A Las Vegas Raiders’ defense with many new faces and, most importantly, a new scheme and defensive coaching staff, looked to be a reinvigorated unit ahead of 2021 in the preseason opener Saturday nigth in a 20-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
The preseason is a glorified scrimmage, where roster hopefuls try to get their name on the map, and coaching staffs attempt to iron out any issues prior to the start of the regular season.
New Raiders’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley certainly hit the ground running and made a major impact. After calling only around 4.5 blitzes a game over the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers, he nearly tripled that number dialing up pressure after pressure to hound the Seahawks second and third team offenses.
The question however becomes; why the philosophical shift?
Bradley will almost exclusively blitz out of single high coverage on the back end. He has several blitz coverages however, each with their own rules and packaged to defend formations. The nuance between each separate blitz coverage is enough to make heads spin. While the blitz paths will change each weak to attack protections, Bradley’s approach on the back-end will be installed in camp and rarely deviated from during the season.
Here are a few of the different blitz coverages we’ll see from the Raiders this season.
Single High Man Blitz
Better angle of the Hobbs sack, 5 Man pressure from the passing strength. Strong Smash 1 in Bradley lexicon. See the defenders lock on man and Nassib peel on the back to the boundary. pic.twitter.com/M4Ml9xBFMU— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) August 15, 2021
The most notable blitz on Saturday night came from a single, high-man blitz and resulted in the Nate Hobbs sacks. Bradley also ran this exact same call out of Base Personnel, sending Tanner Muse who deflected a pass later in the game. The blitz path is called “strong smash” in Bradley’s playbook and is widely referred to as “America’s blitz” because of its universal utilization across all levels of football. High school teams, college defenses, and even NFL units use this blitz and it’s probably the most common blitz paths in all of football.
So while this path isn’t special per se, the coverage on the back-end for Bradley is a man/man-match coverage which is a slight wrinkle. Most defenses will zone blitz on top of this blitz path, but Bradley’s rules differ slightly, having defenders lock onto receivers and only pass off vs certain route concepts across the middle.
Bradley will call fire-zone blitzes as well. This is the commonly referred to “Zone Blitz” in football. 3 deep defenders over 3 underneath defenders and a 5 man blitz. Hobbs is again activated off the edge.
Over: Even front with 3 Technique to TE side (closed side)
Snake: Nickel activated off the edge
Sky Zone: 3 over 3 zone blitz
The result of this play is an indicator of why the team needs to rep these concepts. The play-action combined with a dig route from the backside was the perfect call vs this coverage. The underneath defenders must honor the run and are suppose to jump any hot routes or sight adjustments over the middle. The corners aren’t designed to have any help with vertical routes stems. Keisean Nixon is targeted on this play. It’s impossible to truly evaluate his technique since the break comes when he is off the screen, but now the entire cornerback group has tape of this concept against this coverage and hopefully can learn from this going forward.
Double A Peel
Yes the Double A Gap blitz is in Bradley’s playbook as well. Raiders fans probably let out a collective groan when they saw the result of this play.
Dallas: Double A Gap alignment
Apache: Both linebackers activated, blitz into A gaps
1-Sponge: Peel blitz with single high-man coverage
The defensive ends need to drop depending on the alignment and release of the back. If the back is away from their side, the defensive end will drop back into the passing lane on his side in order to force the quarterback to hold the ball a little longer and allow the pressure to get home.
The defensive end with the back on his side needs to execute what is called a “sponge” technique and collision the back if he releases. We see Gerri Green who is tasked with his assignment seem have a mental error and the back releases all by himself—leading to the lone TD allowed by the Seahawks offense.
While it remains to be seen just how much the Raiders will continue a blitz heavy approach this regular season, the defense clearly has some issues that need to be fixed. The reason for calling all these different blitzes is to get the game tape archived so that the entire defense can learn from some of these mistakes.
Bradley’s defense performed admirably despite some of these lowlights, and the entire unit was fast and aggressive. If they can continue to improve and understand all of their responsibilities, Bradley will be able to call a more attacking style of defense than what is expected in 2021.