This past week 1 game did not go according to script. Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano have transformed the Colts into one of the darlings of the NFL. They were a stunning 11-5 and went to the playoffs last year and they certainly expect bigger and better things this year. Meanwhile, the hapless Raiders are uniformly discussed as one of the worst NFL teams with some even joking as to whether they would defeat Alabama. If that were not enough, the Raiders' health was also not good with key players Veldheer, Watson, and Sio Moore all going down. The biggest news was that Terrelle Pryor was now taking the QB reins away from Matt Flynn. If Jaws had Flynn ranked as the #32 QB in the NFL, who knows where he would rank Pryor.
Nearly everyone (including many Raiders faithful) had already written this game off and were expecting a blow-out. There was almost no real reason to play the game. Of course, the men in that locker room all believed in each other and were prepared to go out and give it their all.
And the Raiders proceeded to give Indy just about all they could handle. It was not perfect and at times it was definitely not pretty. But it was striking and there was much for the Silver and Black fans to be excited about.
A long two years ago (2011), the Raiders had a incredible and memorable game against Buffalo at the O.co. That was the game where the Raiders were comfortably ahead at halftime when the Bills made a dramatic 2nd half comeback. But then the Raiders (and rookie Denarius Moore) fought back tooth and nail and lost it on the last play, a hail mary seeming-simoultaneous possession that was ruled an interception. Whew.
Then, what stuck out was that in the loss, the Raiders never wilted and never surrendered. Even when the opponent had all the momentum, the Raiders would fight back and make their own plays, pulling the momentum back to their side.
That was how this past game against Indy was. There were times when the Raiders could have wilted. When the Darren McFadden TD by the pylon was overeturned on review, the team could have had a letdown. Instead, they roared back and scored a touchdown anyway. When Andrew Luck scored the go-ahead TD, instead of conceding the game, the Raiders decided "Now it's our turn to score."
And that's where our story begins.
The last drive may be remembered for the interception that officially ended the game, but the key play of the drive occured two plays prior to that. After Luck scored that TD to put the Colts up 21-17, the Raiders received the ball at their own 20. They would then drive nearly the length of the field, converting a 3-and-1 with the bizarre play to Jeron Mastrud and converting the critical 4th-and-9 to Denarius Moore. That brought the offense down to the Colts' 8 yardline with a 1st-and-goal and 1:13 left to play. Plenty of time to run 4 plays for the touchdown.
But then the Colts bring a blitz which gets to Pryor. Pryor trying to make a play runs backwards and eventually takes a 16 yard sack bringing up 2nd-and-goal from the 24 yardline, totally changing the offensive approach, eventually leading to a forced throw resulting in an interception.
So what happened?
At once a great defensive call and a communication breakdown on the offensive line.
Here's the blitz design.
4 Down lineman will all rush.
#30 Laron Landry has man coverage on DMC on the outside and occupies him. #50 Freeman has man coverage on Mychal Rivera and will drop.
MLB #52 Kelvin Sheppard comes on a delayed blitz with Stunt/Cross-Dog action to it. This forces Barnes to handoff his man (Robert Mathis) to Lucas Nix on the inside. Unfortunately, Nix doesn't realize what is going on and is focused on double teaming Ricky Jean-Francoise. Mathis comes free and has a clean lane to Pryor.
Here's the before :
And here's the after :
And additionally, it looks like the play that Greg Olson had drawn up was going to work! It's a beautiful rub route (pick play) that has Rivera running a deep out with Brice Butler running a square in. This route combo sets up a natural rub at around the 4 yardline; it also naturally threatens the single high safety (Antoine Bethea) since there are receivers and he has to pick one. Bethea takes a false step to cover Rivera and leaves the middle open for the throw to Butler.
Bethea is still in good position and closing so he would likely have prevented the TD, though if the protection would have held up (and Pryor makes the good throw and Butler makes the clutch catch), it would have given Butler a one-on-one chance to fight for the TD. Maybe he would have. Still, likely it would have been 2nd-and-goal from the 2 or 3 yardline.
That's what Pryor was watching when Mathis came free.
The key is that Butler was just getting out of his break as Mathis comes free! Pryor wasn't scanning the field, trying to find something, he was waiting for the play (as drawn up) to clear. He needed the o-line to handle their responsibilities. A half second longer and Pryor makes his throw.
Nix didn't need to beat Mathis; he just needed to get in his way a little bit to slow him up.
Here's the Before :
And here's the after
There's an aphorism among NFL Coaches. "Count on one loss for every rookie starter you have."
Lucas Nix isn't a rookie, but the point remains. Inexperience can be a killer and especially on the offensive line where communication and chemistry are so important. I'm not even mad at Nix. This happens to young players ALL THE TIME and this is just amplified because it was at such a crucial juncture.
It's a tough lesson, but he'll learn from this. While there are no real moral victories in the NFL, the Raiders should feel like they can win the next game and that emotion and attitude should help them during this week of prep.
As the old saying goes, "God put eyes in the front of Man's head so he can see where he's going, not where he's been." So let's look forward to beating the Jaguars. But still, a Pryor to Butler TD pass would have been a classic way to end this game!
For more details, see my post at Ninjagoro.com