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Auditing the defense: Which coverages have been most effective for the Raiders this season?

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If you’re wondering which coverage calls have been most successful this year for the Raiders, we have the answers

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

After the worst showing of the year last Sunday against the Jets, fans have started to call for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s head. The frustration is more than understandable considering Oakland’s pass defense has been atrocious this year, sitting at No. 30 in the NFL by Football Outsiders’ DVOA after finishing dead last in 2018.

To further investigate Guenther’s tendencies as a defensive coordinator and the effectiveness of his scheme, statistician Robert Simpson took a dive into Sports Info Solutions’ tracking data to find what coverages have been most effectual for the Raiders this year.

For a quick refresher on the coverages discussed, click here. If you’re looking for a brief summary of expected points added, take a look at Robert’s defensive EPA breakdown or our introduction to the EPA metric here.

Simpson’s Note: In order to qualify for this analysis, coverages must have been run at least 10 times against the selected personnel groupings. Coverages excluded are: Cover 0, Prevent, Combination/Other, and Tampa 2. Each of the snaps charted end in a player being targeted to exclude EPA from scrambles or throwaways.

This table shown above details how many pass coverage snaps the Raiders have used in each of their primary coverage calls and what their expected points allowed is on each snap. The lower EPA, the better.

Screen coverage is Sports Info Solutions’ way of separating screens from regular pass defense snaps. The Raiders -0.03 EPA against screens shows that their opponents’ expected point total actually goes down when they run a screen against Guenther’s defense.

The Raiders run variations of Cover 3 and Cover 1 most often, frequently rolling one safety into the slot and keeping the other in single-high. These single-high, middle of field coverages are the crux of Guenther’s scheme, yet the Raiders give up much more expected points when calling them than when playing Cover 2 or Man Cover 2.

Cover 4 has been the least effective for the Raiders in terms of EPA, and there is a clear reason why. With the Raiders rushing four and dropping seven men into coverage most of the time, running Cover 4 leaves the Raiders slow-footed linebackers with more responsibilities in underneath coverage.

With four defensive backs taking deep quarters, three players (typically two linebackers and a Nickel cornerback) are left to cover the underneath zones.

Conversely, Cover 2 and Man Cover 2 bring five defenders into underneath zones, giving linebackers less responsibilities while two defensive backs each take a deep half of the field. Guenther should likely be using more Cover 2, as the Raiders have been getting killed on underneath routes all season to this point.

This table shows how frequently the Raiders run their primary coverages against different personnel groupings. With the Raiders facing 11, 21 and 12 personnel most frequently, this table excludes coverage frequency against 10, 13, 20, 22, 23, 31, and 32 personnel groupings. Throughout the entire season, the Raiders have faced less than 10 coverage snaps in each of the excluded personnel groupings.

If you’d like to take a look at the personnel grouping frequency for every team this season, click here.

By comparing the two tables above, we can properly critique Guenther’s coverage calls against the primary personnels his team has faced.

It’s clear that Raiders have been atrocious in Cover 3 against 11 personnel, a grouping used 60 percent of the time by NFL offenses this year according to Sharp Football Stats. As our own film guru BD Williams has been preaching all season, Guenther should be calling more Cover 2 Man in these situations, as it has been more effective than both single-high coverages despite being used only 8.9 percent of the time.

While the Raiders Cover 4 has been below average against 11 personnel, it’s downright repulsive against 21 and 12 personnel despite being called only 8.6 percent and 11.1 percent of the time, respectively. They’re giving more than an entire point every single time they run Cover 4 against 21 personnel.

When facing 21 and 12 personnel, the Raiders should probably run much more Cover 6 (quarter-quarter-half) coverage, which has been dynamite, albeit on a smaller sample size.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Raiders defense has been excellent against opponents’ screen concepts
  • Oakland should stay as far away from Cover 4 as possible until they improve the linebacking corps
  • Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man have been most effective this season because the Raiders linebackers are given less responsibility
  • The Raiders have more success with two-high safety looks than single-high
  • Guenther should be dabbling in more Cover 6