The bye week delivered bad news after bad news for the Raiders. There were reports of Derek Carr losing his command of the team, and trade rumors began swirling at an all time level. Ultimately Amari Cooper was dealt to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a 1st round pick and Marshawn Lynch was placed on injured reserve.
These moves left Oakland’s already beleaguered offense without two feature players. This isn’t great news ahead of the Raiders’ matchup against the Colts’ whose defense is ranked 24th against the pass as opposed to 8th against the run.
The offense hasn’t been able to gain much traction in the previous two games against the Chargers and the Seahawks even with the two aforementioned players on the active roster. Much of the offensive woes are due to the injuries on the offensive line—whose inability to protect the quarterback has hindered the game plan. The bye week was a chance to get healthy and allow the new starters to gel.
Getting the tight ends involved
The Raiders will have to jump start their passing game in Cooper’s absence and Gruden said “we’ll lean on all our receivers and certainly our tight ends as well” at his Wednesday press conference. Luckily the Raiders have a top 5 NFL Tight End on the roster in Jared Cook. Cook has had monster performances this year and will have to do even more going forward if the Raiders have a chance at winnings anymore games in 2018.
This is a fun wrinkle out of 12 personnel where Jared Cook is lined up on the wing alongside blocking end Lee Smith. Gruden designed this man beater to get Jared Cook loose against 1-on-1 coverage. Lee runs a clear-out and Cook cuts inside creating a natural rub.
Defenses know they will have to take Cook out of the now that he is the Raider’s only consistent receiving weapon. Play designs like this against the Colt’s pass defense will be a key to success on Sunday.
But Lee Smith isn’t only a decoy in the pass game. He can contribute in small spurts as a receiving option as well. Smith will have plenty of reps where he stays in pass protection to help rookie Tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker. A play like this takes advantage of the defense not accounting for Smith as a receiver for a solid chunk gain.
Getting the ball downfield
Derek Carr was at one time one of the more dangerous quarterbacks in the league throwing fade routes. Mostly because of poor coaching however starting last season, this part of Carr’s game just hasn’t been clicking like it was in 2016. Carr getting back to his old self needs to start at some point soon, regardless of the Raiders win-loss record by season’s end.
Martavis Bryant will get plenty of opportunities like this play here. Carr has had no problem throwing it up to Bryant this season, often ending in interceptions unfortunately. Bryant isn’t a polished route runner but his freakish athleticism even by NFL standards gives Carr confidence in his ability to come down with 50-50 balls downfield.
The play above is one rare example of Carr throwing a perfect fade route to his receiver this season. Bryant is simply able to win with speed and victimize the corner for being in press coverage. Carr is able to get this pass off in rhythm and takes a 3 step drop before dropping a dime on the sideline for a 20 yard gain. Expect to see plenty of this going forward and the success of this route will force defenses to play with 2 deep safeties or back their corners off, opening up other plays in the gameplan.
Check out the nifty play design here against the Dolphins. Jordy Nelson and Brandon LaFell line up stacked outside the numbers. The distance of their split stresses the defense and forces them to cover the entire width of the field and the free safety is too late to help the seam defender with Nelson’s vertical route.
Again Carr is able to get this pass off in rhythm and doesn’t have to rely much on pass protection to help him make this throw. Play design is the real winner here. Gruden will have to reach deep into his bag of tricks now that the offense has lost multiple playmakers. Plays like this will be the key to Carr getting back on track this season.
Screens and scrambles
The following plays aren’t alike but both will be a key to the offenses success against the Colts. Carr doesn’t have the luxury of stellar pass protection and as such, plays need to be made that slow down the pass rush.
Jalen Richard will likely get a larger workload now that Lynch is no longer on the active roster. His spot as a receiving back is secure and faces no competition for this role on the current roster.
Screen passes force the pass rush to think twice about their rush plans and a back like Richard can get chunk yards even when the defense is closing in fast. Expect Richard to get somewhere around 8 targets in the passing game against the Colts.
The most criticized aspect of Carr’s game is his ability to make plays off schedule. Unlike the deep ball, Carr has never shown an aptitude for this type of play as a pro Quarterback. The example above against the Chargers is one of the few occasions where Carr breaks the pocket and throws a strike downfield.
Seth Roberts is lined up in the slot on the bottom of the screen. He runs a 15 yard dig route and continues to make a break towards the opposite sideline when he sees Carr scramble. Carr will have to make more plays like this with his offensive line in flux and it can really take the wind out of defensive linemen having to chase down a quarterback outside of the pocket.
All receivers, including tight ends and running backs need to step up in order to get the offense humming again.
Play designs that stress the defense horizontally as well as vertically need to be called now more than ever.
Short passes have their place, especially with the amount of time Carr has to throw the ball behind this offensive line.
Deep passes need to be schemed into the gameplan in order to open up other phases of the offense.
Carr needs to make plays with his legs as well as his arm.