Raiders Intelligence: Thoughts From The Dark Side
Q: Patt MyGroin threw for 197 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions last week. In watching parts of that game, the offense looked much more pro-style than it has under Pryor. What qualities did McGloin exhibit that led to his success and do you feel that itâ€™s reproducible?
Patt MyGroin? Really? Just kidding, that was awesome.
McGloin impressed in his first start, certainly. Part of what made him look so much better than Pryor was that he likely benefitted from some better blocking, particularly at the right tackle position.
Right tackle is a hugely important position for Pryor because he prefers to roll right and he rolls so frequently. Starting right tackle Tony Pashos played and played well the first four games of the season which, probably not coincidentally, is the same time frame that Pryor looked his best.
Pashos has not been healthy since the first four games, however, missing the San Diego game week 5 and subsequently coming back and starting the next week versus Kansas City. He wasn't able to finish the KC game week 6, however, and he hadn't played since until last week.
While Pashos was out, his backup, 2013 second-round selection Menelik Watson, was also injured and the Raiders were consistently having to make due with their 4th string tackle option, never an enviable position.
So, an upgrade at a very important position in right tackle could only help McGloin but that was not the only reason the offense seemed to improve.
The Raiders run game looked better than ever with backup Rashad Jennings running extremely well and that opened things up well for McGloin on play action and helping take off some of the pressures that defenses can bring when they don't have to worry much about the running game.
Finally, and more to your question, McGloin himself did some things very well. Perhaps first and foremost, he made extremely quick reads and got the ball out of his hands quickly. That quick release is an extremely underrated ability because that, more than almost anything else, negates an opponent's pass rush.
Pryor, for all his athleticism, frequently abandons the pocket too quickly. He will see the pressure coming around to one side or the other and instead of simply stepping up into the pocket to put his blocker between him and the pass rush, he will turn away from the line of scrimmage and run backwards and away from the pressure.
Defenses appear to have noticed this and adjusted by playing much more contain with their defensive ends. They hope that one of their ends and the tackles can collapse the pocket but that no one player will give up contain to sell out to get the pass rush. If they can generate natural pressure, Pryor struggles to calmly move around and keep his eyes downfield and he will, in effect, flush himself from the pocket prematurely.
McGloin, then, did a good job of using his pocket, stepping up and keeping his eyes downfield and making the passes. Finally, he had a much better sense of anticipation than Pryor has had. He made some impressive plays down field in which he anticipated his receivers' breaks and got the ball out before the WR was yet open. Those are the hardest type of plays to defend for a secondary, which contributed to his success.
I should mention that the first two TDs were set up by defensive takeaways and the Raiders started those drives already in the red zone. McGloin's stat line was a bit padded by these facts and he actually struggled a bit to move the team when he was given a longer field later in the game.
Q: The Raiders are 26th in points this year, despite having the 16th most yards. They've only scored more than 21 points in two games, three fewer times than a Titans team with an underperforming offense. Why have the Raiders struggled to put up points?
This is the big question for many Raiders fans and there is no consensus answer. I actually wrote a post trying to answer a similar question a few weeks ago.
The issues are complicated because the Raiders actually score very well early in games but taper off later in games. They have multiple games this year in which they've failed to score any touchdowns in the second half of games.
My best guess as to the yards/touchdown discrepancy is that Pryor is better at moving the ball when the field is longer because teams have to defend his deep ball. As the field shrinks and the team gets into the red zone, the secondary doesn't have to line up as deep and there are more bodies to defend Pryor running the ball and he can't overcome that difference to get the team in the red zone.
I also think that the Raiders do much better when they have their scripted plays than when they are calling plays on the fly later in the game. The team is relatively young, especially at receiver, and I think the Raiders do very well when they've practiced the plays but aren't yet experienced enough, as a team, to be productive on plays that they installed in July and haven't practiced much, since.
The Raiders will be without one of their most explosive (although very inconsistent) players in receiver Denarius Moore so that's a concern for the offense. It's unclear who will take his place but Andre Holmes looks to me to be the most likely. He's a big guy with pretty good hands but he's still trying to get into football shape after missing the first four games due to a suspension and being inactive for others. In fact, he has only one catch for 3 yards on the season so far - not too frightening for Tennessee's cornerbacks.
Q: Statistically, the Raiders defense is very good against the rush but struggles against the pass. Stats don't always tell a true story, however, and even if they do it's never specific enough to be of true utility. What makes the defense tick and what are its weaknesses? Which players contribute to each and what about the scheme lends itself to those outcomes?
Another good question. The Raiders' defense has been stout against the run all year but very inconsistent against the pass. They don't have any elite pass rushers although right defensive end Lamarr Houston does get fairly consistent pressure. He only has an okay but far-from-elite 5 sacks on the year.
In the run game, they rely on their two starting defensive tackles, Pat Sims and Vance Walker, who both signed with the team this year. Both are have large powerful bodies and, while neither is great at collapsing the pocket as interior pass rusher, both are a strong anchor in the run game, able to penetrate to trip up runners and both possess the agility to move laterally in zone or stretch runs.
