In the 4th quarter with less than 8 minutes remaining, the game was within reach. The score was 9-7 in favor of the Broncos and the Raiders' offense seemed like it had the momentum. They were driving down the field, starting at their own 11 yardline and (with the aid of a Von Miller Roughing the Passer penalty) broke well into Broncos' territory.
After a nice gain by Marcel Reece on 2nd-and-11, the Raiders were in a 3rd-and-5 situation. Derek Carr hurries the offense back to the line of scrimmage, theoretically forcing the Broncos to keep their Run Defense-personnel (the 2nd-11 guys) on the field while the Offense sets up in a passing mode.
The Denver Broncos are well-prepared and their base personnel is well-suited for pass-run, notably (but not exclusively) because Von Miller is excellent vs either Run or Pass. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the finest DCs in the game and has seen it all; he's not worried either.
Play 74 : Q4, 3-5-DEN 31 (7:05) (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Carr pass short middle intended for S.Roberts INTERCEPTED by C.Harris at DEN 26
|TV Replay 1||GFY|
|TV Replay 2||GFY|
Here's the end zone view :
The Broncos bring a blitz. QB Derek Carr reads it and reacts with a "Hot" read, ie., a quick outlet throw to his "Hot" receiver, Seth Roberts.
Roberts is crossing from left-to-right.
Carr expects him to break off his shallow crosser and set up in the middle of the field.
Unfortunately, Roberts does not recognize that this is Hot read and so he runs his route as drawn up. And when QB and WR read the defense differently, only bad things happen (also see Carson Palmer + Denarius Moore).
The ball whizzes just by the back of Roberts' helmet and to the trailing CB, #25 Chris Harris.
The rest is history.
The play itself was a big turnaround. The loss of potentially 3 (maybe 7) points for the Raiders on the drive and then the immediate 7 points for the Broncos were huge.
Here's a closer look at a few of the notable components of this play.
Typically play are really well-designed, but they are built to take advantage of particular weaknesses of a defense or a defensive call. Offensive plays can go from "solid" plays to "Great" plays when they match up just right with a defensive play call.
So when the OC (or the QB) makes the right call against a Defense, the team has to take advantage of it. There are only a handful of these moments and they can potentially flip the game. Failing to execute and it's a huge missed opportunity.
Here's a look at the routes :
There are 4 crossers at various levels; with the way the Broncos defense has been sinking back, the Raiders have often been working underneath, often trying to get the ball to Amari underneath and on the run to let him run for yardage.
On this play, with the coverage the Broncos use, it turns out that Amari is the perfect target for the play and if Carr reads it (and has the time to do so), this is a huge play waiting to happen.
Wade Phillips calls for Pressure and so the Broncos are in Man-0 (Man Coverage, No Safety). Here's a look at how the Broncos' coverages line up with the routes :
Pre-snap, TJ Ward lined up opposite Cooper with Aqib Talib off 10 yards. Ward slides inside and then on the snap, he blitzes, leaving Talib to cover Cooper.
The coverage is counting on Cooper running a downfield route like a Post or a deep Corner. Instead, Cooper runs crossing route underneath the other crossers. That's a lot of space and bodies for Talib to get thru in order to get to Cooper.
With Talib in a deep trail, Cooper is all alone and there's no help.
If Cooper gets the ball, he's running into open field and other defenders turning their backs to the play. It's an easy first down, likely a big play, and an above-average chance at a Touchdown.
During this game against the top tier Broncos defense, the Raiders' offensive line has not been perfect, but on this play, they were about as close to it as you could ask.
Here's a look at how the Broncos will rush. They bring 6, including blitzing LB #54 Brandon Marshall and S #43 TJ Ward.
Three sections to look at :
- Def Left side : #58 Von Miller + #43 TJ Ward
- Middle : #58 Von Miller + #54 Brandon Marshall + #97 Malik Jackson
- Def Right side : #97 Malik Jackson + #90 Antonio Smith + #56 Shane Ray
All day, the Raiders' OL has been focused on Von Miller which has allowed openings for stunts and blitzes.
On this play, Von Miller crashes inside, attacking the RG J'Marcus Webb. When Austin Howard drops inside to block him, it opens up the outside rush lane. That's precisely where S #43 TJ Ward is coming.
Earlier in the day, Howard may have kept his eyes on Miller to the exclusion of all else, but this time, he keeps his head up and sees the incoming blitzer.
Howard passes Miller off to Webb--keeping his left hand out to help keep Miller inside--and then fans out to pick up Ward.
#97 Malik Jackson initially lined up on Webb's outside shoulder.
