Towards the end of last season, the Las Vegas Raiders offense was missing two things, an offensive mastermind and another threat at wide receiver. The combination of Greg Olson and Zay Jones wasn’t enough to replace what John Gruden and Henry Ruggs left behind, so the Raiders brought in two of the best in the business, Josh McDaniels and Davante Adams.
McDaniels is known for crafting several top-tier offenses with the New England Patriots while Adams is coming off back-to-back first-team All-Pro campaigns, forming a combination that should light up scoreboards this fall.
But, what is it about the coach’s system that gives defenses trouble? The wideout shined some light on that question during Sunday’s post-practice press conference.
“Well, just the fact that everybody’s a threat out there,” Adams responded to a question about what’s enticing about the new offense. “Obviously, pretty much every pass you have a number one read or whatever, but you can get the ball from anywhere. You can be a guy that’s setting up another guy, but the coverage can dictate that you get the ball. So, it kind of keeps guys' minds and keeps you alive within every route.
“I’ve been a part of [offenses], whether it was college or early in my [NFL] career...where you know you got to dummy route as they say. But there are really no dummy routes in this offense and the whole coaching staff, they got a brilliant football mind. It keeps every guy alive in the offense, but you know you can get [the ball] and there are so many different things that kind of marry up and keep the defense honest and makes it pretty tough for the defense to know what’s coming.”
Adams’ quote shines some light on a few elements of the Erhardt-Perkins offense, the scheme Bill Belichick and Charlie Weiss passed down to McDaniels, most notably the dummy routes.
What Adams means by a ‘dummy route’ is when the receiver’s primary job in a passing concept is to hold the defense/safety accountable by running a deep route that’s typically just a streak or maybe a post. Basically, they’re supposed to run down the field as fast as they can and they might not even need to look for the ball. You might have heard this called a ‘run-off’ route as well.
This is common in a lot of west coast offenses, similar to what Matt LaFleur runs in Green Bay, as that scheme likes to isolate its best receiver and tag a backside route to hold one-high teams accountable.
What makes Erhard-Perkins different is instead of tagging or calling out specific routes to one or individual receivers, the offense coordinator/quarterback will call concepts to each side of the field. With concepts, depending on whether the play is designed to be a half side or full field read, the receivers on each side of the field or all of them together are working in unison to give the quarterback options to throw to based on the coverage.
It’s the quarterback’s job to figure out what coverage the defense is playing in and find the receiver who’s running the route designed to defeat that coverage. This is done by first checking to see where the safeties rotate to post-snap, then working to the side called to attack single- or two-high coverage, and finally checking the linebackers/underneath defenders to find the window to throw the ball in.
If it’s a full-field concept, the quarterback might favor or start to look at one side in anticipation of step three, but step two is less important and often skipped to avoid tipping where they want to throw. Usually, those play calls are designed to attack the middle of the field anyway.
The receivers should also know where the quarterback will throw based on the coverage, but it’s a lot more difficult to recognize what the defense is playing while also running a route, so they have to take every rep like they’re expecting the ball. That’s part of what Adams means by saying every guy is kept alive.
Another underlying principle of Erhard Perkins that can keep wideouts alive is everyone is expected to know how to run both the inside and outside routes of every concept. This is also an advantage of using concepts instead of long-winded play calls with tagged routes.
For example, the pall caller can just tell one set of receivers ‘smash’ and they know that means a short curl by the outside receiver and a corner from the slot, and ‘flood’ to the other side where the flat, out and streak are run. That’s much simpler than calling out five routes and often easier to learn by using a more simplistic version of the word association.
Once the players understand the concept, they just need to know where to lineup, and with everyone knowing every route, McDaniels can move around guys like Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. That will force defenses to play the same route concepts differently based on matchups — i.e. taking a team out of cover three by moving Adams inside, knowing that they’ll want to keep their top corner on him and play man.
So, the Raiders receivers will have to be on their toes a bit and know that just because they haven’t gotten targeted on a specific route concept early in the game doesn’t mean a ball won’t come their way later.
Of course, learning a new offense is no easy task, especially if it’s different than what Adams and the crew are used to. However, the superstar wideout did sound like he’s been able to pick up the new playbook thus far.
“I mean, we got a long way to go, man. I’m feeling really comfortable as of now. About as comfortable as you can be at this point, but we still got a lot to learn, a lot to work on and just trying to build and build off what we kind of did in the spring.”
Less than a week into training camp, it’s encouraging to hear that the team’s top target is picking up the offense, now it’s just a matter of making sure everyone else settles in so the offense can function together like a well-oiled machine.