Digesting the Raiders

Happy Friday, friends.  Today, since the Broncos have already played the Raiders this season, we’re going to leverage the article I wrote before that game, and I’ll focus on where things have changed between then and now.  Then, we’ll talk about how the Broncos can work toward a better outcome this time than the 23-20 opening night loss they took at home.

We all hate the Raiders, and they hate us too, but it seems that they’ve built the sort of team that has been giving the Broncos trouble over the last couple seasons.  They’re big, physical and fast, and those are three good things to be as a football team. Luckily, they're still the Raiders, and they still make dumb trades, so we have that going for us.

Raiders Defense

a.  I started out last time by saying that Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves looked bad in the preseason.  But Wimbley is having an excellent year, especially in pressuring the QB, despite only having only one sack.  Wimbley killed Orlando Franklin in Week 1, and it was the single biggest reason that the Broncos struggled on offense.  Groves has lost his job as the Will LB to newly acquired Aaron Curry.  Curry has been disappointing in the NFL for a fourth-overall pick, but he’s an upgrade over Groves.

b.  The big change on the defensive line is the season-ending injury to Matt Shaughnessy.  Desmond Bryant, who is a good backup, has taken over as the starting RDE.  He’s not as threatening in the pass rush as Shaughnessy is, nor is he as effective against the run.  The Shaughnessy injury has also presented an opportunity to Jarvis Moss as a pass rush specialist, and he’s responded with two sacks. 

c.  The Raiders secondary has been banged up, and often ineffective.  CB Chris Johnson has been hurt, and DeMarcus Van Dyke has been filling in for him.  While Van Dyke has done a decent job, going to backup CBs has a way of hurting a team in sub packages.  Suddenly, the fourth CB is the third, and the fifth (if you have one), is now the fourth.  Offenses can find a lot of opportunity there.  You have to wonder how Lito Sheppard looks coming off the street, too.

d.  Here’s the overall participation data for the Raiders defense this season:

Pos # Name Snaps % of Total
DT 92 Richard Seymour 401 76%
DT 93 Tommy Kelly 375 71%
DE 99 Lamarr Houston 247 47%
DE 94 Jarvis Moss 223 42%
DE 90 Desmond Bryant 198 37%
DT 79 John Henderson 161 30%
DE 77 Matt Shaughnessy 145 27%
DE 91 Trevor Scott 139 26%
         
MLB 55 Rolando McClain 481 91%
SLB 96 Kamerion Wimbley 441 83%
WLB 52 Quentin Groves 190 36%
WLB 51 Aaron Curry 77 15%
MLB 56 Darryl Blackstock 44 8%
         
SS 33 Tyvon Branch 524 99%
CB 26 Stanford Routt 520 98%
FS 27 Matt Giordano 347 65%
FS 24 Michael Huff 334 63%
CB 23 DeMarcus Van Dyke 224 42%
CB 30 Jerome Boyd 203 38%
SS 34 Mike Mitchell 156 29%
CB 37 Chris Johnson 138 26%
CB 28 Joe Porter 135 25%
CB 35 Chimdi Chekwa 122 23%
SS 44 Nedu Ndukwe 16 3%
         
    Average DL 3.56  
    Average LB 2.32  
    Average DB 5.12  
         
    Total Defensive Snaps 531  

As you can see, that’s a ton of different DBs that they’ve been forced to use.  For one thing, they’ve had a lot of injuries, and for another, they’ve played a lot of nickel.  As you can see, the Raiders have averaged 5.12 DBs per defensive snap.

This happens because Wimbley is essentially a DE on passing downs (like Von Miller), and Lamarr Houston moves inside from DE.  Given the passing struggles of Tim Tebow, we may not see the nickel so much on Sunday, but it seems to me that the Raiders consider it to be their Best 11 grouping, so we still may.

e.  The pass rush tends to come from the defensive line, and Wimbley.  The Raiders will blitz sometimes with the other LBs as well, and they’ve been using the Safeties more recently in that role, since their longtime Defensive Coordinator died.  The Raiders haven’t used a single blitz from an outside CB this year, but they will sometimes come off of a slot player.

Pos # Name Rush Coverage % Rush % Coverage
DT 92 Richard Seymour 263 1 99.6% 0.4%
DT 93 Tommy Kelly 233 0 100.0% 0.0%
DE 99 Lamarr Houston 143 3 97.9% 2.1%
DE 94 Jarvis Moss 140 8 94.6% 5.4%
DE 90 Desmond Bryant 110 8 93.2% 6.8%
DT 79 John Henderson 89 0 100.0% 0.0%
DE 77 Matt Shaugnessy 101 1 99.0% 1.0%
DE 91 Trevor Scott 85 4 95.5% 4.5%
             
