The win over the Broncos on Monday showed some positive signs of life for this Oakland team looking to erase the bad taste leftover from last season. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has many new faces on his side of the ball totaling 8 new players who saw time on defense from last year.
It didn’t take long for new comers like defensive ends Josh Mauro or Benson Mayowa to make an impact helping the defense stop the run and force Joe Flacco and the Broncos to play from behind.
The pass coverage showed some positive signs and yet some troubling issues that need to get cleaned up headed into this Sunday’s contest against the Chiefs. I charted all of the defensive snaps in preparation for this article and will use those numbers for the analysis below.
Cover 2 is Guenther’s base call on first downs. It is a sound run defensive scheme because all 7 men in coverage have their eyes in the backfield and can pull the trigger when they see run. The majority of run stops (3 or less yards) came while in this coverage. While Cover 2 is strong against the run, it has plenty of weaknesses against the pass.
Flacco went 7 for 11 in passes against Cover 2 for a total of 59 yards.
One of the reasons Guenther loves this coverage so much is because his big corners can re-route wide receivers in case it is a pass. Having rangy safeties who can break on a ball also helps.
Watch in the above clip how Jonathan Abram closes the open space in the coverage between himself and the corner in the flat. This is an example of a “hole shot” and is one of the ways teams try to take advantage of Cover 2. This team will miss Abram’s presence as he goes to IR because of his athleticism and physical presence he brings on defense.
As mentioned above there are holes in a cover 2 and every quarterback worth their salt knows how to pick them apart. Another weakness in this coverage is between the two deep safeties and right behind the linebackers in the middle of the field. The Raiders gave up two completions against the Broncos on similar concepts for over 20 yards. If Flacco can do it, you bet Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are getting ready to take advantage when they see this coverage.
Cover 1 is a straight forward man coverage with two players free in the middle of the field. It is the Raiders most versatile coverage being used equally on first, second, and third downs. Cover 1 is usually not a great option against the run because defenders need to keep their eyes on their man and only a few players will be able to react to the run.
Against the pass Cover 1 is only as good as the players who are in man coverage. One weakness and it turns into a good QB picking on that player in coverage. In 10 pass plays against their Cover 1 defense, the Raiders only gave up 24 total yards and had two of their sacks while in this coverage. Besides a big play in 4-3 personnel when Marquel Lee was in man coverage on a receiver (that shouldn’t happen again) the Raiders clamped down on receivers and limited their gains.
As mentioned above two coverage sacks came while the Raiders were in Cover 1. This was one of Benson Mayowa’s two sacks on the day. Credit Joe Flacco for reading the entire field but each of his reads are covered forcing him to buy time that ultimately proves fruitless.
Another such example came on Clelin Ferrell’s sack when the Raiders again went to Cover 1. This time Flacco has even more time but still the Raiders defenders have their men completely strapped up and Flacco can’t bring himself to let one fly. This Sunday don’t count on Mahomes to play as conservatively and he will try to fit more than a few passes into tight coverage.
Paul Guenther is well known for his blitz schemes even though he doesn’t call very many blitzes. He chooses to pick his shots take advantage of what he thinks is a favorable match-up for his rushers. This is the area the Raiders need to work the most on and even though Guenther used several different coverages behind blitzes (Single high man, 2 high man, Cover 4 zone, Trap coverage) the Broncos were able to have their best success passing against the blitz.
Flacco finished 8 for 9 passing against the blitz for 115 yards. The Broncos averaged over 12 yards a pass attempt when the Raiders sent players other than traditional rushers. There is a risk associated with the blitz because any extra defender rushing the passer means one less man in coverage. The Raiders issues covering behind the blitz will be a big problem if not fixed before this weekend.
This is the only incompletion Flacco threw against the blitz. This is an example of “Trap coverage” where the cornerback Daryl Worley at the top of the screen is ready to jump any outside breaking route of the slot receiver. Vontaze Burfict bails out at the last second and is ready to take any inside breaking route from the slot receiver. Flacco correctly identifies that he needs to get the ball out quick and wisely throws it away.
The majority of the blitz reps had a single high safety and a variation of man coverage like the play above. This particular rep sees slot corner Lamarcus Joyner going up against Rookie TE Noah Fant. The difference of 8 inches in height between the two players makes this an easy decision for Flacco.
It should be noted that after this play Joyner throws his hands up in frustration and appears to be gesturing towards Daryl Worley so there may have been a miscommunication in the back end but without knowing the exact call its hard to figure out anything besides Joyner just getting beat.
The Raiders had 9 positive plays while in Cover 2 but 6 plays of 8 or more yards including a big run up the sideline. This coverage gave up twice as many big plays as the next coverage. Cover 2 requires lots of time getting everyone on the same page and likely will remain the Raiders go-to first down call for better or worse.
Cover 1 was easily the most consistent call for the Raiders defense, netting 11 positive plays for the defense (3 or less yards or 3rd down stops). Having a defense that can effectively cover man-to-man is a huge benefit for Guenther who can lean on this coverage when others are failing.
Jonathan Abram going to Injured Reserve will be a huge blow for this defense. Despite drawing two penalties (questionable at best) he showed the ability to handle all these coverage responsibilities and finish receivers off with huge hits all night.