Here at Fat Man, we think you deserve more than just football analysis.
You deserve a nice meal, too. So in the spirit of food and drink, we present to you our weekly analysis of the upcoming Broncos game and opponent. May you leave a little wiser. And with a full stomach.
This week, we’re gonna chow on the Oakland Raiders.
The Appetizers (Big Picture) - Because everyone needs a little snack right when they walk in the door.
Always the epitome of NFL ineptitude, the Raiders started this season with a record seven consecutive seasons with 11-or-more losses. They’ve also switched coaches as much as most people change underwear—Tom Cable is the Raiders 7th different coach since 2001.
The Raiders come into this game with a 2-4 record after a brutal performance against the 49ers last week. Despite this record, however, most of the games the Raiders have played have been very competitive.
The Raiders are 14th in the league in yards per rushing attempt at 4.24 yards. On film, it’s clear they really do a good job of using motion, traps, and multiple sets to clear the way for backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. They are in the mid-20s in most passing categories and are 26th and 27th in interceptions and sack rate, respectively. In theory, at least, the Broncos should have the opportunity to create turnovers and introduce Jason Campbell to the Mile High turf.
On defense, the Raiders bring to Denver an average unit. It’s not great, but solid. On film, I was particularly impressed with how safety Michael Huff supports the run and the toughness and versatility of linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Of course, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is on another planet. For what’s it’s worth, rookie linebacker Rolando McClain appears to have difficulty playing from side-to-side and gets caught up in traffic.
The Raiders are 31st in rushing yards allowed per play and 23rd in passing yards allowed per play. Overall they are 24th in yards allowed per play (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I use yards per play as the benchmark, not total yards per game).
Denver has finally found their equal in red-zone futility. The Raiders come in at just over 38% in the red zone, so even if the Raiders make it into Broncos territory, look for the husky Sebastian Janikowski to waddle out for the field goal try a few times on Sunday.
The Raider can also—as always—shoot themselves in the foot. They have had 154 yards and 16 first downs this year nullified by penalties. The Broncos, in contrast, have had 131 yards and 7 first downs nullified; the Broncos consider this undisciplined. In Oakland, they probably call it aggressive.
The Salad (General Strategy) - Because your mother would want you to eat your vegetables.
Offensively, the Raiders, under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, show a surprising variety of formations. It’s easy to see why they are scoring more points than they did last year under Tom Cable’s play calling. I especially like Jackson’s use of the shotgun 113 package, which has been very effective with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
They have a preference, however, to use 2-back personnel groupings (212 package) in order to establish the run. They then try to play-action pass off of these later in the game. The strong offset-I formation is a particular favorite of the Raiders. Another tendency I discovered through film study was that when the Raiders show a single back or H-back formation—utilizing their tight end in a flex position just off the line of scrimmage—they tend to either run to the flex side of the line of scrimmage or use the flex tight end to cut across the formation in a trap. This allows them to pound the ball up the middle. This trap is a favorite, so look for it when you see this flex formation.
Because of the Raiders’ use of two-back sets, Jason Campbell loves to dump the ball off to his running backs in the passing game. It’s hard to tell from the tape if this is because his two primary receivers are often covered or if he’s just giving up on the play too early. It’s clear, however, that Campbell gets skittish in the pocket from the tape I watched against the 49ers. He’s got good reason. The Raiders give up a ton of sacks—almost one out of every ten snaps. This game is a good opportunity for the Broncos to improve their sack totals.
Two more things stood out from watching film of the last 3 games. First, tight end Zach Miller is a favorite target over the middle and in the flat. It’s a tendency impossible not to notice. Second, the Raiders under Campbell are not the same team as they are with Gradkowski. Gradkowski has what we say call in Spanish the “noséque” (I don´t know what) that Campbell just doesn´t. When Gradkowski is in the game, the Raiders have electricity. With Campbell, they seem rather sluggish.
Defensively, in a nutshell, the Raiders like to play an aggressive 4-3 base defense; they love to close off one half of the field by using Nnamdi Asomugha in man coverage (they love man coverage in general). When I saw this on film I was completely stunned. I knew Asomugha was a great cover cornerback. But I wasn’t prepared for just how often they line him up in man coverage while the strong safety cheats into the box and the free safety cheats opposite Asomugha. I’m not into estimating percentages, so let’s just say it’s a lot. Darrelle Revis might get top billing as the NFL’s best cornerback, but from what I’ve seen, Asomugha is easily the NFL’s top corner in skill.
