The Oakland Raiders enter Sunday's game against the Eagles with a 3-4 record. They’re at the bottom of a very talented AFC West division that is responsible for three of the Eagles' five losses. Entering the season, this was a team that was written off, considered a front-runner for a top-three pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
“They don’t have the personnel on defense.”
“Their quarterback can’t throw the ball.”
“Their running back can’t stay healthy.”
These were some of the things that analysts said, and still say, about this Oakland team. I can promise you one thing, those who have watched this team on tape are singing a very, very different tune.
In preparing for "Eagles Game Plan" this week, as I do every week, I had a long talk with NFL Films Senior Producer Greg Cosell. He brought up a very good point that I wanted to share, because it perfectly illuminated my feelings after watching the Raiders on both sides of the ball. That point is this - regardless of what the conception is in the media around the country about Terrelle Pryor (and this same sentiment can be applied to any of a number of players or teams around the NFL), it’s not like Bill Davis is upstairs at the NovaCare Complex with his feet on the desk saying, "Well, we’re going to be okay this week, because Pryor doesn’t throw the ball very well and he will throw us an interception or two." That is not the case. Pryor is one of the most dangerous threats in the NFL because of his natural abilities with the ball in his hands as a runner AND a passer. On top of that, this coaching staff in Oakland puts him in position to make the best use of his talents, and are incredibly multiple on the offensive side of the football.
Pryor is limited as a passer, that is true. He’s not a consistent thrower from the pocket, his mechanics affect velocity and strength on his throws and pressure can cause him to make mistakes. However, there is a lot to prepare for when you are game planning against the Raiders, and to give you an idea, I want to take a look at one facet of their offensive attack that I find to be the most fascinating - their "21 personnel" package.
It’s first-and-10, and the Raiders come out showing "21 personnel," with two running backs (circled) and a tight end flexed in the slot. Pryor is under center on this play, with an offset I-formation behind him in the form of running back Darren McFadden and fullback Marcel Reece.
Despite the fact that Pryor’s arm isn’t great down the field, the Raiders are a "shot team" on first down. They will attack down the field with their group of receivers who are big, long and can run. At the bottom of the screen, you see Denarius Moore. At the top, you see former undrafted free agent Rod Streater. Both players will attack the San Diego defense vertically on this play.
After a play-action fake (expect a lot of that on Sunday), Pryor prepares to release the football at the top of his drop. Look at Streater, who still has yet to break away from his man down the field. Pryor has trust in his receivers to get the football, especially in man coverage situations.
Streater adjusts, and makes a fantastic contested catch down the field. Between Moore, Streater, Brice Butler and Jacoby Ford, you’ve got a group of wideouts who have unique skill sets and the Raiders make the best of everything they have.
Let’s take a look at another play here in the same game. Again, it’s first down, and the Raiders come out in "21 personnel." This time, however, it’s an empty set (I broke down the Eagles blitzing the empty set last week). Here, we see the tailback split out wide to the left, and a bunch formation to the quarterback’s right. In the bunch, you see Streater as the point man, with Moore flanked to his right and Reece (circled) to his left.
What do we see from the Raiders this time around? A simple "snag" concept, one I’ve broken down a number of times before. Streater will be the first read, and is running a corner route. Moore will be the second read, as he is running a little curl route inside. Reece will be the check down option as he runs to the flat.
A simple concept and read post-snap for Pryor, as he sees safety help over the top of Streater’s corner route. He comes down to his second read, Moore, who will come free underneath.
Moore makes a man miss, and takes the catch for a 17-yard gain on first down.
Let’s fast forward a couple of weeks to this past Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Again, the Raiders come out in "21 personnel" in an empty set with a bunch formation to the right. They run the same exact concept, so if you see them come out with no backs in the backfield and a bunch formation, you can count on seeing the "snag" concept.
Turns out, the Steelers saw it coming too. Look at Troy Polamalu breaking to that side of the field just before the snap. This was a great example of formation recognition and an understanding of tendencies by the veteran safety.
The Steelers have the "snag" all bottled up, there’s nothing there to Pryor’s right. So he works his way to the backside and again, nothing there either. All five eligible receivers on this play are covered, and with only five linemen in to block, Pryor is in trouble and running out of time.
