When the Broncos played the Raiders in Week 1, the Raiders gashed the Broncos for 190 rushing yards.
There were a lot of flaws in the Broncos' defense. The big plays, however, had a consistent theme.
Joe Mays couldn't make a play.
The Raiders' strategy was simple enough--stretch the edges of the defense and make Joe Mays play to his weakness.
Mays, as we all know, is a thumper. Facing him heads up inside the hole is a losing proposition for anyone.
The Raiders haven't been into losing for awhile. So they simply made Mays go side to side.
Let's take a look at a few examples.
Play 1 - 1st & 10, 1st Quarter, 9:55
The Raiders run a sweep to the left on this play. Here Mays gives a lesson in taking poor angles. The play actually starts off just fine, however.
Mays does a good job of reading through his key here and gets a good jump. But then we begin to see that instead of working down the line of scrimmage, his angle is poor:
Mays has gone too north-south and has underestimated Darren McFadden's speed. It's too bad, since we can see that Wesley Woodyard is getting the hell beaten of him on a double team. Mays needs to book it as fast as he can.
Mays gets there way too late. He dives and whiffs on McFadden. The result is a 9-yard gain.
Mays isn't horrible on this play. But he takes a poor angle and doesn't allow for McFadden's speed in his calculation. Another way of putting it is that he's not fast enough to get sideline to sideline. It was one of the Raiders' first big running plays of the game.
Play 2 - 3rd & 13, 1st Quarter, 1:21
Here we'll see how Mays loses gap contain. The Raiders are in an obvious passing situation, so the Broncos have their linebackers in zone-drop depth.
The play begins. Mays is reading through the guard. It appears as if he recognizes the draw immediately. The nose guard, by the way, it getting creamed by a double team.
Mays moves to flow to the C and D gaps. It's instinctive, but not levelheaded. He's responsible for the cutback B and C gaps. He also finds himself pushed out by the nose guard's double team.
Darren McFadden cuts back. It's too late. Mays dives and whiffs (again). The result is a 20-yard gain.
One might be inclined to wonder why Joe Mays was in the game on a 3rd-and-long package. It's a fair question. The point of the example, however, is not to question the package. It's to show the weakness the Raiders exploited.
Play 3 - 1st and 10, 2nd Quarter, 2:51
This play is similar to the first in that it demonstrates Mays' inability to get sideline to sideline.
Mays once again reads the play perfectly on the snap of the ball as the Raiders run a sweep to the left.
Notice Mays is reacting faster than most of the rest of the team, including Woodyard.
This time his angle is flatter, so he's learned his lesson about trying to attack McFadden north-south. However, Mays simply doesn't have the speed to go east and west. He already finds himself caught in the traffic.
McFadden hits the corner, but Mays is a few yards away. He's got no chance. The result of the play is another 20-yard gain.
I'm not passing judgment on Joe Mays as a middle linebacker. One can easily see, however, upon review of the tape, that Mays' play contributed to a lot of these big plays from the Raiders. Mays took some bad angles, missed his gap assignments, and simply wasn't athletic enough to get to the edge.
Good play from the middle linebacker involves more than just hitting guys hard and getting a nice highlight reel. If you can't range from sideline to sideline, it hurts your team.
In Week 1, the Raiders played on this weakness. Although Darren McFadden won't play in today's game, expect the Raiders to still try and make the Broncos' linebackers go east and west--especially Mays. After all, it worked really well the first time around.