Play action passing is and always will be a part of football. The play was made famous by the legendary Knute Rockne, and he observed that pass plays were more successful when the quarterback could hide the outcome.
Flash forward to 2021, PA passing has taken over the league and the primary pass play for certain offenses. The Buffalo Bills don't even run the ball, and Josh Allen's play-action percentage is third in the NFL via sports radar.
The Raiders over the past four seasons under Jon Gruden have not followed suit. From 2018-2020 they had an average ranking of 21st on pro football focus.
Even when the Raiders did decide to call play-action, Derek Carr did not farewell. According to sports radar, Carr ranks 18th in passer rating from 2019-2020 and 34th in YPA.
The beginning of the season saw the trend continue as Derek Carr ranked last in play-action percentage via sports radar, ranking 23rd in passer rating.
When the Raiders made the switch to Olson, the play-action game changed drastically. Olson coached quarterbacks for Sean McVay when he was with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. That offense was predicated on play-action passes using teams' fears of Todd Gurley to their peril.
The Rams' schematic designs have carried over to his play-calling in las Vegas. According to sports radar since Week 6, Carr has been one of the best in every passing category.
3 pass tds-8th
11 Big plays 20+ yards- 1st
However, they rank 20th in play-action percentage.
In the Cowboys game, we saw the play fakes unleashed, with the Raiders second in percentage Week 12. Derek Carr had 179 yards passing, leading the NFL with four big plays, which were first as well.
Even during their slump, the Raiders were one of the best play-action teams in the league. Via sports radar, the Raiders were second in success rate with 83%.
What is the difference with the offense in play-action?
Carr's play fake.
The play fake for the quarterback is integral for the execution of the call. The fake should appear the same as a handoff with the ball fully extended. Peyton Manning was the goat of the play fake, and it helped him throw 49 touchdowns in 2004 on less than 500 pass attempts.
He had a conversation with Carr about his play fake back in 2018 when he visited the Raiders during training camp.
When 'The Sheriff' comes to town @Raiders welcomes Peyton Manning to Training Camp and gives some tips to @derekcarrqb— NFL UK (@NFLUK) August 6, 2018
featuring @MoneyLynch pic.twitter.com/ay12F96MOE
After the conversation, Carr didn't change much, and it continued into 2021. The example below is vs. the LA Chargers Week four on a PA bang route. Watch how Carr barely sticks the ball out, and 44 Kyzir White takes a small step forward, and he can almost get back into the passing lane on the throw.
Now check out the play fake vs. the Cincinnati Bengals on the deep hitch and crosser. Carr full extension holds 55 Logan Wilson just long enough where he panics into his zone responsibility. He leaves Waller wide open for a 25 yard gain.
It's the same thing on this touchdown against the Eagles; as you can see, The full-extension makes the linebackers crash, and Carr gets six in the red zone.
The former second-round pick growth in selling the play fake is the most significant aspect of their rise in play-action.
Same alignment different play
The Raiders' play-action play depth isn't that spectacular. It is four verts, or a mixture of post and deep crossers, which in most circles is called Yankee. Olson gives teams different looks of the same play, which is paramount for a run late in the season.
The Raiders are lined up vs. the Chiefs and will be running the Yankee concept. Jackson will be on the post with Jones on the deep crosser with the Chiefs in man to man. Jones can beat his man from his condensed split for a vast gain of 22 yards with a great throw from the quarterback.
Flash forward to Thanksgiving, and the offense is in the exact alignment with Jones in the condensed split and Jackson outside the numbers. Post snap, the corner, and safety are expecting a post from Jackson based on the formation. However, it is Jackson on the deep cross and Jones on a post corner. It catches the Cowboys entirely off guard for a gain of 30 yards.
Olson will switch players with the same look, which keeps defenses on their heels. Here is a Yankee concept vs. the Chiefs with Bryan Edwards isolated on a 3x1 with a bunch to the playside. Edwards running the dig gets the reception for a big play of 24.
Then vs. the Bengals, we get the same formation, but it is out of 12 personnel this time. Waller is the isolated receiver a bunch to the play side. Same concept but a 21 yard gain because of the switching of players' route assignments.
Point blank, the Raiders need to use play action at a 25-30% rate for the rest of the season. It is what they do best offensively and helps them create massive plays on first and second down. Fans saw what it could do against the Cowboys. It is now time to rev up the engines for a playoff run.