some strange coverages, also. On Bowe's big reception, in particular, the combo coverage looked wrong with half-zone, half-man, single safety and half the field uncovered. Was this a mistake or a specific play call that failed?

Defenders are getting better at zones but there are some holes. The underneath ones are understandable, that's the design; recall Wheeler's big hit on McCluster and Neil Smith-inspired homerun celebration on the underneath route. But the deep middle routes are not supposed to be so available.

Rolando on Tampa-2 is pretty ok. Ro's coverage is adequate at best, generally; he's just so massy/big that he doesn't have the change of direction to keep up with RBs/TEs on a good move. He does have some good instincts, though, and can often cover on the first cut. However, Ro does look VERY good dropping to deep middle in Tampa-2 (despite what the 2011 Calvin Johnson big reception may say). On these plays, he's generally running straight line and defending the deep seam. He's actually got good straightline footspeed and he gets down the field well. This might be the best use of Rolando in coverage.

The big Hillis run came on a cutback because McClain vacated the middle in (over) pursuit. McClain was also apparently trying to avoid the lead Guard. Normally McClain is tasked with taking these guys on and does a good job. But he steps aside and then is one step away from Hillis as he blows thru the hole.

Burris had another impressive game, but he had a few rookie misses here and there. The McCluster Wildcat was one (here: [link]). And then on one of his blitzes, he came in too hot and overran the QB; he coulda had another sack! But the word is the guy is a hard worker so expect him to just keep getting better and better and play faster and faster. Reaction time and play recognition can play into "football speed."

Last year, I was hoping the defensive coordinators would feature Tyvon Branch and put him into positions to make big plays. But this year, it may be Michael Huff that emerges as the feature player. While Branch has fantastic physical attributes and is a 100mph fanatic, he's almost playing too fast for himself at times and is a little out of control. Huff appears to be the more cerebral player and is now starting to show his effectiveness in multiple facets of the game. It's too early to annoint him, but he may have the chance to be the Charles Woodson-type player on the Raiders' defense, a smart, hybrid player that is deployed all over the field to make plays. I never would have thought that, but as the defensive backfield gets healthy, watch to see if T&A start showing some more interesting/confusing defensive alignments.

The Chiefs' offensive play calling seemed to get away from the run. This was partly dictated by game situations and by the Raiders' effectiveness. A quick glance at the stats shows this :

22 rush attempts, 34 pass attempts.

This is a 40% rush rate, meaning 40% of their plays were rushes.

But closer inspection shows that Cassell + Quinn accounted for 9 rush attempts (8 scrambles and 1 end-of-half kneeldown). Account for that and you have :

13 running plays, 42 passing plays, 1 kneeldown.

That drops the rush rate down to 23%. So, less than 1/4 of the plays were called running plays.

But game situations also dictate play calling.

At the end of the first half (the last 0:49), the Chiefs were in hurry up and had 5 pass plays. The final 10 plays of the game were all in Hurry-Up mode and were pass plays. It was 4th Q, under 8:14, and down 26-9.

I also counted 8 3rd-and-5+ situations (excluding the end of first half kneeldown on 3rd-and-10). They were all passing plays; of those, 3 converted for 1st downs: 1 12 yd scramble and 2 completions to Moeaki (20 yds, 10yds).

Those are 23 pass plays that were dictated explicitly by game situations.

Excluding those, they had

13 running plays, 19 passing plays

That's 40% running plays called in Neutral Game situations, and more notable, it's just 3 plays difference from being 50% run (if 3 of those passing plays were called as runs, it would be an even 16-16 split). Probably they'd rather have those number reversed, but it's not crazy. It's no like Daboll decided to go pass happy just for the heck of it. The main problem was that they only had 32 Neutral plays to work with and 23 Game Mandated Passing plays. That's 42% of their plays were dictated by the game (meaning the Raiders' dictated the Chiefs' play calling). A running team has to be in control to dictate the terms; when it's vice versa, it is difficult to be successful. So, give credit to the Raiders' entire team for affecting the KC playcallling (Also Lilja's inability to snap the ball).

This was a first pass and when I have a chance to study the video more, I'll give further details (or perhaps change my mind about some initial thoughts).

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