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Tape Don’t Lie: How Raiders defense slowed Ravens, Lamar Jackson

A look at the Raiders’ week 1 defensive game plan

Baltimore Ravens v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

One word: Simplicity

That was the Las Vegas Raiders’ philosophy on defense going into the Monday Night Football contest against the Ravens. How to stop Lamar Jackson boiled down to 1 thing: assignment football and playing fast.

Many defensive coordinators try to dig deep into their bag to figure out how to stop the Ravens dual threat rushing attack. The brand of option football Lamar Jackson is capable of executing can be a nightmare to defend. So many shifts and motions, so many different run looks and counters.

Gus Bradley, on the other hand, chose a select few pieces to game plan, and trusted his defense would hustle for four quarters. It paid off.

Stopping the QB Run Game

There are 2 elements of a quarterback run game: designed runs and scramble runs. The designed runs in the Baltimore offense are designed around the QB-RB exchange. It goes back to the triple option days of early football, single wing, wishbone style of offenses. But in today’s football, supercharged with hundreds of different permutations of backfield action, formations, and change of strength motions.

Bradley and his defense picked one tactic and it paid off with dividends. Charging the mesh-point involves the unblocked defender hurrying the QB-RB exchange and forcing the quarterback to make a snap decision. The unblocked defender is usually the “read” player in an option attack. He goes one way, and the quarterback can make him wrong no matter what.

The Raiders eliminated the guesswork and instructed their edge players to sprint directly at Jackson when they were unblocked. This put stress on the electric runner all game.

Each defensive end had success executing this technique. But none more so than Maxx Crosby. He harassed Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson all night, and made the former NFL MVP uncomfortable in the run game as well as the passing game. Maxx truly deserved AFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

Cover 3

We all knew new Raiders’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley would run a healthy amount of cover 3 in this game. A staggering 61 of 67 total snaps on defense were Cover 3 with minimal variation. The same players lined up on the same side down in and down out. Bradley felt there was no need to complicate his game plan with a robust coverage package: especially if that could result in a break in run fit communication.

Bradley killed the Ravens with simplicity. Eyes on the quarterback and sprint to the ball. The Raiders defense did just that.

The play above is a check-down and great example of how the defense played as a unit. There are number to back this up as well. Against designed runs, the Raiders allowed 111 yards on 26 attempts (4.2 yards per carry). Even more impressive however was that the Raiders made a stop (based on amount of yards to gain on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th downs) on 18 of those 26 attempts (69%).

Forcing Baltimore into a success rate of less than a 3rd of their runs is exactly how you beat this team. Bradley and the defense didn’t need incredible play calls, and exotic schemes to get it done.