Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was hyped up for his blitz packages coming into the Raiders last season. Unfortunately, the NFL caught up the double A-gap blitz scheme and it took Guenther some time to adjust. He may have just hit his stride, however. In recent weeks, the Raiders defense has put more consistent pressure on opposing QBs, racking up 12 sacks in three games, including consecutive five-sack performances against the Chargers and Bengals.
Last week, rookie DE Maxx Crosby had a well documented four sack performance. He deserves credit for an incredible individual effort, but lets take a look at the entire defense and see how an individual pass rush doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
At his core, Guenther is a conservative play caller. He rarely sends five or six men on a blitz and very often, his pressure calls involve a “creeper” or “mug blitzer.” Many of Guenther’s blitzes are really just four man pressures with either a DE is dropping into coverage to replace a LB, or that LB is feigning a blitz path but really has a coverage responsibility.
Maxx Crosby’s first sack of the 4th quarter came during one of these simulated pressure looks. The Raiders come out in dime personnel (six defensive backs) with the five defenders who aren’t DBs lining up on the line of scrimmage. This look tells the QB a blitz is coming and forces the protection to adjust.
But its not a blitz, its your standard four man rush on 3rd down. LB Tahir Whitehead gives a stutter and head fake to create the illusion of a blitz, but he’s really in man coverage on the RB and ready to cut off a potential scramble from a QB under duress.
Perhaps because the illusion of a blitz was created, watch how the left tackle momentarily doubles newly acquired Dion Jordan, lining up as the interior pass rusher. This is a fatal miscalculation for the blocker, who can’t get his feet set by the time he engages Crosby and gets bull-rushed into the QB.
Blitz coverage in the NFL doesn’t follow your standard rules and can be malleable and prone to changing from week-to-week to take advantage of a tendency or to protect against a particularly dangerous threat. The standard difference between blitz coverage and traditional coverage, however, is that defenders expect the ball to come out quick and will be more aggressive than normal.
The vast majority of Guenther’s blitz coverages throughout the first half of the season came from a single-high Cover 1 shell. The underneath defenders were responsible for jumping the hot routes inside. Guenther has changed this recently, opting to blitz under 2-high safety coverage. This simulated pressure came with dime personnel, allowing for man coverage to be played across the board.
At the top of the screen, notice both Daryl Worley and Isaiah Johnson allow the WR to essentially run past them. They are both playing “trail technique,” which is a standard man coverage technique in a 2-Man coverage. Safety Curtis Riley is playing the deep half, which lets the defenders play the quick game and not worry about the deeper routes as much.
This coverage is why in the first clip you see Ryan Finley pat the ball and wait for his receiver to uncover. The pass rush, the blitz look, and the coverage allowed for the result of this play to be a sack. Crosby will get the credit, but from the play call to the men in coverage, this was a positive for the entire defense.