Fat off the Bone: Week 1 - Raiders

Several weeks ago, we explored the basics of personnel groupings and how they can quickly tell you how a team wants to attack its opponents.  There's a good reason we got that out of the way before the start of the season: We're going to now put those groupings to the test as we scout the Oakland Raiders.

The goal (at least the stated goal) of these reports is to provide you something akin to what teams get as they prepare each week.

Typically, defensive players will get a report from the advanced scouts that look at the last three or four games of their opponent.  The reports focus on personnel groupings, formations, tendencies, and general tips that will be helpful.  They are generally short and to the point and include diagrams and visuals.  The groupings and formations are always framed in the language of the defensive team's lingo.  So while the offense may have terminology of their own, the scouting reports will be in language of the defense.  In short, the offense may be speaking Latin (or Pig Latin in the case of the Raiders), but the defense is still going to translate the groupings and formations into their own native tongue. E tu, Butkus?

This immediately presents us with a problem.  What language do we use here at Fat Man?  Simply put, something that even the most mainstream of fans will understand.  This means personnel groupings will be referenced by numbers instead of terms (212 will be used to describe 2 RBs, 1 TE, and 2 WRs instead of the term "Regular"); formation descriptions will be kept to a minimum and displayed visually when there is any chance for confusion.

For this scouting report, I looked at the last two games from last season in which the Raiders faced a 4-3 defense.  Again, typically we'd look at the last three or four games, but given that this is Week 1 of the season and rosters have changed significantly, I neither wanted to waste too much time on footage from the preseason (which tells us little), nor too much time looking at film of last season's games against teams who ran a 3-4 defense.  This included a game against the Broncos, which yields little in the way of scouting.  As we have seen, the two-gap 3-4 the Broncos ran last year bears no resemblance to the 4-3 one-gap system they employ now under Dennis Allen.  

This left me with two Raiders games from the last four in which I could generate a reasonable scouting report on how they might attack the Broncos tomorrow night.  The first was Oakland's 38-31 Week 14 road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The second was their 31-26 Week 16 loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts.  The second game is of particular interest because the Colts' defense featured a duo of pass-rushing defensive ends (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) that figure to approximate what the Broncos will unleash with the combo of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller (when he's lined up in pass-rushing situations).  I have no shred of doubt the Broncos have looked at the tape from that game.

Observations

1. The Raiders will use a minimal number of personnel packages and favor the traditional 2-back set.   Here was the breakdown of the Raiders' final 131 snaps (or two games) against 4-3 teams (Jags, Colts) at the end of last season:

Personnel Package      Count     Percentage of Total Snaps    
212 (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) 50 38.17%
113 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) 59 45.04%
122 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) 15 11.45%
221 (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR) 6 4.58%
014 (0 RB, 1 TE, 4 WR) 1 0.76%
TOTAL 131 100.00%

Nearly 43% of their snaps in these two games were run out of two-back sets.  That number would have been much higher if I would have removed those plays in which the Raiders were down in the 4th quarter and almost exclusively featuring a 113 shotgun package.   This describes much of the 4th quarter against the Colts in which the Raiders were trailing.  

Assuming the Broncos aren't up by two touchdowns, you can take it to the bank that they are going to see even more two-back personnel groupings.   Consider, for instance, the personnel packages the Raiders showed on 1st and 2nd downs during those same 131 plays.

Personnel Package      # of Plays      Percentage     
212 (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) 48 48.00%
113 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) 34 34.00%

122 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)

14 14.00%
221 (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR) 4 4.00%
TOTAL 100 100.00%

The Raiders--when they have the luxury of deciding how they want to attack you--are a two-back team.  They're going to bring out a fullback, halfback, one tight end (we'll get to that in a moment), and two wide receivers.

