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Raiders Film Room: Passing game in rhythm

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Week 2 against the Denver Broncos was an interesting game for the Raiders. Derek Carr set an NFL record as the only QB to finish a game with 90% completion and over 30 passes. As Levi pointed out, Carr’s performance answered a lot of the critics who said Carr was scared to stand in the pocket and deliver shots downfield.

Sadly, Carr’s surgically accurate passing display wasn’t enough to yield a win against the division rival. The run game couldn’t get going and the Raiders defense choked down the stretch, but the passing game was a bright spot. Let’s take a look at a few concepts that will be staples in Gruden’s offense.

Play-Action

Your eyes are not deceiving you, this is Gruden’s modern riff on the infamous Spider 2 Y Banana. In 2018 Gruden runs this play out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) and has Jordy Nelson running the “Banana” route.

Multiple defenders key on Cooper who releases to the flat after feigning a crack block on the defensive end. This leaves Nelson as wide open as you’ll see in the NFL for a big gain on the Raiders first possession.

Even though the run game never really got going, the threat of Marshawn Lynch is enough to neutralize linebackers off play-action. Watch how the underneath defenders are sucked in when they first read run action. As a result Jared Cook’s job is pretty easy here.

Again you see the effect play action has on linebackers. This time the Raiders give a “split zone” action where TE Jared Cook blocks across the formation. This means there are only 3 receivers running routes downfield but off play-action that can work. Amari Cooper at the bottom of the screen is in 1-on-1 coverage with Bradley Roby.

Cooper sells the post route by changing his speed and his sudden burst gets Roby’s hips turned inside. Cooper drops his weight and makes a speed cut to the sideline after he get’s Roby going the wrong way. The combination of Cooper’s excellent route running and play-action bringing the linebackers up gives Carr enough room to drop a dime for a first down.

Play Calling

Oh you thought Gruden was telling the truth when he said he would bring it back to 1998? Turns out he was only telling half the truth. The play below is called “Double Seam” and was a staple in the University of Oklahoma offense that saw Baker Mayfield win the Heisman last season. Yes Gruden is incorporating college football concepts.

The Raiders are again in 11 personnel with Jared Cook lined up off the ball—likely to help him get a free release. Jordy Nelson runs to the seam and normally that means Cook would then route inside or outside, but instead he just follows Nelson right into that seam. Most defenses need to adjust to account for multiple players running through the same zone and you can see it catches the Bronco’s off guard.

Worth noting is how the Bronco’s defense is tilting their coverage towards Cooper’s side. Cooper has a CB in his face and the safety over the top. Anytime a receiver gets doubled, that means someone has a 1-on-1 match-up that can be exploited. Carr found Cook for a big gain.

Another 3 man route but this time its a drop back pass. Gruden catches the Broncos in a blitz and calls the perfect max protection and route combo to win. Cooper at the top of the screen this time stems his route hard up-field before breaking to the middle of the field.

If Gruden can continue to time perfect pass plays like this, wins should be right around the corner.

Long Hand-Offs

The modern passing game uses quick passes as an extension of the run game. These are low risk passes designed to stretch the defense horizontally and to stall pass rushers before they even gets started.

Quick passes also force defenses to play close coverage that could leave them open to a downfield strike. This is not lost on Gruden who is a west coast disciple. His gameplan showed how important it is for him to give Carr high percentage passes and get all the receivers involved.

White Tiger Martavis Bryant got involved on a few pass plays like this. The one above is a screen off play-action. First off, notice how Carr doesn’t even complete the play fake, turns around and rifles a fade-away pass to Bryant.

Bryant makes use of his blockers and his speed to pick up 16 yards on the play. 2 other occasions in the game Gruden called this play for both Cooper and Nelson. Running the same concept with multiple players makes it hard for the defense to predict who will run which route, and forces them to stay honest.

The “speed out” also looks to be a staple of Gruden’s scheme. Amari Cooper was an early benefactor of this play call catching 3 or 4 of these on the day. Seth Roberts also caught one of these early in the game. The play above however is Tight End Derek Carrier making a great adjustment and hauling in Carr’s pass.

Conclusion

The Raiders passing game was humming Sunday but there were a few miss-steps along the way. The 4th down pass to the fullback has been widely panned as a bad call but the concept worked a few times already in the game.

Gruden is playing to Carr’s strengths by asking him to distribute the ball to all his receivers and giving Carr the opportunity to get the ball out quick on many of his passing attempts. Carr passed the ball to 9 different receivers, spreading the love around throughout the game.

Gruden is calling great protection and the offensive line performed at a high level in week 2. Carr was sacked once officially (another Von Miller sack was called back due to penalty) and Carr had time when he needed to wait for routes to develop downfield.

This was the best passing attack Raiders fans have witnessed in a long time. Gruden called a great game through the air. Once all the other pieces are put together the Raiders will be in a good place.