I can’t wait to see what the Raiders do with Asomugha. Do they put him on Lloyd or do they put him on Gaffney? My guess is Lloyd, and if so, I will be giddy to watch what happens. Brandon Lloyd is a much better route runner than anyone realizes, with amazing body control; I would love to see if Kyle Orton can connect on a few big plays over the back shoulder. We could find out just how good Lloyd really is in this game.
Another thing I found interesting on film is that the Raiders will stay in their base 4-3 against 3-wide receiver sets. This forces OLB Wimbley into the slot for defense (more on this later).
Soup (Special Teams) - Because, like good special teams, a great soup can make the meal.
It’s no secret over the last 5 years that the most valuable players on the Raiders reside on the kicking team—Shane Lechler and Sebastian “Mini-Hutt” Janikowski.
This year Janikowski is only 14 out of 19 on field goals, but Lechler remains the best punter in the game. His gross punting average is an amazing 50.1 yards per punt. His net is almost as amazing at 45.6 yards per punt.
The Raiders rank 15th in average yards per punt return, and 28th in average yards per kickoff return. They are a little better in coverage. Their punt coverage is 12th and their kickoff coverage unit is 24th. This last stat could mean another big day for Demaryius Thomas in the return game if he is back receiving kickoffs, although in Denver, these kicks are likely to sail into the end zone.
Last year, there were many who advocated for the Broncos to draft Jacoby Ford for the purposes of special teams. The Raiders did, and he has almost paid dividends. He’s a threat to take every kickoff he touches back for a big gain. But on film, every time he does, the Raiders commit a penalty. Don’t be fooled by Ford’s numbers. They are deceptive. He could be a real problem for the Broncos kickoff-coverage unit if Matt Prater gives him a chance.
Entree (The Plan of Attack) - Because you need to think about how you’re going to finish the main course.
1. Attack through the slot. On film the Raiders will often stay in their 4-3 base if the offense shows a 3-receiver package. They’ll use strong-side linebacker Kamerion Wimbley to cover the slot. This is a critical weakness the Broncos can exploit. Wimbley is actually quite good if he can jam the receiver. But line Eddie Royal or Eric Decker off the line of scrimmage and they’ll immediately have space. It’s a mismatch the Broncos must attack in the passing game. The Raiders love to play man-to-man coverage. Make them pay for it.
2. DJ Williams shadows Jason Campbell. From what I saw on film, Campbell will quickly look to dump the ball off to his backs or tuck and run if he feels like the pocket is even remotely close to breaking down.
3. Play 4-3. The Raiders’ hope is to establish the run because of their inconsistency in the passing game under Campbell. If they are unable to do this, their play action is meaningless, and they will be forced to use the shotgun. Campbell has not made good decisions out of this formation. By playing another week out of the 4-3, the Broncos will be putting more beef on the line and taking away what Oakland wants to do early.
4. Blitz. I will probably advocate this every week, but against the Raiders, it’s really true. Unlike a Peyton Manning, Jason Campbell is prone to overthrows and decision-making errors. Why not hasten this process through the blitz? It worked well against Mark Sanchez in the 2nd half last week. I’m not saying that Jason Campbell is playing like a 2nd-year player—well, actually, I am.
5. The bunch-trips formation. Because the Raiders favor man coverage, the bunch formation can effectively screen defenders, giving the Broncos’ receivers an extra 4-5 yards on their defender.
6. Pound the ball to the right side with Chris Kuper, Zane Beadles, and Daniel Graham. On film, Lamarr Houston is struggling against the run. The Broncos should attack this vulnerability and they should attack it often.
Dessert (Keys to the Game) - Because your sweet tooth will always remember what you had for dessert.
This is what you need to know when watching this game: if the Broncos shut down the Raiders in the running game, they are going to win. The Raiders under Jason Campbell are not a strong throwing team. He’s too inconsistent. While it’s possible Campbell could have a rare game in which he’s playing above average, what’s more likely is that he’ll show what he showed last week—speeding past his reads, skittishness in the pocket, overthrows, and panic.
This is a game the Broncos ought to win—even if they weren’t playing at home. However, I think they will struggle if they don’t play the 4-3. The Raiders’ strength—running the football—had been the Broncos’ weakness up until last week.
In the end, though, there’s no doubt the Broncos can come out on top. Although you hear a lot about how the Raiders are 8th in the league in passing defense, this is a little misleading. They are 23rd in passing yards per attempt. So the Broncos’ passing offense is going to be able to make some big plays against them—even if the Broncos can’t establish a running game yet again.
If none of this works, the Raiders’ propensity for penalties will always doom them. Expect to see the Raiders once again commit stupid errors out on the field. As Mark Schlereth recently said, “If you just wait long enough, the Raiders will beat themselves.”
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