The linebacker corps doesn't have any big names but is a solid unit of underrated players. Middle linebacker Nick Roach worked his way up to this point after going undrafted. He has starting experience prior to this year with the Bears in 2012 but they didn't do much to resign him. He's undersized and if the Titans get one of their guards to the second level and on him, he won't be able to stack and shed, but what he lacks in size he makes up with above average speed and a good understanding of the X's and O's. He gets the team into position well and, in general, the linebackers are good at staying in their assigned gaps.
The secondary is better this year than last but that doesn't make them good. Starter Tracey Porter has looked very good in recent weeks but his opposite, Greg Jenkins, has struggled in man coverage. When the Titans go to a nickel package, Porter will come inside to man the slot and Philip Adams will take his place outside.
The Titans can take advantage of this alignment by moving around their players to put their best receiver (which I'm assuming is Kendall Wright at this point...?) on either Jenkins or Adams outside and leaving Porter to guard a receiver later in the progression.
Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver lives and dies with the blitz and Ryan Fitzpatrick should expect a number of them this week. Tarver likes to call a variety of different players to blitz so there may be blitzing linebackers, cornerbacks or safeties. FS Charles Woodson (#24) and rookie SLB Sio Moore (#55) have stood out, particularly, as being very good at timing and delivering on their blitzes.
Fitzpatrick has the ability to run, I know, and he'll likely get an opportunity to do that this week. The Raiders have had some breakdowns in previous games where they allow mobile QBs to gain some big yards. Alex Smith and Nick Foles - both of whom are somewhat athletic but neither of whom is known as being extra fast - both used their legs to beat the Raiders' aggressive defense.
When the blitzes and aggressive tactics work, the Raiders defense can do very well. When it doesn't, the defenders appear to get tired and disheartened and allow bigger gains. The Raiders defense will likely look to set a tone early in the game by pressuring Fitzpatrick and trying to shut down Chris Johnson early and try to dictate the game a bit to the Titans.
Q: The Raiders run well (4th) and stop the rush (6th). They donâ€™t pass well (31st) and they donâ€™t stop the pass (25th). Theyâ€™re winning the time of possession battle and arenâ€™t bad on 3rd downs. In todayâ€™s NFL that adds up to the 26th best scoring offense and the 20th best scoring defense. The Raiders are under new(er) management. Is this a stopgap design, or is team management intentionally moving towards this seemingly outdated run-based, grinding football team as are the Titans?
The Raiders have a new offensive coordinator this year in Greg Olson and, unlike last year's coordinator who was very specific with desiring to use one particular system, Olson believes in tailoring his offense to his players' strengths.
The Raiders offense is more run-oriented because that's what they do better. It's really as simple as that. The Raiders thought they'd lean on Darren McFadden this season but - surprise, surprise - he's injured. I don't think they expected Rashad Jennings, who they signed as a free agent from Jacksonville this offseason, to run as well as he's been running but because he's stepped in and been better, even, than McFadden, they can continue to be a run oriented team.
The teams' rushing stats are also pumped up by Pryor's scrambling capabilities. After week one vs the Colts, Pryor was the NFL's leading rusher, actually. So that certainly inflates the numbers for the team.
The same is true on the defense, I think. Shoring up the team's rush defense was definitely a priority but so was patching a secondary that was an actual disaster last season. The team rid itself of all but one of its starting defensive linemen, all but one of its starting linebackers, and all but one of its starting secondary players so the defense is almost entirely different.
Coach Allen has espoused a belief that teams will default to running the ball, if they can, so stopping the run is the first priority. He believes that if a team can be effective in stopping the run, they're much more likely to win. Having watched the terrible run defenses of some of the past Raiders teams, I can't argue with him. I agree that running the ball is the path of least resistance and teams will continue to pound the ball, if they can, until the other team shows that they can stop it.
To answer your question, then, no, I do not believe that the Raiders are fixated on being a run-centric offense or defense in the future. With the pieces they had or were able to acquire, that was the easiest and quickest way to improve the team so those are the pieces upon which they focused this last off-season.
As a final addendum, the Raiders defense gives up some yards in the air but they have, in general, been pretty good about being a bend but don't break defense and have done a fairly solid job of stiffening in the red zone and limiting opposing offenses to field goals. They've even created a few red zone turnovers. It's one of those situations that you mentioned, earlier, where the stats don't always give a complete picture.
Q: How many points will the Raiders lose by?
I'll go with -3 points. I picked the Raiders to win this one in my weekly selections and I won't back off that, now. These two teams are very similar in many ways - struggling offenses, better than average defenses, inconsistent QB play. For me, then, the fact that this is a home game for the Raiders will play into their favor
The Raiders aren't the Seahawks or the Chiefs, who can count on huge crowd support to help them during the game but the Raiders do play better at home and it helps to get into the routine of playing at your own stadium in front of your home crowd.
I think the Raiders will do a pretty good job of matching up versus Chris Johnson and shutting him down. That will put the onus on Ryan Fitzpatrick's arm for the Tennessee offense, and I'll take that proposition.
On defense, I expect Tennessee to be a solid, disciplined team but RB Rashad Jennings has shown he's actually very tough to bring down. He can bust some long runs - he ran for an 80 yard TD last week versus the Texans - but his best ability may be to eke out tough yards after being hit.
Of course if last week's success with McGloin comes to a screeching halt, this could end up being one of the uglier games in recent memory. We'll see it all unfold on Sunday!
Asher can be found on twitter: @AsherMathews. His work, including a Q&A with Jamal can be found at TFDSsports.com
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