This doesn't mean the Raiders are going to necessarily pound the ball.  The whole idea behind a 2-back personnel grouping is obviously its balance.  A team can never be sure whether the Raiders are going to pass or run.  The two backs are both running threats (less likely with the fullback) and passing threats through the play-action game.  In addition, they can serve as additional pass protection so that a quarterback like Jason Campbell can survey the field.  Finally, they can peel off their pass blocks and serve as outlets when things aren't open downfield.   That's a whole lot of variety, and it requires skill at the running back position, which the Raiders certainly have in halfbacks Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and Taiwan Jones, and fullback Marcel Reece. 

During Denver's matchups last year against the same Jags and Colts, the Broncos showed a 2-back personnel grouping (almost exclusively the 212 package) on fifty-six occasions.  They kept a fairly balanced and play-action approach with this grouping:

Personnel Package      # of Plays     Percentage     
2-Back: Running 32 57.14%
2-Back: Passing 24 42.86%
TOTAL 56 100.00%

In fact, part of the strategy of effectively using only four of the eleven possible personnel groupings as the Raiders have is the ability to disguise pass and run tendencies.  This will be one reason why--if the game is close on Monday night--Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller will not be able to pin their ears back.  The Raiders are just as likely to line up in a 212 package and cram a fullback and tight end towards the "C" gap as they are to go play action.   

2.  The Raiders will show the Broncos a lot of I-Formations.  During the two games I scouted, here was the variety of formations I saw:

Personnel Grouping Formation Count Percentage
212 I-Far 5 3.82%
212 I Formation 31 23.66%
212 I-Near 4 3.05%
212 Power-I 6 4.58%
113 Shotgun 54 41.22%
122/113 Ace 15 11.45%
122/113 Ace Trips 10 7.63%
221 Deuce Wing 1 0.76%
212 Wildcat 1 0.76%
212 Regular - Trips 1 0.76%
122 Ace - Double Wing 1 0.76%
212 Regular - Y Open 1 0.76%
221 Deuce - Double 1 0.76%
  TOTAL 131 100.00%

Removing the Shotgun yet again (everyone uses shotgun when behind), it's clear the Raiders favor variations of the I-Formation and the one-back Ace Formation.  Visually, here are what these formations look like:

For convience, know that H = Halfback, F = Fullback, Y = Tight End, X = Split End, Z = Flanker, and U = 2nd Tight End or Tackle Eligible.  

Be on the lookout for these formations on Monday night, especially the classic I-Formaton and the standard Ace.  Here are a few other things to keep your eye on if you want to impress your friends (based on my sample size of 131 plays, mind you):

  1. When the Raiders show an I-Near formation, they will typically run the ball; however, when they show an I-Far formation, they are more likley to play-action pass.
     
  2. When the Raiders show a classic I-Formation, they are twice as likely to run the ball.
     
  3. It's not a given that the Raiders will always pass out of their Ace formations.  That's because the Raiders will sometimes sneak in an extra tackle that acts like a tight end in their 122 packages.  Thus, a formation that gives the appearance of being a passing formation is actually quite strong in favor of the run.  Expect the Raiders to try and do this with their Ace Trips formation against Dumervil on Monday.  This puts extreme pressure on a defensive end who might be forced to take on a tight end and tackle at the same time.
     
  4. Several times a game, the Raiders will fake a fullback dive and then pitch the ball to the halfback out of a 221 personnel grouping.  Since they run this grouping so infrequently, it's something to look out for.

3. The Raiders like love the tight end position.  This won't come as a shock to anyone, but the Raiders overused Zach Miller.  In the 131 plays I looked at, Miller was in on every play and on every package.  He was as much a fixture as Jason Campbell and the offensive line.  As with the tendency to reduce the number of personnel packages, using Miller excusively on all packages allowed the Raiders the luxury of not having to give away their strategy by subbing in and out of the game a pass-catching tight end and a blocking tight end.  This was a huge tactical advantage--a defense knows when these switches are being made; defensive coordinators can reasonably guess pass or run based on these substitutions alone.