MLB 55 Rolando McClain 51 277 15.5% 84.5%
SLB 96 Kamerion Wimbley 204 81 71.6% 28.4%
WLB 52 Quentin Groves 6 96 5.9% 94.1%
WLB 51 Aaron Curry 6 28 17.6% 82.4%
MLB 56 Darryl Blackstock 2 10 16.7% 83.3%
             
SS 33 Tyvon Branch 28 311 8.3% 91.7%
CB 26 Stanford Routt 0 342 0.0% 100.0%
FS 27 Matt Giordano 9 232 3.7% 96.3%
FS 24 Michael Huff 29 188 13.4% 86.6%
CB 23 DeMarcus Van Dyke 0 147 0.0% 100.0%
CB 30 Jerome Boyd 20 140 12.5% 87.5%
SS 34 Mike Mitchell 16 88 15.4% 84.6%
CB 37 Chris Johnson 0 100 0.0% 100.0%
CB 28 Joe Porter 2 96 2.0% 98.0%
CB 35 Chimdi Chekwa 0 77 0.0% 100.0%
SS 44 Nedu Ndukwe 1 8 11.1% 88.9%
             
    Average DL 3.38 0.07 97.9% 2.1%
    Average LB 0.78 1.43 35.3% 64.7%
    Average DB 0.31 5.03 5.7% 94.3%
             
    Total 4.47 6.53    

f.  All in all, the Raiders' MO is to play a lot of man-to-man, and to count on the front four to generate pressure.  The Raiders have proven that they’re able to do that, and it covers up for some coverage deficiencies at times.  Oakland is 25th against the pass, 16th against the run, and 27th in scoring defense this season.

Raiders Offense

a.  Carson Palmer represents a big change from Week 1.  His arm didn’t look right at all in the Kansas City game, and his accuracy was way off too.  The Raiders signed Palmer’s buddy T.J. Houshmandzadeh this week, and I heard Whosyourmama claim that the arm was looking fantastic on Sirius a couple weeks ago.  I don’t see it.  We’re not just talking about outside throws, either.  Palmer’s ball was slow through the air on just about every throw he tried.

Interestingly, Palmer is still using the same throwing mechanics he had when his arm was a lot stronger.  There’s not a lot of stride to it, unlike a guy like Tim Tebow.  It’s preferable to be able to drive the ball with velocity without needing a lot of room to stride, just from the perspective of being successful in an imperfect pocket, but if you have to step into the throw, that’s what you should do.  Palmer seems to still believe that he has a cannon, but unless something changes, he’s going to need to learn new lower body mechanics in order to be successful.

b.  Darren McFadden likely being out hurts my fantasy team this week (which, who cares, right?) but it helps the Broncos.  Michael Bush is a pretty good RB, but he’s clearly not the threat on the edge that McFadden is.  We could see Taiwan Jones, who is a speedster, so the Broncos will need to watch that.

c.  Darrius Heyward-Bey is turning into a legitimate starting WR in the NFL, and that didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen.  Denarius Moore is the other starter, and he’s looked good for a rookie fifth-rounder.  I mentioned him in September, and he continues to look good.

d.  The Raiders aren’t getting much out of their TEs this season, particularly as Kevin Boss has been banged up a lot.  Oakland does still often use OTs Joseph Barksdale and Bruce Campbell as extra TEs in the running game.  They’ve seen 79 snaps between them in that role.

e.  The offensive line for the Raiders basically is what I said it was in September.  LT Jared Veldheer is the best player of the group, and he’s league-average, and the other four guys are below average.  The Raiders have only given up eight sacks this season, because they know what they are and what they’re not up front, and they don’t schematically put their QBs in position to get sacked.  It’s a combination of play-action, short drops, and max protection on longer drops.  The Broncos could learn a lot from how this is being done, because Denver has better players up front, and much worse results. 

Protection comes first, and if you know you can’t protect for a play, you just don’t call that play.  Wishing it were so doesn’t make it so; I think we know which hand always fills up first.  The Raiders are very self-aware on their ability to pass protect, and the Broncos seem to be massively deluding themselves.

f.  Here’s the participation data for the skill position players on the Oakland offense:

Pos # Name Snaps % of Total
WR 85 Darrius Heyward-Bey 338 71%
WR 17 Denarius Moore 324 68%
WR 80 Derek Hagan 152 32%
WR 12 Jacoby Ford 135 28%
WR 81 Chaz Schilens 128 27%
WR 18 Louis Murphy 21 4%
WR 89 Nick Miller 14 3%
         
TE 83 Brandon Myers 227 48%
TE 87 Kevin Boss 181 38%
TE 86 David Ausberry 12 3%
TE 72 Joseph Barksdale 70 15%
TE 74 Bruce Campbell 9 2%
         
HB 20 Darren McFadden 286 60%
HB 29 Michael Bush 182 38%
FB 41 Manase Tonga 117 25%
FB 45 Marcel Reese 90 19%
FB 42 Richard Gordon 51 11%
FB 25 Rock Cartwright 33 7%
HB 22 Taiwan Jones 15 3%
         
    Average WR 2.33  
    Average TE 1.05  
    Average RB 1.62  

As you can see, the story hasn’t changed much at all since September.  Expect to see at least 2 WR, 1 TE, and 1 RB, and the other spot will mostly be a WR or a RB, since the Raiders have had so much trouble keeping Boss healthy.  (He is participating in practice this week.)

