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Problem area for new Raiders Defense: Scrambling QBs

Big test in Week 1

Divisional Round - Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills
Lamar Jackson
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

We continue our deep dive into statistics for the new Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. His scheme has been covered at length from various outlets, but what are some potential weaknesses?

The first issue that was uncovered through extensive study and charting was the frequency at which a quarterback seemed to scramble for a first down against the Chargers in 2020.

Of course one person can only watch so many NFL teams so this article will reference Sports Info Solutions data in order to illustrate the Chargers’ numbers during Bradley’s tenure.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Rushing QBs

Each team in the AFC West that the Raiders will play this year features a quarterback who can be dangerous scrambling for extra yards when the play breaks down.

  • Patrick Mahomes scrambled for twenty 1st downs in 2020 (6th in the league)
  • DEN QB Teddy Bridgewater; eighteen 1st downs (7th)
  • Justin Herbert; twelve 1st downs (11th)

Add in the weak 1 matchup against the most dangerous rushing QB of all (Lamar Jackson; 23 scramble 1st downs) stopping the quarterbacks from scrambling for the yard markers on 3rd and long will be an area that the Raiders simply must perform well at if they want to improve in 2021.

Unfortunately, the raw data collected from Sports Info Solutions doesn’t paint an encouraging picture.

Bradley’s defense gave up 30 first downs from quarterbacks rushing the ball in 2020, 3rd worst in the NFL. In fact over the last four years only 7 teams have given up 30 first downs to quarterback rushing the ball. The Chargers also gave up a league worst 8 rushing touchdowns on quarterback runs (tied for worst mark in the NFL over the last 4 seasons).

The Chargers in 2020 under Bradley surrendered a TD to a rushing quarterback on 12.3% of runs, and a first down almost 1 out of every 2 attempts. To put those marks in perspective, even the Raiders abysmal defense performed better in those categories in 2020 under Paul Guenther.

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The source of the problem

There were two main issues at play working against Bradley, One was the pass rush. On 3rd and 6 or longer, the Chargers when rushing three or four defensive linemen only managed to sack the quarterback twice in 2020 (despite the presence of star defensive end Joey Bosa). Even the Raiders had better numbers in this area with four sacks in that situation.

Gus Bradley is notorious for eschewing the run in order to get after the quarterback with his front four. Much of the time this will lead to wide open lanes for runners to exploit. Quarterbacks with great vision are no different here and when they see an open lane, those signal callers with the athleticism to pull it off, will tuck and run instead of standing in the pocket.

The other issue is the the coverage. In situations of 3rd and 6 or longer Gus Bradley will call more 2 high coverages (Cover 4 or Cover 5). Bradley’s defense was actually tied for 10th fewest yards per attempt in this situation with 7.1 (3rd and 6 or longer).

The Chargers saw the 12 most passing attempts in the NFL when in these coverage shells so in terms of defending the pass, they did just fine. However, when the defense in in 2 high, it means there will be four defenders deep (or more) and usually just one linebacker left over to cover the short middle of the field.

This tough situation leaves underneath defenders on an island when having to convert their coverage into an open field tackle situation. The Chargers defenders in 2020 combined for 9 missed tackles on QB runs which was 3rd most in the NFL. Oddly enough, the Raiders were actually 7th best in this area, only missing 3 tackles against quarterback runs.

Conclusion

Using a quarterback spy would be the logical conclusion here. The Chargers only rushed three defenders on 3rd and longs 11 times in 3 of the 4 seasons as Bradley calling the shots. Rushing three and spying mobile quarterbacks with the 4th defensive lineman would limit those quarterbacks who have the penchant for scrambling for a first down.

The Raiders might not have a bunch of star power on defense, but hustle is one thing that can’t be discounted in guys like Maxx Crosby, Cory Littleton, Nicholas Morrow and Johnathan Abram. Showing blitz, rushing three, and spying the quarterback should be in the playbook more often going forward for Bradley. If not, we could see more of the same.