Picking up the Blitz is an art form and it is especially important for young quarterbacks since they will be tested repeatedly on their ability to recognize the blitz and then to make a play to exploit the weaknesses therein. Last year against the Jets, Rex Ryan brought pressure in various forms repeatedly and the then-rookie Derek Carr was left confused, hurried, and battered.
Just one year later, Derek Carr is understanding, seeing, and diagnosing pressure packages much better and that is showing up in the team's performance. Here's a look at one of those plays that shows some of why that is as well as some of the potential growth that is available and that fans can look forward to in the coming years.
Play 21 : Q2, 3-3-NYJ 41 (11:09) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass short right to M.Crabtree to NYJ 36 for 5 yards (A.Cromartie).
|TV Replay 1
|TV Replay 2
In the early 2nd quarter, the Raiders are up 7 - 3 and have 3rd-and-3 at the Jets 41 yardline, just out of Janikowski's field goal range. It's a big moment and the Jets would really like to get the stop and force the punt.
The Raiders are in 11 Personnel, 1 RB/1TE (Olawale, Walford) and 3 WRs (Cooper, Crabtree, Roberts). Recall that FB Olawale is (like Marcel Reece) a converted College WR. The Raiders line up in a 5 Wide formation with Olawale in a Diamond Bunch to the left.
The Jets respond with Nickel.
The Jets have four down linemen and two LBs.
The two LBs (#52 David Harris and #56 Demario Davis) are both lined up over the Center in the A-gaps, showing a potential Double A-Gap Blitz (or "Mug Blitz" / "A-Gap Mug").
Derek Carr sees the potential 6 man pressure against only 5 blockers.
He brings Olawale inside to line up in the backfield. Follow motion by FS #21 Marcus Gilchrist gives a pre-snap indicator of Man Coverage, which also hints that a blitz may be coming.
A "Lucy"-call tells the offensive line a Full Slide Left Protection.
The benefit of this against an A-Gap Mug is that there is the opportunity for the interior linemen to "Squeeze" the defenders together, possibly mashing them all into a wall of flesh, making it difficult for the rushers to break thru.
This protection will put pressure on Olawale to block the DE #96 Mo Wilkerson.
The Jets will bring a 6 Men Pressure. When Gilchrist recognizes that Olawale is staying in to block he has a choice.
He can drop into a 1 man underneath zone to help coverage or he can Blitz (aka "Green Dog").
He will blitz, meaning that the Jets will bring a 7 man blitz.
Derek Carr only has a 6-man protection. With the Lucy call, the OL+Olawale have the front 6 rushers and Carr has Gilchrist. This means that Carr has to read him and recognize if he is rushing; if Gilchrist comes, it is Carr's responsibility to get rid of the ball before Gilchrist is able to get to him.
That is precisely what happens.
The offensive line does a great job picking up the rushers and forming a wall in front of Carr. Olawale takes on Wilkerson and gets in the way just long enough for Carr to make the throw. Carr recognizes the pressure coming and gets the ball out in a remarkable 1.7seconds.
(note : the minor digit on the GFY's video timer display shows frames rather than tenths of seconds so 1:4 converts to 1.7 seconds).
* * *
The offensive line does a great job in making sure they get their assignments and then making great blocks; it is can taken for granted because at times they make it look so easy. They should be called the "Armor All"-group because they protect the Carr.
It is important to recognize not just their individual abilities and skills, but also the way in which they function as a unit and help each other out. The entire OL Unit needs to be credited for the protection Carr received on this play.
If you watch carefully, Rodney Hudson's play here just jumps off the screen.
Recall, the call is a Full Slide Left so each blocker is responsible for the "zone" to his left. So, Rodney Hudson is responsible for #52 David Harris, but since #56 Demario Davis is to Hudson's right side, he is RG J'Marcus Webb's responsibility.
J'Marcus Webb is a former Left Tackle and this is his first year playing as a Guard. He can use all the help he can get and on this play, faced with a potential pressure package up the middle, Rodney Hudson decides that he can spare a moment to help his buddy out.
On his pass set, Hudson eyes his man Harris, but he also reaches out and gets a nice punch to his right side on Demario Davis. This cuts off Davis' path and helps give Webb a stationary target to engage.
As the play unfolds, Hudson maintains that arm on Davis for as long as he can.
Hudson's man, David Harris, is taking an attack path that is angling away from him, likely to try to draw Hudson out. Big Rodney is patient, doesn't lunge, doesn't attack, but waits on Harris to get in range. When Harris gets close enough, Hudson lets loose with a left punch to his chest.
Since LG Gabe Jackson has set up nice and close, there's not much room for Harris to run to; he can't angle too far away from Hudson. While Rodney has one hand punching Harris, he is also able to keep his right hand on Demario Davis.
In essence Rodney Hudson is blocking both blitzers, one in each arm. This makes life so much easier on Webb (and Carr, of course).
Here's a close up of Rodney doing his best Gandalf impression : "You Shall Not Pass!"
This tactic of helping out a linemate with one arm is not a unique one; it is commonly used and if you pay attention to lineplay, you will see it many times to varying levels of effectiveness. It's called the "Third Hand" or "Getting Three Hands" on the defender and it's used in both pass pro and run blocking.