Beating the Raiders Defense

a.  The Raiders are going to come hard after Tim Tebow, just as they did against Kyle Orton in Week 1.  We can be sure of this.  For one thing, their defensive linemen are better than the Broncos' offensive linemen, and for another, Tebow hasn’t made teams pay for coming after him yet.

He’s going to need to start doing so on Sunday, but beyond that, the Broncos need to get focused primarily on protection.  Offensive scheming must start there, as much as Mike Martz has tried to prove otherwise.  (When his offenses were good in St. Louis, he was relying on outstanding OT play.)  I don’t care how the Broncos have to do it, but they must protect the QB.  Everything else comes from there.

The Broncos have kept in an average of 5.6 blockers in on pass plays this season, and that’s probably just a little south of the right number, but the help needs to be where the protection is weak.  How about keeping in six and also having Knowshon Moreno chip Wimbley on his way into the pattern, where he’ll serve as an outlet?  Trust me, if the Broncos help Orlando Franklin square up his feet, he can do a lot better.  If Moreno can slow down Wimbley for a second, Big O can catch up.

b.  In terms of route concepts, the Broncos should come ready to run a lot of man-beating stuff like rubs and crossing routes.  If I’m Tim Tebow, I’m focusing on Eric Decker, and I’m planning on wearing him out.  Since the Raiders play Left and Right CBs, you can line up Decker on the offense’s left and feel pretty comfortable that he can separate against Van Dyke.

c.  I also continue to like the Broncos TEs against the Raiders’ man coverage.  It’s about time for Julius Thomas to show something other than dropped passes and missed blocks.

d.  The screen game and QB run game are back in a big way.  The Raiders’ coverage guys will have their backs to the play a lot, and that presents big opportunities.

e.  The Broncos need to run the ball to the outside against the Raiders.  It can definitely be done, even if they were ineffective at it in Week 1.  I especially like running to Ryan Clady’s side because Shaughnessy is hurt, and he was really stout over there.  If I’m Mike McCoy, I’m telling Tebow that seeing Jarvis Moss across from Clady is an auto-check to an off-tackle run to the left side.

Stopping the Raiders Offense

a.  It’s not really the Broncos’ thing, but I favor a lot of aggressive zone coverage against Palmer.  I really don’t think he has the arm to get the ball into tight spaces anymore.  By aggressive, I mean I’d like to see the Broncos CBs roughing up WRs at the line, like Kansas City does.  I called for Cover-3 in September, and I call for it again.

b.  The Broncos must set the edge in the running game and turn plays back inside.  It’s less of a big deal with Bush than it would be with McFadden, but it’s still a big deal.  I need big performances in the running game from Von Miller, Robert Ayers, and D.J. Williams.  Overall, gap discipline is the key to this game on defense, and it’s second only in importance overall to how well the Broncos protect.

c.  The Broncos will probably spend a great deal of time in base personnel, which makes it imperative that Joe Mays has a good tackling game.  I love the way he sees the play, and gets to the spot quickly, but he has to wrap up just a little better. 

d.  To the people who say that the Broncos are weak at DT, did you know that Brodrick Bunkley is rated 15th in the NFL and Marcus Thomas is 24th by Pro Football Focus?  Thomas would likely be higher yet if he hadn’t missed four games, because he’s been positive in every game.  Bunkley has been positive in every game except versus Green Bay.  As I look down the list, I see Kevin Williams at #25, Cullen Jenkins at #28, Vince Wilfork at #35, Barry Cofield at #37, Ndamukong Suh tied with Casey Hampton at #38, Shaun Rogers at #41, Antonio Garay at #48, B.J. Raji at #58, and Kyle Williams at #62.  That’s a lot of big-name guys down the list.  (Ryan McBean is 55th, and Kevin Vickerson is 82nd.)

In any case, my eyes have been telling me that Bunkley and Thomas have been a good starting duo, and PFF is seeing the same thing.  The Broncos will need them to have another good game Sunday, and for McBean and TJ’s boy Mitch Unrein to step up as well.  There’s no reason that Denver’s inside guys shouldn’t dominate Oakland’s inside guys.

e.  I don’t like blitzing that much in this game, except in strategic spots.  If the Broncos can force the Raiders into 3rd-and-long situations, they’ll be just fine with Miller, Ayers, Thomas, and Elvis Dumervil coming.

Overall, I am not that optimistic, mostly because I don’t think the Broncos can pass protect well enough to win by doing what they’ve been doing, and I don’t see a lot of reason to think that they’ll try anything new.  I think that the Raiders will probably win at home, damn it.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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