In what turned into a shoot-out of a 4th quarter, Derek Carr hooked up with Jalen Richard on several important plays that set up a game-winning touchdown pass. In my opponent breakdown published last week, one of the keys to victory was testing the Detroit linebackers in coverage, namely by using the running backs in the passing game.
This came to fruition at a crucial moment for the Raiders offense, who took the field with the score tied up with 5:16 remaining in regulation. The opening play of the game-winning drive started with a bang in the form of a 31-yard pass to Jalen Richard up the seam. Lets take a look at exactly what went into this play.
The “4 verticals” play is a staple in just about every modern offensive playbook. From West Coast to Air-Raid schemes, this concept is used to stretch the defense vertically and take advantage of mismatches, regardless of if the defense is in man or zone coverage.
The Raiders line up with two tight ends on the left side of the field, with Richard off-set on the same side. Darek Carrier runs his vertical up the left side-line. Darren Waller runs his vertical across the field to the opposite hash. This leaves Jalen Richard to run the seam out of the backfield, a route that has become increasingly used in the NFL due to how difficult it can be to cover, especially for a linebacker.
Formation shift and pre-snap indicators
The key to this play’s success, however, occurred pre-snap. Carr gets the offense to shift from their original formation. The safety running back-and-forth across the defensive backfield is a pre-snap indicator that the defense is in man coverage. This lets Carr know who to target.
Had the safety stood still, this alignment would suggest a Cover 3 look, meaning Richard’s route would have been covered by a DB, while Waller would be left to work the middle of the field against linebackers. The formation shift and defense showing their hand is a huge part of why this play worked.
Beautiful pass from Carr
Richard is covered by a linebacker — and not a coverage linebacker either. The speedy back is a mismatch for the majority of NFL linebackers, and especially Christian Jones, who at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds is more of an edge-setting rush linebacker.
Pro Football Focus has graded Jones as one of the worst linebackers in coverage this year. The scouting report this week likely showed similar issues against the pass and Carr is wise to trust his receiver to come down with this ball.
Now, lets get to this throw. First, Carr has to duck down low to gain control of an errant shotgun snap. When he sees the back of the linebacker’s helmet, he knows he can throw this ball without having to get his feet set. In the midst of interior pressure coming at him, Carr lofts this ball over the top of the coverage and it lands directly in Richard’s hands. The ball placement is so on point that he doesn’t even have to adjust, catching the ball in stride.
Big league play, big league throw by Carr. If the Raiders offense can continue hitting backs on deep routes out of the backfield, defenses will have a huge challenge stopping this aerial attack when coupled with a punishing ground game.