After finally securing a spot in the NFL playoffs, the Las Vegas Raiders will face the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend. However, in order to win this game and others, they will have to conquer a problem they’ve been dealing with since last season.
In 2020, many Raiders fans were annoyed with the production of the red zone offense. These fans had good reason as the team ranked 23rd in red zone touchdown percentage at 54.24%. These struggles were a major talking point for the team as well. Throughout the offseason, coaches vowed to improve and become more creative. Here at The Raider Ramble, this too was covered.
As such, the 2021 results have been stunning. Simply put, the Raiders have been a worse red zone team in 2021. Only scoring a touchdown on 51.67% of drives that reach the red zone, they rank 27th in the league. For reference, the 49ers score touchdowns on a league-leading 66.67% of their red zone drives. In the playoffs, every possession matters, and the Raiders need to start scoring touchdowns from inside the twenty.
Keep It Simple
Throughout the 2021–22 season, the Raiders have relied on one thing for their short-yardage production: the brilliance of Hunter Renfrow. Now, this is not to say they should go away from “13.” Quite the opposite, as he is, easily, the team’s best wide receiver. A matchup nightmare due to his shiftiness, he is always a threat to score in the short area of the field. However, the Raiders could definitely be too reliant on Renfrow and, specifically, Derek Carr. When plays designed to target him are covered, he has a tendency to panic.
As mentioned in the piece written this offseason, the best course for the Raiders offense is to keep it simple. This is the avenue in which Carr has always thrived. Of course, no one is saying Carr isn’t smart enough to run fully fleshed out offenses because he is, but at his best, he has always run simple concepts that target talented players. One play he has always run with great success is the goal line fade. Now, this is not a very high percentage play.
In 2019, only 13.5 percent of fade routes in the end zone were caught. However, Carr has always had an affinity for the play. In the past, his favorite players to target were Michael Crabtree and Andre Holmes. Now, the Raiders have Bryan Edwards. While Edwards may not be a great player due to his inability to gain separation, he’s well built for this play, specifically due to his strength and terrific hands. He has already scored on one of these plays this season.
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Another old favorite that should return is play-action. When inside the five-yard line, Carr has often done well targeting tight ends off of play-action. Raiders fans will remember watching Lee Smith and, more recently, Foster Moreau score on mesh plays in the end zone. For Moreau, he has made a living in the red zone as a physical player with trustworthy hands. He needs more targets in this area. As a whole, Las Vegas is 30th in the league in play-action pass attempts, at just 99. Often one of the NFL’s best off-play-actions, Carr and the Raiders should be using it even more.
A creative idea for play-action can also include the Marcus Mariota package. Since it is clearly going to be a factor moving forward, it needs to be expanded. At this point, the entirety of the package is read options with some RPO’s sprinkled in and whatever that trick play was with Jacobs last week. With defenses so clearly keyed in on the run, a simple play-action bootleg pass has the potential to break wide open with Mariota at quarterback. The worst case scenario is Mariota using his legs as a check-down, which typically checks out as a positive play for the Raiders. Mariota can be a valuable player for Las Vegas, and it is time to add more to his plate.
No Time Like The Present
Of course, it’s unfair to expect the Raiders to make changes at this point in the season. After all, they are in the playoffs. The playbook is likely what it is at this point. However, these are not massive changes. After all, we already know that goal-line fades and play-action plays exist in the playbook. As for the Mariota package, it is hard to imagine that it was not designed with some passing plays in mind. As the playoffs approach, it is time to pull out all the stops in an attempt to fix a long-standing issue. The Raiders will play their biggest game in over a decade this week. They cannot allow their inability to score red zone touchdowns to hurt them again.
*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images