New head coaches went 0-7 in the NFL for Week 1 of the regular season. One of those coaches was Jon Gruden and his football team is now 0-1.
The Rams are an expected Super Bowl favorite for most pundits so the loss is not unexpected. The Raiders seemed to have a solution to counter the Rams defense in the first half but eventually the offense ran out of steam.
The 33-13 loss was made worse by the rampant feeling in Raider Nation that quarterback Derek Carr is no longer a franchise quarterback and should be replaced. This loss was a complex confluence of several issues none of which are unfixable. The 2018 season very well may be a slow starting one for the Raiders but that does not mean it cannot be fruitful.
Errors and Miscommunication
By the end of the game, quarterback Derek Carr had thrown three interceptions and one was a pick six. Each interception has a story of its own. The first was a deep throw to Jared Cook who was lined up as a wide receiver. The ball was underthrown making an easy interception for the safety.
The second interception was an inexplicable throw that Derek Carr would later state he did not mean to throw. Watching the coaches film on NFL Gamepass, there seems to be clear confusion regarding the routes on that play, enough so that Derek decided to throw the ball away.
Marcus Peters picked off the third pass of the day and it was a pick six. This one is clearly a great play by Peters or a heck of a design by Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Early in this play Peters looks like he is in zone and then switches to man covering Cook. What all of these plays have in common are small mistakes and that is the difference in the NFL. Some mistakes were on Carr, others were on skill position guys. Regardless, it is these small mistakes that lose football games.
Pregame Personnel Decisions
Heading into this game some very curious decisions were made especially on the defensive side of the ball. The first was starting Frostee Rucker at strongside defensive end. Not only did he start there, he played most of the game there and produced little to no pressure in the pass game. He did yeoman’s work in the trenches defending the run but that only goes so far. Why starter Tank Carradine was left off the game day roster entirely is anyone’s guess.
The second strange decision was starting Reggie Nelson over Karl Joseph at safety even though Joseph is the starter on the depth chart. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther likes to have counter audibles on defense which can make things complex. His justification for starting Nelson was that he better understood the system and those checks. That’s nice, but his lack of athleticism made him late on every play, made his bracket coverages entirely pointless, and he gave up a touchdown in man coverage by simply being slow. Bad call.
Offensive Playcalling was Offensive
One of the peak criticisms of Todd Downing, the Raider offensive coordinator in 2017, was his lack of play action. In 2017 the Raiders called the fewest play action passes in the NFL. This trend continued in Week 1 of 2018. In the first half the Raiders called two play action passes. Gruden called 0 in the second half.
Clearly the Raiders were content exploiting the linebackers with Jared Cook and in the second half Jalen Richard. The team had a lot of success doing it. Regardless, by the time the second half started, the Rams decided to back off in coverage and just give away all the cheap short completions. The Raiders were happy to take those short throws and Gruden after the game stated he wanted Carr to take what he was given. The problem is there was nothing to keep the defense honest.
Yes Carr opted for check downs rather than throw deep balls to Cooper on three occasions in this game, but if your goal as an offensive coordinator is to stretch a defense vertically, the easiest way to do it is with play action passes and max protection. The Raiders never did that.
Screens also take pressure off of passing games and slow down pass rushes and the Raiders only ran two all game. Many fans think Carr is scared in the pocket. If that is true, then why is the offensive coordinator not calling plays to slow down the pass rush or create some kind of rhythm?
Early in the second half the Raiders seemingly lost all balance including in the run game where they had moderate success in the first half. Because the offense never did anything to make the defense think or react, the front four of the Rams were able to pin their ears back and Wade Phillips was able to deploy some exotic blitzes to help create mistakes. Ultimately by being bland and passive the Raiders passed up on all the potential opportunities they should have created with their first half success.
The Raiders Looked Like the Patriots
Other than the fact the Patriots use a decent amount of play action and a significant amount of screens, the Raider offense looked considerably similar to what the Patriots do. This was most apparent with their use of Jared Cook and his he was deployed all over especially in empty shotgun formations. In the second half the Raiders used Jalen Richard as a primary vehicle for their attack and he was used as a receiver and a back lining up at various spots. There definitely seems to be an attraction from Gruden towards the Patriot model whether it is personnel decisions or game planning.
The similarities are primarily in the formations used and how both teams apply skill position players to exploit specific matchups. The Patriots are masters are that and it creates a selfless locker room mentality as well. This was echoed by Amari Cooper after the game when he said that yards do not matter as long as the team wins he is happy. Ultimately Amari needs to get touches and the simple fact that the Raiders did not call a simple screen to him or play action boot to get him behind the defense.
Guenther Needs to Generate Pressure
First and foremost, defensive coordinators love knowing exactly what the offense is going to be doing. This means that they operate most aggressively when for one reason or another, an offense has become one-dimensional. Defenses can dictate this through sheer strategic genius and their own success or by the offense setting them up for success. The Rams were never forced to be one-dimensional and because of this they were able to use their entire arsenal for four quarters.
This made generating pressure even more difficult for Raider defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The Rams were happy to use 6 or 7 blockers every play, while Guenther was afraid to give Goff easy throws so he did not blitz. Had the Raider offense been more successful and controlled the ball longer, we could have seen the Rams forced into lighter blocking schemes which would have made it easier to produce pressure. It will be important for this team moving forward that the offense consistently produce in order to set up the defense late in the game. Until then, Paul Guenther is going to have to generate pass rush artificially and hopefully that starts this week against the Broncos where he will have to be aggressive in order to exploit the poor Bronco offensive line.
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