Red zone, red zone!
A regurgitated topic since the season ended but for a good reason. The Las Vegas Raiders have had a pitiful red zone offense since Jon Gruden's return to the sideline. It kept them from being considered a top 5 offense the last two seasons.
Gruden's issues in the red zone stem back to his days in Tampa Bay. In his last two seasons there, he finished 26th(2007) and 30th(2008). The blame usually goes to the QB(who has struggled), but it doesn't seem to be the case when diving into the last seven seasons.
Raiders in the red zone last seven seasons.
The rankings paint the picture of how Gruden has influenced the red zone slide. It seems he loses his creativity and gets stubborn with the run game.
How can they fix this? Raiders have to make it a priority and look for fresh ideas.
Play Action on first down.
The Raiders were a run-first team in the red zone last season. Josh Jacobs led the league in carries with 64, but it didn’t achieve the results that the team imagined. One of the reasons for this was the predictability of the offense.
The offense ran the ball on 75% of their first down opportunities in the red zone, according to sharpfootballstats.com. The run-first philosophy led to the team having a 41% success rate which ranked 28th in the NFL. Teams knew the Raiders were going to run the ball inside the 20.
The best answer to this is play-action passes on first down to keep the defense honest. According to SIS, they called play-action pass on 37% of all first down passing plays in the red area. The best team in the red zone in 2020 was the Green Bay Packers, who used the play-action pass on 57% of their first-down pass attempts.
With everything tighter when you are close to the end zone, play-action can help open up the field. When the best teams in the league are following this trend, it’s time for the Raiders to follow suit.
Isolate Renfrow 1 on 1
When you think of red-zone targets, it’s usually the tall receiver catching a fade. Plenty of studies have shown the fade is a volatile play that isn’t efficient. Mina Kimes wrote about this for ESPN.
“Just 13.5% of those 37 fades were caught for touchdowns in 2019, compared with 57% of flat routes, 42% of slants and 42.5% of out routes. Although last season was historically awful, the play has always been a dubious option. Over the previous two seasons, quarterbacks connected on 30% of fades thrown close to the goal line compared with 48% of all other routes.”
That is where Hunter Renfrow comes into play.
After Darren Waller, Renfrow is the next best player against press coverage. Renfrow has a textbook release that allows him to shake receivers at the line of scrimmage and create separation. Against the Broncos Week 17 during his rookie season, he was isolated on a 3x1 and fared well. Winning at the line of scrimmage is paramount for the red zone.
The former Clemson Tiger is a YAC monster in open space as well. He could be utilized on quick screens and force defenders to miss in the open field. It could lead to more touchdowns for the offense.
Waller led the team in red-zone targets in 2020 and duplicating this plan is the right call. With that said, Nelson Agholar’s targets are up for grabs, and Renfrow could be the receiver who steps up if he can win one on one.
If the Raiders love to run the ball in the red zone, it’s time to get creative. Just lining up in 22 personnel and punching someone in the mouth hasn’t been working out. However, if that’s the idea, maybe it’s time to add an extra lineman.
The Raiders did not run a play with an unbalanced line last season. When compared to the best red zones offenses in the NFL, they lack in this department. The Saints, for example, ran 39 plays with an unbalanced line according to SIS. Alvin Kamara finished with 15 touchdowns inside the 20.
Here is where the offense's creativity begins. When you have six linemen on the field, one becomes eligible to close the goal line. Teams rarely expect offensive linemen to go out and catch passes. Play action to a wide-open lineman has worked plenty of times in this league.
Raiders fans remember Donald Penn catching touchdowns. Could it be Kolton Miller?
After seeing how much other NFL teams use unbalanced lines inside the red zone, it is time for a change. The Raiders need all the new ideas they can get to make the most of their red-zone opportunities.