On the snap, he loops 2 gaps over to attack the A-gap between Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. This is designed to draw Hudson into blocking him. If Webb blocks Miller and Hudson blocks Jackson, there should be a nice inside hole from blitzing #54 Brandon Marshall to run thru.
The Raiders' OL works together and picks this up.
Gabe Jackson drops down to pick up Jackson. Hudson gives a punch to Jackson and then turns to take on Marshall. Webb punches Marshall and then turns to take on Miller.
On the right side, there are 2 pass rushers, #90 Antonio Smith and #56 Shane Ray. They both take an outside rush to draw the two Raiders' blockers (Donald Penn and Gabe Jackson) outside. If Jackson takes on Antonio Smith, it will leave the interior line overloaded and probably one of Malik Jackson or Brandon Marshall would run thru.
But Jackson keeps his head up and has his eyes on the blitz. When he sees the blitz by Marshall and the loop by Jackson, his priority is that an interior rusher is more dangerous than an outside rusher. So he gives a nice left handed punch to Smith (disrupting and widening Smith's rush path) and then drops down to help his mates and pick up Malik Jackson.
This moment reminds me of when Antonio Smith compared Big Gabe to Larry Allen :
"He's not just big. He's an athletic kid," Smith said. "But most of all, he's aggressive. He's strong as an ox, and he's got a punch that reminds me of Larry Allen's punch. If he catches you with it, you have to readjust your whole rush scheme." (Full article on mercury news)
And here's a closer look at just Big Gabe doing his thing :
The OL had a tough assignment.
The Broncos brought pressure with 6 and the Offensive Line only had 5 to block with. One pass rusher was going to come free, regardless, but what the 5 Biggies did on this play was to ensure that none of the 6 rushers had a completely free rush. The rusher who would be free (Antonio Smith) was given a punch to delay his rush and force his route wide. The others were each hit and / or blocked by at least one Raider and often by two.
It was an excellent pass rush design but here, the OL gave Raiders' fans some evidence to be optimistic. These 5 have only been working as a unit for 5 weeks. The chemistry should continue to grow and improve.
The Raiders have a 5 man protection with both TE Walford and RB Reece releasing into the pattern.
If the Broncos bring 5 or fewer, the OL can pick them up (theoretically), but if they send 6, there's no one to block him.
If the Broncos' blitz with 6 then that means there will be a free rusher and the 6th man is Carr's responsibility. He has to get the ball out before that man gets to him.
But there's a problem. The QB may be ready to get rid of the ball, but he needs someone to throw to, especially on 3rd down.
A free rusher can get to the QB very quickly, often much sooner than it takes to get into even a fairly short route. So when an offense detects such a situation, a designated "Hot" receiver who will truncate his route making himself available to the QB.
Here's a look at the pre-snap :
Note that there is no deep safety.
The Raiders send 5 receivers into the pattern. If the Broncos rush 6 it means there is 1-on-1 across the board (if the Broncos rush more than 6 it means there is an uncovered receiver).
The 4 natural pass rushers are #58 Von Miller and #56 Shane Ray on the outside and #97 Malik Jackson and #90 Antonio Smith on the inside. Additionally #54 Brandon Marshall, #43 TJ Ward, #30 David Bruton, and #26 Darian Stewart are all milling about at or near the line of scrimmage.
On the snap, Ward and Marshall blitz.
Carr recognizes the blitz and the fact that the number of rushers outnumbers the blockers. The 6th rusher is on him and so Carr quick-drops and releases Hot to Seth Roberts; from snap to throw is a mere 1.8 seconds.
Unfortunately, Roberts misses the Hot read and runs right by the play and on plays like this, across the middle, the results are predictably very bad.
Pressure can cause mistakes. Pressure can also provide opportunities.
The Raiders' offense wanted to pressure the defense and create a mistake. In reaction, Wade Phillips' defense brought pressure of their own against Derek Carr.
The Raiders had an opportunity; the route by Cooper was a good one and had big play potential. But the pressure and the read was to go to Roberts. Had Roberts reacted correctly, that play likely would have been short of the first down and resulted in a field goal attempt. Not great, but certainly better than what happened.
This entire season so far has been filled with mistakes and many of them can be characterized as "young player"-type mistakes.
Sometimes negative outcomes can strongly aid in growth. This moment will certainly be ingrained in Seth Roberts and Derek Carr's mind. It will also spill over and sit in young Amari Cooper's mind as well (even though he was not Hot on this play, he certainly will be Hot at some point in the future.).
The most important aspect of the play is not that it happened, but how they react and learn from it.