The Oakland Raiders season is not over, but now it’s on life support.
This week’s game against the New England Patriots was always going to be an uphill battle, but with the Raiders coming off the bye week which gave them additional time to plan, hope was in abundance.
However, the hope was in vain.
The on-field performance was poor and by all means, should raise an alarm, but more concerning are a number of decisions schematically which made it an even tougher ask for the Raiders to succeed down in Mexico City, in particular, the inability to expose the slot.
Exposing The Slot
Per Austin Gayle of PFF, prior to Sunday’s game, New England was statistically the worst team at covering slot receivers in the league. They had given up 948 yards in the slot, 146 more yards than any other team, and 424 more yards than the NFL average.
From the Raiders’ perspective, Amari Cooper’s 2.88 average yards per route run from the slot over his NFL career is tied for third-best in the NFL since 2006. Naturally, Raider Nation had all signs pointed to Todd Downing shifting Cooper to the slot for a majority of the game to expose the Patriots’ main defensive weakness.
Instead, the Raiders decided to make the passing game harder for themselves than it needed to be. Cooper was in the slot for just 11 snaps and from this position only saw one target – a catch for 13 yards – in the third quarter when the score was 24-0. It is unfathomable that the offensive staff did not put a plan together to match up their best receiver on the Patriots’ biggest weakness.
As they have done all year, the Raiders primarily used Seth Roberts in the slot. From the slot, Roberts was targeted nine times resulting in five catches for 36 yards. When the game was still within reach in the first half, however, Roberts was having an on-field nightmare. From the slot in the first half, Roberts had one drop on third down killing a drive, a false start, and his only other target was a catch ending in a lost fumble in the red zone. All this, yet the coaches did not deviate from their passing game structure in the second half, which led to Roberts receiving more catching opportunities than Cooper.
The inability to use their best receivers in the best situations is starkly reminiscent of the 2006 Raiders’ use of star receiver Randy Moss. At least Cooper hasn’t quit on the team, yet.