Before the beginning of the season, the Las Vegas Raiders were in the market for linebackers. The front office made multiple moves to churn the depth on the roster. KJ Wright was signed before Week 1, waiving Tanner Muse in the process. Players like Divine Deablo and Javin White (who is reportedly going to be released) were added to the group behind incumbent starters Cory Littleton and Nicholas Morrow.
However, during the Raiders training camp scrimmages against the Rams, Morrow, who was voted a Team Captain, went down with an undisclosed injury. The Raiders, desperate to plug the hole created at Middle Linebacker, made a trade to acquire Denzel Perryman from the Carolina Panthers, who was stuck on the depth chart behind Shaq Thompson and Jermaine Carter.
Due to Perryman's history with Gus Bradley (both spent several years with the Chargers), the linebacker hit the ground running and instantly boosted the Raiders defense. Wearing the green dot and delivering big hits between the tackles helped this team create an identity on defense.
Stopping the Run
Perryman, in many ways, has been a revelation for this defense. His attitude and hard-hitting style are that of a throwback NFL linebacker before spread offenses took over the game. In terms of playing against the run, Perryman is performing as well as any linebacker in football.
Watching Perryman fit blocking schemes not only with great physicality but also great timing and anticipation is a film junkie's dream. Coming into the NFL at 5'11, 236lbs, Perryman's shorter in stature height for a linebacker—that may benefit him at times however. He is always naturally the lowest at the point of contact, helping him stand guards and tackles up with his hands or shoulders.
Perryman doesn't simply give himself up when he's attached to a blocker, either. He routinely keeps an arm and leg free, ricochets off the block, and makes a tackle in the hole. Perryman's acumen for football is very apparent when watching him play. There are many moments when Perryman beats the entire offense to the spot where they attempt to open a hole. Perryman uses his intelligence to diagnose but doesn't waste any time coming downhill when he decides to trigger.
By my charting, Perryman has accounted for a team-high 43 stops. A stop is when the offense fails to gain 40 percent or more yards on 1st down, 60 percent or more on 2nd down, and 100 percent or more of required yards on 3rd and 4th down.
Perryman's stop rate (how often he makes the play described above divided by snap counts) at 10.63 percent also leads the Raiders defense. Simply put, Perryman is dominant as a run defender. Especially when you consider out of those 43 stops, only three have come against the pass.
Defending the Pass
So, where is the dilemma? Perryman's presence as a run defender and heartbeat of the Raiders defense is worth whatever struggles he has in coverage, right? Take a deep breath, Raider Nation.
Seeing a lot of change of strength motion, forcing the Raiders defense to switch Wk Hook responsibilities. Teams are actively trying to target Perryman in coverage. pic.twitter.com/nXoVXI5b6H— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) November 1, 2021
In the above clip, the Eagles come out in a 3x1 formation. Perryman and Hobbs align to the three WR side (passing strength) like usual. A WR from the bunch motions to the short side of the field putting three passing threats on that side (counting the RB). Abram and LBs bounce over a gap, and Abram points his hand in the air, declaring his side to be the passing strength now.
The motion and resulting communication flip each linebacker's responsibilities. A communication that perhaps didn't get across or left a player or two confused. Add in the play-action, and the linebackers become prime for the picking. Perryman needs to carry that crosser by a man turning and positioning his body underneath. Assuming he could have even run with that receiver.
Okay, so miscommunication isn't the worst thing in the world. Unfortunately for Raiders fans, this isn't a one-off event. This has become commonplace in each of the Raiders games so far this season. Teams are coming up with creative ways to isolate Perryman, and it is turning into a throw and catch for the offense. In the Chargers game, the touchdown he gave up to a 6'8 Tight-End, Donald Parham, was one such example, but most TE's have been giving Perryman issues this year.
Perryman is the strong hook/curl defender in the Raiders standard cover 3 scheme in the clip above. He jumps outside the tight-end, likely expecting a "stick" route or something breaking outside from that player. Defending the inside upfield shoulder is always the more fundamentally sound approach. Make the offense take the widest throw every time.
Perryman also whiffs when attempting to re-route the TE—jumping outside + missing punch (then falling down) = routes on air for the offense. For every tackle Perryman makes in the run game, he also gives up a catch in coverage. Perryman, through 7 weeks, has allowed a team-high 274 yards through the air, over 100 yards more than the next highest player, fellow linebacker Cory Littleton (160 yards). However, Littleton's 5.5 yards per target is the best of any non-DB. Perryman, on the other hand, is allowing 9.1 yards per target.
I hate to pile on here because of Perryman's immense contributions so far to the defense. He plays hard, and he puts his body on the line; he's a vocal leader. He ticks many boxes when it comes to what you look for in a linebacker. So far this season, pass coverage just hasn't been one of those boxes.
The Raiders have an interesting problem to solve on their hands. Perryman is playing like a top ten linebacker against the run and yet a bottom ten linebacker against the pass. Look out for the Raiders to substitute Perryman off the field in 3rd and long situations moving forward and ramping up for Morrow to assume a more prominent role upon returning from injury.
It’s worth noting however that Perryman has earned a serious role in this defense, one that can’t simply be taken away from him. There aren’t many linebackers who can do what he does (against the run), especially in Gus Bradley’s system.