Division matchups are supposed to be close games. Both teams and coaching staffs have a lot of film on their opponents and have tracked tendencies while cooking up something to attack their rivals. This past Sunday, the Raiders defense had some bright moments, contributing to an effort that held Patrick Mahomes to 175 passing yards and 51.7% completion percentage (both career lows).
The Raiders defense has struggled on 3rd downs this season, but had some success during their matchup against the Chiefs. Paul Guenther cooked up some fresh coverages and personnel groupings that may have contributed (the weather was also a factor) to the defense’s improvement this week. Let’s take a look at how the Raiders fared in this situation:
The Raiders first 3rd down stop came in the 2nd quarter on a sure interception that Nevin Lawson dropped. The pass rush does a great job flushing Mahomes out of the pocket, but it’s the coverage that made him hold onto the ball. In dime personnel, Erik Harris is playing the role of coverage linebacker.
In this coverage call, Harris and Daryl Worley are doubling TE Travis Kelce, who is running across the field and is Mahomes’ first read. Mahomes glances deep, but sees Joyner and Swearinger effectively doubling his deep target. Under pressure, he makes an ill-advised throw across his body to Nevin Lawson’s man. While this could have been a pick-six, it also very well could have been a TD going the other way since Lawson briefly loses his man with vision on the QB. Nonetheless, this comes as a 3rd down stop for the Raiders defense.
The next 3rd down stop comes a play after Maurice Hurst logged the Raiders only official sack of the game. Hurst gets more pressure again on this play, running a twist on a contain rush. His hurry of Mahomes forces the QB to throw the ball slightly outside of the frame of his receiver. Credit Harris as well — again playing the dime linebacker position — for making sure the receiver doesn’t finish the catch. After the incomplete pass, the defense forces another punt.
Take out Trayvon Mullen’s penalties and he had an outstanding game. This play was his best and an example of upper-tier CB play in the NFL. Mullen is in straight man coverage on Tyreek Hill. No gimmicks, no disguises, he simply has to compete and win this rep. Mullen displays some kind of clairvoyance, timing his break before Hill even gets his foot in the ground. When a defensive back makes this kind of play, it is a combination of thorough film study, situational awareness, and educated guesswork. Mullen made a similar play like this in the Bengals game. It’s only a matter of time before he takes a pass like this back to the house.
Lawson has some technique flaws on film. That could very well stem from his attempts to make educated guesses. However, the play above shows how important it is to play within the defense. The Raiders line up in a two-high safety look and are disguising the coverage. At the snap, Harris drops into the hole, meaning they are actually playing Cover 1. In Cover 1, Lawson needs to stay in outside leverage because he has help in the middle of the field and none towards the sideline.
Lawson opens his hips and cheats inside as he’s forced to make a speed turn, turning his back to the outside breaking route from Hill. Great teams don’t make small technique gaffes like this. In this case, it helped the Chiefs extend their drive and score their first TD of the game.
The play above is just a great play call by Andy Reid and the Chiefs offense on 3rd and 2. Hill is lined up staggered off the slot receiver, a tactic that is used by offenses in order to get their receiver a free release and protect them from being pressed. In this case, Hill runs a switch release and Worley in man coverage loses his him in the shuffle. Combine that with Worley’s terrible break and it turned into a few bonus yards after the catch.
The Raiders biggest problem on 3rd down wasn’t technique issues or great scheme by Kansas City. Penalties were by far the biggest contributor to the defense’s inability to get off the field. The defense committed seven penalties of their eight penalties on 3rd down. On all five of the Chiefs’ scoring drives, the Raiders committed a 3rd down penalty that allowed them to stay on the field. Whether you agree with some of these calls or not (the one above is a trash call) the Raiders need to clean this up. If you take out the penalties, they had a great game against a great offense.
This game showed the Raiders secondary is continuing to gel and play together at a better clip. Mullen and Worley in particular are doing a great job of competing on the outside. Even if they give up a catch, they make sure the gain is minimal.
Worley was moved around as a matchup defender who followed Kelce around in Dime personnel. This tactic likely won’t be used much more this season. The only other time this happened was against the Chiefs in Week 2.
Add together dropped passes by the Chiefs receivers and poor weather conditions (wind), and it is possible some of the positives we saw from the defense are artificial. That being said, it is a confidence boost for the secondary who has been fighting through changes all year.