This is why I showed you this play. Even when everything is completely shut down, defended to near perfection by the Steelers on the back end, the play is not over for Pryor. He uses his athleticism to escape the rush, brings it back to the original side of the field, and takes it for a 6-yard gain inside the 5-yard line. Pryor is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands because of his ability to make something out of nothing more often than not.
So we’ve seen "21 personnel" being utilized out of the offset I-formation and out of an empty set. How about the basic one-back shotgun?
This is the very first play of the game against the Steelers. If you’ve been paying attention all week, you know what the result of this play is. It’s Pryor’s 93-yard touchdown run.
What’s great about this play is that this isn’t just your standard inside zone read-option that you see all over the league. The Raiders take it a step further, and actually make this look like it will be a power run play. You’ve got the backside guard pulling, and the front side linemen blocking down.
The Steelers front seven is reading their keys. They "read the triangle," and when they see the combination of the back, backside guard and playside linemen doing their jobs on a "power" run, they begin to attack the run.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Pryor tucks it. Streater, who was lined up in the slot on this play, seals Polamalu, and Pryor has 93 yards of green in between him and the end zone thanks to veteran safety Ryan Clark’s read on the play.
Pryor is getting to full speed and Clark is still looking at running back Darren McFadden. Oakland’s multiplicity and deception was put on full display, as they fooled a number of the Steelers’ veteran defenders, including Clark, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. The 93-yard touchdown was the longest run in Raiders history, and the longest touchdown run ever by an NFL quarterback.
So now, again, out of this "21 personnel" package, we’ve seen an offset I-formation, the empty set and a one-back shotgun formation. What else do we see from Oakland?
One of the things they really like to do with this personnel grouping is put Pryor in the shotgun with split backs. Here, you see Reece, the fullback, to his left and McFadden to his right. This will be an inside zone read-option play, one they’ve run with plenty of success.
The Jaguars on this play were adamant on keeping Pryor contained, and it was an easy read for the quarterback. He gives it to McFadden, who has a wide open lane to get downhill.
McFadden is not known as a "make you miss" type of player. He is at his best when he gets downhill, where his size and straight-line speed make him a terror to bring down in the open field. Just ask Jacksonville rookie safety Jonathan Cyprien (a favorite of mine this spring) who was left in the dirt (literally) on this 30-yard run. McFadden has had trouble staying healthy, and he’s not a great lateral mover, but when he’s on the field he’s a tough player to defend because of his size/speed combination.
Let’s take another look at the Raiders in split backs, this time against Pittsburgh. This is a great example of how the Raiders toy with defensive fronts with their use of misdirection.
It’s first-and-10, and in "21 personnel" the Raiders offensive line comes off the ball as if it’s inside zone to the right.
What does that do? In turn, you see that you have all of the defenders flowing to that side of the field. The Raiders are removing a number of players from the equation on this play.
While half the Pittsburgh defense flows to the right, the Raiders will actually be running to their left, with Reece serving as a lead blocker and McFadden running on his hip to the outside.
You can see six Steelers in the frame of this shot, all backtracking and trying to catch up to McFadden. Once he hits the corner, he takes it for a 19-yard gain and a first down.
I don’t think I’ve talked enough about Reece, one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the NFL. The guy is a lead blocker, a reliable receiver, has been a feature back and has been one of the most productive players in this offense for the last few years.
Again, it’s "21 personnel," with split backs, and you can see Reece will be coming out of the backfield and running a route down the seam on a little circle route.
This is a great route combination, that will be targeting Denver safety Mike Adams on the play.
As the play develops, you can see that the drag route run by Streater carries Adams across the middle of the field. That void is precisely where Reece will be running his route.
Reece brings the ball in for a 15-yard gain and puts the Raiders right on the goal line. Reece is someone who can hurt you on the ground as well as through the air, as he can win downfield as well as after the catch. He will be a name to watch out for on Sunday.
So for those of you counting at home; we’ve seen the offset I-formation. We’ve seen the empty set. We’ve seen a one-back shotgun look and a two-back shotgun look (split backs). What could possibly be left?
It’s first-and-10 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Raiders come out in "21 personnel" (two backs circled and a tight end), this time in a "full house" backfield. This is an inverted wishbone look, that we see around the league in San Francisco as well as in Washington with Robert Griffin III.
The Raiders will be running a flood concept to the left, with both up-backs running to the flat, McFadden running a curl, Moore running a deep out and Streater running a dig on the backside.
