There’s no doubt that last Sunday was a terrible showing for the Las Vegas Raiders as a whole with the Buffalo Bills beating them by four touchdowns. However, safety Marcus Epps was one of a few bright spots for the Raiders.
In my opinion, Epps had the best game of any player for Las Vegas, including superstars Davante Adams and Maxx Crosby. According to Pro Football Focus, the safety had six total tackles, two of which went down as defensive stops and only allowed 13 yards when targeted in coverage. He earned a 70.0 grade from PFF and was flying around all over the field, making several big hits that would have made some old-school Raiders proud.
So, let’s dive into the tape and go over a few of the defensive back’s highlights from last Sunday.
The Bills have a pretty good play design here as they put a wide receiver in the backfield and run a screen to the three-receiver side of the formation. With the Raiders in man coverage, that means linebacker Robert Spillane has to navigate through some trash with the wideouts blocking as he goes to pick up his man out of the backfield. Also, that’s a mismatch seeing as Buffalo gets the matchup they wanted; a receiver against a linebacker in the open field.
However, Epps—playing as a deep half safety in the Cover 5 call—reads the play almost immediately and comes crashing downhill. His speed and instincts, along with some help from Marcus Peters to set the edge, allow him to get a tackle for loss when he lines up 12 to 13 yards past the line of scrimmage to start the play. That’s not very common, and the receiver would have had a lane to work inside of Peters had Epps not been there.
The clip above is from the same drive and a couple of plays after the one we just watched.
Again, Buffalo has a pretty good play call as they catch Las Vegas in man coverage. With the bunch formation at the bottom of the screen, Nate Hobbs can’t play press and get hands on the Bills’ No. 1 receiver, Stefon Diggs, and they run a crossing route where Diggs has perfect spacing to force Hobbs to run into or work around the mesh point.
The wideout is wide open and should have an easy first down after the catch, but Epps—as the single-high safety—reads the route concept perfectly and crashes downhill to make a great tackle short of the sticks for the third down stop. This is another great example of the instincts and awareness he showed last Sunday.
Here, it’s second and about eight as the Raiders show a two-high coverage but roll into Cover 3 or a fire zone post-snap. Epps is going to spin down and with the Bills having their receivers at the top of the screen switch release, he ends up guarding Diggs.
At about the 32-yard line, Epps is going to pull up for a second to make sure Diggs isn’t running a deep route and blow right by him. Then, once he recognizes and is sure it’s a short route, he triggers downhill.
What I really like about this play is he breaks down about two yards away from contact to avoid getting juked out of his shoes and giving up more yards after the catch. Instead, Epps makes a good open-field tackle that gives up maybe two yards after the catch and puts the offense in third and four.
A lot of safeties in this situation will run down with their hair on fire and end up whiffing, leading to an explosive play. So, it’s good to see Epps avoid getting beat deep and stay under control to keep everything in front of him and give the defense a chance to get off the field.
This next rep is a classic one that won’t show up on the stat sheet or highlight reel but is a good one that deserves mentioning.
Las Vegas is running Cover 1 and sends both inside linebackers on a blitz. Against this three-by-one set from Buffalo, Epps is on an island in man coverage with a pretty good pass-catching tight end in Dawson Knox. Josh Allen was clearly looking to take advantage of that one-on-one matchup (see the second yellow square in the clip), but Epps parked himself at the sticks and did a solid job of holding up against a physical route from Knox.
That gives the Raiders enough time to get to Allen with the blitz and force him to leave the pocket. While Gabe Davis beats Peters on the dig route at the bottom of the screen, Allen has to throw on the run and delivers an inaccurate pass that falls incomplete. If Epps doesn't take the quarterback’s first read away, the pass rush doesn’t get there and this could have been a big play for the Bills.
Tre’von Moehrig makes the play in our last clip, but this hit from Epps was too good not to include.
The Raiders are in man coverage near the goal line again with Epps serving as the single-high safety. The Bills run a seam route with rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid and, again, Moehrig makes a nice play on the ball while Epps sends a message and says; “Hey rookie, welcome to the NFL!”
What’s even better about this play is it’s a clean hit. He leads with the shoulder and targets the chest of the receiver to avoid drawing the flag. That’s picture-perfect and gives Kincaid something to think about for the rest of the game when he runs a route over the middle. I can’t help but think that Jack Tatum was looking down and watching that play with a big smile on his face.