Running Against Oakland’s NASCAR Front(s)
The companion TWIP piece outlined how the Raiders used different combinations of personnel up front to maximize speed and athleticism. Against the Jets, Oakland utilized a number of combinations on defense. On some occasions they lined up in a 4-2-5 alignment but utilized 3-3-5 personnel, with one of either Khalil Mack or LaMarr Woodley on the line of scrimmage as a fourth defensive end. Other times they lined up in a 4-2-5 alignment but had 2-4-5 personnel on the field, using both Mack and Woodley as defensive ends. With this personnel on the field, speed is maximized, but at the same time, strength up front is sacrificed. If the Raiders implement this strategy against New England this weekend, the Patriots will need to avoid the stretch game and focus on running between the tackles.
We’ll examine four plays from the Jets-Raiders game with Oakland defending. Two went up the middle for big New York gains, while the others were failed attempts at running outside the tackles. As it turns out, three of these plays (including the two that worked out well for the Jets) occurred consecutively in the third quarter, so let’s begin with those.
On first down, the Jets have two tight ends on the line using 12 personnel, with Chris Johnson as the singleback. Oakland counters with 2-4-5 personnel aligned in a 3-4 look. They have Antonio Smith, Pat Sims and Justin Tuck up front, while Woodley and Mack walk up to join them on the line of scrimmage. New York runs a simple power play, with Johnson carrying the ball through the B gap. New York wins the battle at the point of attack, and Johnson gains 11 yards on first down.
On the next play, the Jets line up with their 11 personnel with trips to the right, a single receiver split to the left, and quarterback Geno Smith in the shotgun. Oakland counters with a 4-2-5 alignment but with 3-3-5 personnel, using Tuck, Justin Ellis, Antonio Smith and Mack up front. New York runs a simple counter play off of left guard, and a huge hole is opened up for Johnson who rips off another 11 yard run.
The third play in this sequence comes on the heels of the Jets having gained 22 total yards on two successive plays running straight at the Oakland defense. New York comes out with the exact same formation as the previous play, again using 11 personnel with trips to the right, a single receiver split to the left, and Geno Smith in the shotgun. The Raiders again counter with Tuck, Ellis, Antonio Smith and Mack up front. The Jets try to run Johnson on a stretch play to the left, but the speed of Tuck and Mack stretch the play out and the running back is stopped in the backfield for a one yard loss.
Finally, a play from the first quarter further illustrates Oakland’s defensive concept. Again the Jets have 11 personnel on the field, with a tight end to the left and trips to the right. Geno Smith is in the shotgun with Johnson next to him. The Raiders line up in a 4-2-5 formation, with 3-3-5 personnel on the field. Up front Oakland has Tuck, Ellis, Antonio Smith and Woodley. New York tries a run to the outside of the left end, pulling the center and left guard in front of Johnson. Watch how Woodley stretches this play out to the sideline, allowing Charles Woodson time to come up and stop the play for a loss.
When Oakland decides to use fronts that emphasize speed, opposing attempts to run at the edges will play right into the Raiders’ strength. The Patriots need to run between the tackles and use counter plays to control the line of scrimmage and minimize the effect of Oakland’s speed game.
Run Counters at Sio Moore
Building off the previous point, let’s return to the third-quarter counter play discussed above. The Jets run a simple counter play behind left guard. Watch Oakland linebacker Sio Moore on this play. As Johnson runs his counter, he takes two jab steps towards the right side of the formation, takes the handoff, and breaks to the left behind left guard. In anticipation of such a move, linebackers typically take one or two “counter steps” away from an approaching running back. This gives the LB enough space to react to any counter move where the ball carrier abruptly changes direction. However, Moore takes no such counter steps. He immediately breaks towards the hole he thinks Johnson will run through, putting himself out of position when Johnson quickly cuts back on the counter. The running back plows ahead for an 11-yard gain, with Moore opening up an even bigger hole for him.
Run Power at Miles Burris
On the play that won the game for the Jets, running back Chris Ivory broke off a 71-yard touchdown run halfway through the fourth quarter. It was a simple power lead play, executed with tremendous results. New York comes out with Geno Smith in the shotgun using 11 personnel. They have a tight end and two receivers to the right, and a third receiver split to the left. Oakland lines up in their 4-2-5 alignment with Tuck, Ellis, Antonio Smith and Mack along their defensive front. The Jets run Ivory off the left guard with a simple man blocking scheme. From the end zone view, focus on Oakland linebacker Miles Burris (#56). As the play develops, he makes himself an easy target for the left guard, making no pre-contact effort to avoid the block and allowing himself to get swallowed up in the hole. Once contact is established, he works to disengage from his blocker, but does so in a direction away from the ball carrier. Had he maneuvered towards Ivory, he would have at least added another body in the running lane. By working away, he keeps the hole big for the Jets’ RB, who is able to break one tackle and go the distance. Burris’s poor technique on this play suggests an opportunity for the Patriots to exploit a defensive weakness this Sunday.
For New England to have success in the ground game against Oakland, they need to rely on three simple things: First, run directly at their NASCAR front(s) and not to the edges; second, run counter plays at Sio Moore, and third, run power plays at Miles Burris. If they stick to these three strategies, the Patriots should rack up big yardage on the ground.