The use of play-action on this play helps to suck in the Chiefs underneath defenders. The Raiders are a running team. That’s what they want their identity to be. With all of the ways they look to run the ball (as we’ve seen in this piece), they are constantly running play-action to help open up the pass game using the same looks up front as they do in the run game.
The play-action worked, as you can see the huge void in the middle of the field that Pryor has to get the football to Streater. He hits the former Temple Owl in stride for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
What does this all mean? In a nutshell, the Raiders may not have the greatest roster from top to bottom in the league. But to make up for it, the offensive coaching staff makes up for it by giving you a laundry list of things to prepare for each and every week. Out of this one personnel grouping alone, I gave you five different looks, and I could’ve given you 10 (look for one- and two-back pistol sets, straight I-formation, single back, as well). Just like the Eagles do to opposing defenses on a weekly basis, there are a wide variety of schematic pieces who coaches have to gameplan for. You have to have answers for everything they do on offense, because if you don’t have an answer for every single facet, it could be that one play that makes a difference in a win or a loss on Sunday.
The multiplicity doesn’t end on the offensive side of the ball. Oakland’s defense, as Eagles Game Plan host Brian Baldinger best described it to me earlier this week, is a group of misfits. A host of players who had been cast away or counted out, some on their fourth or fifth team. But this is an athletic group that, like the Eagles, has gotten better throughout the season, plays with fanatical effort and gets pressure on the quarterback in a number of different ways.
It’s first-and-10 against the Steelers, and the Raiders come out in their 4-3 base personnel. The Raiders are playing a man-coverage look, with linebacker Kevin Burnett (No. 94) on the fullback and Nick Roach (No. 53) on the tailback.
The Raiders will be blitzing on this play, bringing rookie linebacker Sio Moore off the edge. Moore was an undersized defensive end at UConn, but has found a home as a movable chess piece on this Oakland defense after being taken in the third round in April’s draft. Notice the slanting up front on the defensive line. It will be Jason Hunter’s movement that will be integral to this play’s success as he keeps the attention of Pittsburgh’s right tackle when he crosses his face and into "B gap."
As I noted before the snap, Roach is manned up on the tailback on this play, and he does a great job of pressing the hole to ensure that the back not only stays in to protect, but also keeps the back’s attention on himself.
The running back is put in a bind here, with what he believes to be two rushers free on the quarterback. The back decides to block the most dangerous defender (Roach), who is closest to the quarterback.
Moore comes in free, and comes up with one of five sacks on the day for Oakland. The Raiders like to bring outside pressure from their linebackers, but they’ll send pressure in other forms as well.
It’s fourth down late in the first half here against the Washington Redskins, and again the Raiders will make good use of a looping outside rusher to get the attention of the right tackle. This time, it will be Moore looping around to the "A gap." Pat Sims (No. 90) is lined up as the 3-technique inside, and his ability to attack the tackle's outside shoulder will help in occupying him in protection.
The movement between Roach, Moore and Sims keeps the focus away from blitzing safety Charles Woodson, who comes in free for a shot at RG3.
Woodson brings Griffin down for a 10-yard loss on the play, and a turnover on downs.
Again, we see the Raiders bringing pressure back in Week 1 against the Colts. And again, we see the use of a looping 3-technique inside to the "A Gap," with Roach and Lamarr Houston (who is their most disruptive player up front) coming in behind him.
Who you don’t see in the beginning of the frame (don’t worry, neither did the Colts), is cornerback Tracy Porter. Porter plays outside in the Raiders base package opposite former Dallas Cowboy Mike Jenkins. When they go to their nickel package, however, Porter slides inside to allow rookie first-round pick D.J. Hayden to play on the outside. Porter is a savvy veteran who is used in a number of ways, and on this play is a blitzer. With Houston occupying two blockers on the outside, and Roach getting the attention of the tailback, Porter has a wide open lane to rush quarterback Andrew Luck. He comes up with the sack on second-and-long, and another big play for the Raiders defense.
The Raiders defense doesn’t have a lot of big-name talent. However, they play incredibly hard, feature a good amount of athleticism and bring pressure from a host of different areas on early and late downs. Both sides of the ball are coached very well, and the Eagles will need to bring their "A" game on Sunday to match this team on the rise.
For a more thorough breakdown of the Eagles matchup against the Raiders, be sure to tune into Eagles Game Plan this weekend, and next week I’ll be back to break down the matchup against Green Bay.