Teetering on the brink of playoff contention, the Raiders and their young quarterback Derek Carr are still a work-in-progress. One hopeful sign according to Ted Nguyen is the growth of the Oakland Raiders run-pass concepts.
In week 12 of the 2015-16 season, the Raiders faced off against the Tennessee Titans. Derek Carr and the passing game carried the Raiders despite the rainy conditions. Carr had one of his best games of the season, showing great command of the ball in the rain, which is not a trait all NFL quarterbacks have. The play-calling in the first half maintained aggression, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave picked his spots effectively, mixing run and pass. Taking his shots within the game plan has rewarded the Raiders. However, in the second half, the offense slowed down significantly because they were trying to protect the lead and didn’t want to risk a turnover. They lined up under center and tried to run traditional run plays down after down without much success. The inability of the offense to move the ball with the run contributed to Tennessee regaining the lead before Carr led the offense on a game winning touchdown drive. The run game isn’t what the 2015 Raiders are going to hang their hat on but it must be more efficient for the offense to become more consistent.
|Oakland’s Run Game vs Tennessee|
|Zone Reads + RPOs||5||32||6.4|
|Under Center Runs||21||51||2.4|
The numbers don’t lie: the Raiders need to find different ways of running the ball. However, they are not built to go under center and pound the rock the traditional way by going under center and running inside zone, power, or counter-treys ‒ they have to find creative ways to gain the numbers advantage and to keep the defense honest. The Raider run game was much more efficient when they called run-pass options (RPOs). The RPO is a play that couples a run concept and pass concept. The quarterback could make a pre-snap read or read a defender’s movement during the play to decide if he is going to hand the ball off to execute the run concept or pull the ball to execute the pass concept. This link explains packaged plays in more detail.
As discussed in the Raiders vs. Lions Offensive Breakdown, Oakland is incorporating more RPOs as part of their running game. Zone reads or RPOs, on average, racked up more than double the yardage than traditional under the center runs gained against the Titans.
The advantage of running the zone read is that the offense forces the defense to account for the QB as a running threat. On this play, the Raiders are running the zone read to the right. The defense has six defenders on the line indicating that they are going to blitz. The zone is effective against the blitz because all blockers are assigned a gap and every defender is accounted for, except for the backside defensive end in the orange square. Carr is going to read that defensive end. If he crashes the running back to quickly, then Carr is going to pull the ball and run outside of him:
The defensive end doesn’t crash fast enough, so Carr hands the ball off. The line does a nice job of washing down their defenders and Murray finds the bend for a 6-yard gain. Earlier in the season, the Raiders were running a lot of inside zone without a read and didn’t find much success. Taking advantage of Carr’s athleticism as a runner can help bolster the run game.
The Raiders Go-To RPO Play
This run-pass option concept is one that the Raiders used successfully the week before against the Lions and it worked well against the Titans Okie front Cover 3. The offensive line and tight end are blocking a pin-pull sweep to the right, while the backside TE runs a seam and the receivers execute double in-routes on the left:
Carr is going to key on the movement of the backside linebacker in the orange box:
Tennessee focused on taking away the pass read, while hoping to get penetration and stop the run without a numbers advantage:
Off the snap, the linebacker in the orange box drops back. Carr reads his movement and decides to hand the ball off to the running back, Latavius Murray. The playside tight end to the left of the image and the rest of the offensive line do a great job of hook blocking their assignments, while the right guard, J’Marcus Webb, gets a clean pull around the edge. The result is a gain of 6 yards.
Introduction of the “Gift” Concept to the Offense
The Raiders also introduced a new type of run-pass option to their offense with a pre-snap read combined with a downfield pass:
The Raiders deploy an unbalanced formation: Austin Howard (offensive #4), the right tackle, lines up to the left while tight end Lee Smith lines up in the spot usually occupied by the right tackle. To Carr’s right, Michael Crabtree is going to run a quick hitch, while the rest of the offense are going to execute a sweep to the unbalanced side of the line.
Carr is simply looking for the numbers advantage. If the strong safety is lined up on the unbalanced side the receiver is going to have a true one on one, and Carr will throw the hitch. A hitch against a corner playing off coverage is so easy to complete, some offenses call this option a “gift” concept.
On the play, the strong safety is lined up on Crabtree’s side, which means the hitch is bracketed by two defenders. This alignment means the offense has a numbers advantage to the left – 4 linemen + 1 QB + 1 RB vs 4 defenders:
Carr sees the numbers advantage and decides to hand off the ball and the line does a great job of hook blocking their assignments. A pulling Gabe Jackson (LG #66), also gets a monster block on the edge and that leads to the Raiders best run of the day, a gain of ten yards:
Adding to the RPO Series
For the Raiders to run the ball successfully, Musgrave must continue to find creative ways to add to his run-pass option package because defenses are going to find different ways of taking them away:
Dick Lebeau is one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time, and after watching the Detroit tape, he saw this concept and gave his defenders a check. As soon as Murray motioned to the trips side, the Titans knew the run-pass option was coming and they manned up Amari Cooper (top of the screen). LeBeau brought the strong safety, Michael Giffin, into the A gap, relieving the linebacker ‒ which is typically the read ‒ to play his pass responsibility, the inside wall.
Lebeau’s check sort of worked, tricking Carr into reading the backside linebacker and handing the ball off. Griffin was left unblocked and should have stopped the play. However, safeties do not tackle as well as linebackers, and Murray was able to break the tackle for a nice gain:
By bringing the strong safety into the box, the Titans left Cooper 1-on-1 with a pressed corner. In the future, Musgrave should add a check to allow Carr to audible a deep pass if he sees these types of defensive checks.
The Raiders are simply not good enough to run the ball the traditionally. By running more run-pass options and zone reads they gain a numerical advantage and put the ball, and the decision, into the hands of their best player. For the Raiders to be successful, Derek Carr has to be a factor in the passing game and running game.
Follow Ted on Twitter @RaidersAnalysis
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