When Raiders tight end Lee Smith suffered his season ending leg injury in week 4 of last season, the talk surrounding his loss was focused solely on his run blocking. The team did lose a great in line blocker but they also lost something much more important, scheme versatility.
There is no doubt that Smith is a good in line run blocker but he adds much more to the Raiders offense than just plays like this.
He does a great job of walling of the Rams potential back side pursuit while adding some Raider toughness with the rip that puts his guy on the ground. The truth is that the Raiders coaching staff can find plenty of players who can do this as well as Smith does, it’s his versatility that makes him so valuable.
The Raiders utilized “12” personnel often in their first three drives with Carr in the game. Lee’s ability to serve as both an in line blocker and receiving threat will allow Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing to attack the defense in “base” packages.
The Raiders first touchdown is a perfect example of this mismatch.
The Raiders ran a 4-vertical concept against the Rams base 3-4 defense. Getting a linebacker matched up against a tight end running a seam route is an offensive coordinators dream. Downing really showed his ability to create match-ups that benefit his players on this play.
“Quit calling him a blocking tight end.” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said in his post game press conference. “As you see, people just drop him sometimes. That’s one thing we have to take advantage of. We can’t just be limited by a certain personnel group. Lee is one of the guys who has the one of the best sets of hands on the team. Being able to run him up the seam and do things like that, people won’t be able to dictate when he comes in the game what they want to play.”
Downing will need to continue to this trend if the Raiders are to win their first division title since the 2003 season. The teams struggle beating the Kansas City Chiefs vaunted man coverage should be over. There is nothing that beats man coverage like tight ends and slot receivers attacking the middle of the defense. Plays like this are how Lee can be a big part of overcoming the Chiefs scheme.
In the four games he played in last season, Lee had 6 receptions for 29 yards without a touchdown. Playing in under a half of this game Lee had 2 receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown. Those stats will be even better with the Raiders newly signed tight end Jared Cook getting most of the defenses attention on the interior and potentially overlooking Lee.
Cook will be a main part of that “12” personnel group and will open up coverages for Lee to take advantage of.
The vertical/dig combination the Raiders run here with Cook and fellow tight end Clive Walford is effective in pulling coverage deep and opening up the middle of the field. This is the area of the defense that Lee will be needed to attack.
With some additional talent around him and the ability of the coaching staff to get him involved, Smith looks poised for a really good year. The Raiders utilized their “12” personnel with great results and that should carry over into the season. Don’t think that the expanded receiving role is going to take away from the thing he does best though, Lee will always be a road grader.
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