This, by the way, would be an ideal reason why a guy like Julius Thomas should spend a significant amount of his time improving his blocking.  Teams won't be able to read the Broncos' personel groupings quite as easily.  I'll save that discussion for another time, however.

For now, let's continue to focus on Miller.  He bolted from Oakland's every-day-is-Halloween environment for Seattle in the offseason.  This single piece of news probably ensures a Broncos victory more than anything else.  Miller was impossible for the Broncos to cover; he regularly exposed D.J. Williams in the passing game.  There's a reason Miller was targeted with almost 19% of the Raiders' throws last year.  He was that good.

In an attempt to bolster the position, the Raiders smartly signed Kevin Boss.  Unfortunately for the Raiders, he's out for tomorrow's game.  So the Raiders will likely be starting Brandon Myers.  Heard of him before?  No?  That's excellent news for the Broncos and could put a cramp in Hue Jackson's tight-end loving.

4. The Raiders utilize a lot of pre-snap motion.  Against the Colts, the Raiders opened the game with four straight plays using pre-snap motion with Zach Miller.  Against the Jags, they opened up with five out of their first ten plays showing pre-snap motion.  Of the 131 plays, I casually noticed 34 plays that utilized pre-snap motion.  Again, it would have been a higher number had the Raiders not had to operate most of the 4th quarter out of the shotgun against the Colts.

Why so much pre-snap motion?  There are several reasons:

  1. It allows Jason Campbell the ability to get a better handle on his man/zone reads.  The thinking is that if a defense is playing man coverage, the defensive back will follow the motion man.   If he doesn't, Campbell can look for the soft areas of the zone.
     
  2. It allows the Raiders to disguise their true intentions.  Hue Jackson will often give the other team false motion away from the true direction of the play. The Raiders actually do this quite a lot.
     
  3. It allows the wide receivers a chance to get into the action.  One trick the Raiders (and hell, let's face it, everyone) use is to motion one of their split receivers to the formation in order to crack back on the defensive end or outside linebacker.
     
  4. To create mismatches.  The Raider will sometimes motion Darren McFadden out of the backfield to a split wide position.  Send a linebacker out to cover him and face the grotesque consequences.
     
  5. To make Dennis Allen think.  Yeah, it really is that simple.  A defense that is set and prepared to execute a specific coverage isn't as comitted to do so if they are constantly having to adjust to motion.

I expect that the Broncos will see a lot of pre-snap motion to begin the game on Monday night, despite the abscence of Zach Miller.  Hue Jackson can't change his stripes.

The Bottom Line

The key to this game, at least defensively, will be the Denver linebackers.  The Raiders pose little threat to the Broncos' secondary with Miller gone and without Kevin Boss and leading receiver Louis Murphy (out as well).  Further, for as much as we've focused on the defensive tackle position, Kevin Vickerson and Brodrick Bunkley will hold their one-gap responsibility well enough. The Raiders are going to play-fake the hell out of the Broncos.  This means that the Broncos' linebackers will be ripe for biting on these fakes.  They have to resist this urge.  If they don't, Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, and even Brandon Myers will have the ability to get behind them for big plays.  At the same time, they've got to fill quickly.  Now that the Broncos are using a one-gap system, the Raiders are likely to attack those gaps for which the linebackers are responsible.  This means, for example, Joe Mays taking on Marcel Reece in the strongside A gap while Wesley Woodyard makes a tackle on Darren McFadden.

If the Broncos can do this consistently enough, they will get to third and long.  This puts Oakland into a position where they will have to operate out of the shotgun.  Once they do this, the Broncos can put their real weapons--Dumervil and Miller--to work.  


TJ Johnson can be reached through telegraph, ESP, Spanish interpretor, or via email: tjthedudejohnson@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter if you want to see him mock "the man."  He assumes you are following It’s All Over Fat Man on Facebook and Twitter, but if you are not, that’s nihilistic, man.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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