What jumps out about Hudson's play here is how powerful and effective it is in neutralizing Davis' rush and how long Hudson is able to keep that arm on him. Webb seems to have poor leverage and so there's a chance of Davis sliding thru to his right, but Hudson's hand forces Davis back into Webb's chest.
It really is great and warrants a Call Out. When Jack Del Rio says that Rodney Hudson is the anchor to the line, it's plays like this to which he's refering. Not only playing well, but improving his teammates as well.
Here's a closer view of his play :
* * *
Recall that there were 7 pass rushers and only 6 blockers.
Derek Carr was responsibile for the 7th pass rusher. He had to make his throw before the rusher got to him. That rusher was FS #21 Marcus Gilchrist.
So what happened to him?
Carr got the ball out quickly, but there was no one around him. It looked like Carr had another second or so before anyone was going to even get close. So where was Gilchrist and why wasn't he running free?
It looks like Gilchrist recognized that Olawale was staying in to block, but did not quite realize that the Raiders were in a Full Slide protection. If he had realized that RT Austin Howard would be blocking to his left and that Olawale was going to block Wilkerson, then Gilchrist may have chose to rush to the outside C-gap.
Instead, he comes up inside into the B-Gap and finds himself caught up in traffic.
This is particularly interesting because the protection that Carr enjoys on this play reveals a weakness in the Jets' coverage that was ready to be exploited.
* * *
The Raiders are in 3x1 formation, 3WRs to the left and 1 to the right (Crabtree).
The Jets have 6 at the line of scrimmage and Gilchrist motions inside with Olawale to give 7 within 5 yards of the line. This indicates Man Coverage. With 4 receivers, there are 4 defenders. That's 11, meaning that this is a "Zero Coverage", meaning that there are Zero safeties deep. A Blitz with Zero Coverage is called a "Zero Blitz."
A Zero Blitz is also called a "Casino Blitz" because it is such a high risk / gambling call. If a receiver breaks one tackle or just gets free a little bit, there's so much free space to run into and no help. There's a big play waiting for an offense if they can exploit it.
The Raiders have a bunch formation to the left with Cooper to the outside, Roberts to the inside, and TE Clive Walford on the LOS. In a bunch formation, there's generally some traffic to navigate making things difficult for man coverage. Often at least one receiver will get some space and in especially nice situations, the right WR will get a lot of space.
Here are the routes, Crabtree in Red, Cooper in Orange.
Gilchrist is the Wild Card here.
If he stays in coverage and drops into a passing lane, he can take away the quick slant and underneath routes.
If he blitzes, then he vacates that entire middle field and opens it up for a potential slant-and-run a la Jerry Rice (depending on man assignments, naturally).
On this play, #24 Revis lines up opposite Cooper at the top of the screen. That's no guarantee that he has the assignment, but all day, Darrelle Revis has been shadowing Amari Cooper, so it would not be surprising.
On this play, #41 Buster Skrine has Roberts and S #20 Marcus Williams has Walford.
This leaves Cooper on Revis Island and Cooper runs a perfect route for this coverage.
Amari Cooper is going to run into the open space with Revis 6 yards off (and closing), while the other DBs have their backs turned.
And even with Gilchrist blitzing, the OL holds up nicely (except for Olawale who is face down on the ground).
If Carr had been able to take a moment to read Gilchrist, check the backside, and made the throw to Cooper, there is a chance for a big play. Revis has backed off for some reason, but is now closing so it's no sure thing, but a nice throw that leads Cooper to the inside gives him a running start also and Cooper has great speed and great tackle-breaking strength, so there's a chance for a big play and maybe even a touchdown.
These chances don't come up often and it's important to exploit them when they do.
* * *
This play looks like it was a pre-determined throw from the beginning.
Once Olawale is drawn into the formation, he's assigned to Wilkerson. He's going to attempt a cut block, likely because the throw is determined to go that way (and also b/c Olawale wouldn't be able to block Wilkerson up high).
Then Derek Carr makes his throw VERY quickly; it's a timing play and the throw comes out to Crabtree before he turns around. Carr doesn't make any reads; he just sees Crabtree and throws it. 1.7 seconds isn't enough time to scan the field.
Interestingly, on the same drive, just a few plays earlier, the offense called the same play.
Same initial Diamond Bunch formation, same motion, same quick read. The only difference was that the target was Amari Cooper instead of Michael Crabtree :
So it very much does look like a prepared play with a pre-designed one read and throw. It may be part of Musgrave's scheme to make sure Carr feels comfortable and safe and doesn't have too much pressure.
It is certainly not a bad play; it's very safe. The ball comes out quickly and it converts the first down and the offense continues. In fact, two players later, Carr makes a nice over-the-middle completion to Crabtree for the tackle-breaking Crab Cake touchdown, so it worked out.
Yet it is also a little disappointing for the potential left on the field.
Since the play was predetermined, there's little that could have been done. In their film review, they may see the opportunities provided and realize how to fully take advantage of it. Going forward, as Carr grows into the offense, OC Bill Musgrave may allow the QB to have more freedom to adjust plays such as these and to seek out weaknesses. If the OL continues to perform as it has and protect Carr even on pressure packages, then it's going to be even more enticing to take an extra half-second to look for a big play.
It is going to be fun watching Carr continue to grow and improve in this offense.