The Oakland Raiders are a team stacked with thriving potential. From the addition of running back Marshawn Lynch to rush linebackers in the system for one more year, the Raiders trajectory is trending upward. How do all of these pieces fit with the coaching scheme? Continuing through the AFC West in our newest series, we take a look at what the Oakland Raiders schematic philosophy is on both sides of the ball.
The Breakdown: A Look at the Oakland Raiders Schematic Philosophy
Building on Explosion
Todd Downing was the Oakland Raiders quarterbacks’ coach from 2015-2016 before being promoted to offensive coordinator this past January. Although he enters his first season and we have yet to see what his tendencies and play call selections are, there isn’t expected to be a major difference between his system and that of former offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave.
Oakland was incredibly multiple under Musgrave, working from heavy formations to establish the run to going four-wide and even empty to allow their $125 million quarterback Derek Carr to go to work. Their spread formations were adept at establishing a dominant and creative screen game reliant upon allowing their talented offensive line to get out in space and clear paths for their equally talented receivers.
On the flip side, they were not averse splitting tight end Clive Walford out into the slot and running three-man route concepts that left him with a matchup advantage. The addition of fellow tight end Jared Cook will benefit the Raiders in both the passing and the running game.
Transitioning into such double benefits, the Raiders quick tempo passing game often featured an extra back or tight end-or both-into protect, which also naturally allowed them to attack the intermediate and deep levels more frequently. Running the ball out of these formations became a commonality as well, featuring a multitude of power and counter runs that new running back Marshawn Lynch familiarized himself with playing for the Seattle Seahawks. It became increasingly difficult to pick up the Raiders tendencies as they also featured play-action from these heavy sets.
The seamless ability to work between multiple formations and personnel groupings forces the defense to respond with more base looks than they desire. When an offense features multiplicity from both a personnel and play design perspective as such, defenses become extremely limited in how exotic their game plan can be.
A high variance-structured unit furthers their potential by showing their litany of formations early in the game. Displaying these formations early allow them to recognize how defenses will align or shift based on whatever tendencies they think they’ve discovered. Once the Raiders identify how their opponents will match their personnel groupings, they can continuously feature them, but with added window-dressing that keeps the defense on their toes and prevents them from finding a clear-cut answer.
Finding the Right Pieces In the Pass Rush
Operating from a “flexible” base 4-3 defense with interwoven 3-4 looks, defensive end Khalil Mack has quickly become one the game’s most dominant defenders; a threatening pass rusher that offenses must find a way to account for. He and rush linebacker Bruce Irvin, officially the team’s SAM linebacker, are highly-involved pass rushers who fit well into defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s pass rush schemes. Norton Jr.’s blitz packages features reps from both rush linebackers, allowing the Raiders to attack from both sides.
The formula proved particularity effective against offensive lines that couldn’t match their athleticism. Irvin’s twists and stunts created free rushing lanes while the Mack’s attack made life difficult on quarterbacks who saw both edges of the pocket constantly squeezed.
When the Raiders employ their nickel packages, it’s Mack and Irvin as the two linebackers with defensive end Jihad Ward replacing Mack on the edge. This allows two reliable coverage defenders to take away throwing lanes while still manufacturing an effective pass rush. What’s more, it’s not uncommon for Mack and Irvin to occasionally rotate between the LEO and SAM position or kick Mack over to the SAM and bring Mario Edwards Jr. in as the LEO on pass rushing downs.
The Right Talent for the Right Coverage
Oakland is a base single-high team, meaning it’s primarily a cover one or cover three look with some two-high shells sprinkled in. While their cover two looks were mainly straightforward man or zone coverages, Oakland’s single-high game created a chess match that made life difficult for quarterbacks.
Their cover three looks included both Sky and Cloud variations that strained the offense’s ability to attack them vertically, while working the curl-to-flat areas was noticeably strenuous on the offense’s desires to work the underneath to intermediate areas. The different variations of cover three and disguised cover one looks were troublesome for passing games.
The Raiders secondary has been the recipient of criticism from both fans and pundits alike. However, the additions of rookies Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu should prove to benefit the secondary from both a scheme fit and general talent perspective.
There is a quarterback battle brewing for the Denver Broncos, appears to be one on the horizon for the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Los Angeles Chargers were dismal in 2016. Expect the Raiders to regain control of the AFC West and make a deep run in the postseason with talent and well-devised schemes on both sides of the ball.