Much to-do has been made about Coach Gruden’s and the Raiders’ philosophy on getting back to basics. The preference for classic tailbacks and tight ends in a wide array of packages has been brought front and center during this offseason because of the attention paid to these particular positions.
There seem to be several conflicting opinions about what roles these positions encompass and their proper deployment. Individually they can be great but packaged together properly, a team can dominate the league. This is the sweet spot that Gruden is looking for and hopes to release on the field this season.
Tight Ends: More than just receivers
Tight ends seem to be a particularly large mystery when trying to figure out their place in the offense. While the position these days is primarily used at only half capacity, there are two very important aspects to a tight end that makes it a crucial piece of an offense.
Consider that a tight end is a hybrid of a receiver and a lineman. In today’s pass-happy league, tight ends are all too often used only as a large wide receiver. They still block and line up outside the tackles, but many of today’s quarterbacks use their tight ends as their go-to receivers. Brady to Gronk. Wentz to Ertz. Newton to Olson. Rivers to Henry. These men are big, fast, and difficult to cover so dumping passes off to them seems like an easy decision and a good way to utilize such a threat.
But imagine each of those players having a perfect complement. Another blocker on the line, another receiving option for the QB, and another threat for the defense to consider. With two or three tight ends on the field, the defense is required to beef up their secondary, and their pass rush has to be at the top of its game.
Tailbacks: Halfbacks, Fullbacks, Running Backs Oh My!
Part two of the new and improved playbook will undoubtedly include the team’s tailbacks. The Raiders currently have five tailbacks on the roster. Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington were joined by Doug Martin and fullback Keith Smith during free agency. While Martin and Smith may seem like odd choices, there is potential. If all five backs make the final 53, expect to see a lot more power packages than the team has put on the field since Gruden’s last go-round.
All Hands On Deck
Some of the most effective offensive packages include double tight end and multiple back sets. These formations give the team a very important trait: Power. With two tight ends on the field at the same time, they can pair up to throw chip blocks or serve as lead blockers. They can line up opposite each other or bunch together to throw the defense off. Surround a stout running back like Marshawn Lynch with a slew of blockers and watch him go. He’s hard enough to take down without blockers, so having Smith run a passing route, Carrier in front of Lynch, and Martin tailing almost guarantees a trip to the end zone.
One of the most basic but effective formations in football is the T-Formation, created by Chicago Bears head coach George Halas. The basic offense lines up as usual, with a tight end at each end of the line, plus two halfbacks lined up on either side of the quarterback about five yards back, with a fullback directly behind him. Simple but incredibly effective for ripping off power runs. Halas famously used the T-formation to decimate the Washington Redskins 73-0 in 1940.
While a 1940’s game is very different from a 2018 game, it is clear evidence of how the correct formation can make an impact. This formation can still be used effectively to neutralize a 3-4 defensive scheme if you have the proper personnel.
There was a lot of call last year for the Power-I formation. If a team isn’t set up with power tight ends and a full set of backs capable of running as well as blocking, it just won’t work. Last year’s Raiders had no pure fullbacks and could not rely on their two small backs, Richard and Washington, for complete blocking. Marshawn Lynch can block, but to truly succeed in this formation, all of the backs have to be able to run through a…well, you get it.
The tight ends that the team had last year weren’t set up for this either. Jared Cook used to be a stellar blocker but he started focusing more on receiving in order to get more playing time in Green Bay. Lee Smith is a fantastic blocking tight end, but he has not been known as a receiver. The Raiders still have Pharaoh Brown and added Derek Carrier to round out the field. With the likelihood of Gruden using so many multiple TE sets, the chances of all four making the final 53 are higher than one would think. A proper combination of Smith and Cook might be just the ticket to establish the more classic looks that Gruden wants.
Why are these packages so important for the Raiders?
Power. This team is set up to be “bullies” in the trenches. Assuming that Vadal Alexander is the right guard for the moment, the line is a combined 31 ft 7 inches and 1,616 lbs (officially). It is a collection of monsters who like to put people in the mud. Rodney Hudson is one of the best blocking centers in the league and he’s surrounded by more of the same. A tight end at each end of that line and three backs and what defense could take that down? That kind of defense is out there, but they are few and far between.