Back to the Bay With Rory Anderson is a weekly column every Thursday from Just Blog Baby Podcast cohost Rory Anderson. Check Rory every Friday at Noon Pacific on the Just Blog Baby Podcast on BlogTalkRadio.
If you thought watching the game live was tough, you should go back to Sunday’s Eagle game and watch the coach’s tape. It was even more brutal than the live version. It is tough to comment on this game because it is one of those losses you just want to forget. I try to be as positive as I can in my columns, but in this week’s version, it is going to be a list of guys that need to be called out.
Most fans watched this game and came away with the idea that DJ Hayden is terrible. In reality, DJ Hayden struggled in this game as did the entire team. The first touchdown DJ gave up was a mixed bag. It began well with his press coverage when he got his hands inside on Cooper and rerouted him to the sideline. What came after that was a cacophony of crappy. Hayden did something I have been waiting to see for weeks, he got his head around, and for some reason he stopped. He obviously misread the ball in the air and must have assumed it was uncatchable, but it was thrown perfectly and Cooper used his length to make a great catch. Later in the game on the third touchdown that is accredited to Hayden’s poor coverage, he simply got burnt by Desean Jackson which is entirely understandable. Most notably on that play, there was only a single high safety that had no chance to help Hayden deep.
The second touchdown is very contentious. I have spent a significant amount of time on Twitter discussing this play, but it alone encompasses every issue the Raiders had on this day. Firstly, Hayden was in a deep zone coverage playing outside leverage. That means he was turned in looking at the quarterback and it was his job to force the receiver inside toward the safety. The Eagles either called a deep post play or Cooper simply made the adjustment to the post. None of that should have mattered, except there was no safety help deep. One person tweeted me saying a first round draft pick shouldn’t need help covering his man. That statement is irrelevant in this context because it was a zone defense that was designed to funnel the deep man toward the middle of the field. On this play as happened on many, Charles Woodson was nowhere to be found.
This segues perfectly into my next target. Charles Woodson had an abysmal game and hanging Hayden out to dry on this play was only one of many. He struggled with tackling, he blew several deep coverages, and bit hard on the under routes and play action. It was a rough day for Woodson, but unlike Hayden he has escaped with virtually no criticism. I have no intention to tear the man apart, but the fact is no player on this defense should be allowed to avoid any criticism whatsoever.
Charles has been there and has suffered through the kind of performance that Hayden had which makes him invaluable to the growth of this team. What is most remarkable about Charles is his short memory and leadership. This team will need to use Charles’ experience in order to move on from this terrible game if they want to make anything out of this season.
Brandian Ross and Mike Jenkins
These are the last two players I am going to point out by name before I move on to bigger discussions. Brandian Ross is the only safety that played worse than Charles Woodson, but in fairness, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver did not put him in a position to succeed. Several times he was the man responsible deep and he did not have the speed to keep up and make a play. He was also brutalized in the red zone when he was in zone coverage because the pass rush was simply non-existent. We as Raider fans have seen this problem before and we also knew coming into this season that this was always a possibility.
Mike Jenkins also struggled. Last week he recorded his first interception of the year and played very well. In this game he gave up several catches as did every cornerback, but he also had one embarrassing play when he fell down in press coverage and gave up a touchdown. That was really the crowning failure in the game and it resembled how overwhelmed this team was from the very beginning. It was quite astonishing to see the Raiders not only look overwhelmed and mistake prone, but also completely outcoached along with unprepared.
No team gives up seven touchdowns unless it is entirely unprepared for what they were going to face. Not only were the Raiders unprepared, but the gameplan was a joke and that statement is tough to make, but it is true. The one upside to the performance from Tarver’s defense is that it has sure killed all of the Twitter discussions about the Raiders losing him to a head coaching position in the offseason.
As the saying goes, the game isn’t won on the field, its won in the preparation. Watching this game was absolute torture and to see all the blow assignments and nonsensical coverages with a nonexistent pass rush, just made me think back to the preseason when this defense looked like the worst ever. It was obvious early in this game that Tarver had a disastrous game plan that had no chance of success. One thing I have noticed about Tarver is his consistent inability to compensate for the no huddle. Against the Jaguars they moved up and down the field while in the no huddle. The Redskins went with a no huddle early in that game and the Raiders had no answer, and of course in both the Broncos and Eagles games, the Raiders were shredded by the no huddle. Want an interesting set of stats? The Raiders out gained the Eagles, they possessed the ball twice as long as the Eagles, they ran twice as many plays as the Eagles, and yet they were absolutely dominated. The Raiders came into that game having not given up a run over twenty yards and they did. The Raiders were one of the league leaders in not giving up big plays, and against the Eagles they gave up huge pass play after huge pass play. The question is, “why”?
From a schematic standpoint, the Raiders consistently came out with base formations against three and even four wide receiver sets. This was most likely done to create a pass rush and not eliminate the complex blitzes that Tarver loves, but it created terrible matchups. Secondly, the Eagles used several different bunch formations where they would tightly group three wide receivers on one side of the field or a combination of receivers and tight ends. The advantage of this formation is that it forces the defense to show its coverage scheme pre snap and in an offense that snaps the ball every 18 seconds, that advantage is invaluable.
The common response to stopping or slowing down this type of offense is to go into a two man under shell with press coverage and pass rush with four down lineman. That is precisely the problem for the Raiders, they do not have four guys that can pass rush down after down and get consistent pass rush. What makes this defense work is its unpredictable nature and in standard nickel or dime look it loses that advantage.
I am all about solutions so this is where my creative side kicks in. It would be highly advantageous for the Raiders to stop with the normal nickel looks and instead go to four or five linebacker looks in both instances. I guarantee someone just realized I wrote the Raiders should come out on defense with five linebackers and six defensive backs. Yes, this concept should apply to dime situations as well, but it would be best in nickel lineups. This defense would have Lamar Houston and Vance Walker lined up over the guards, and a mix of four linebackers that can rush the passer. By doing this the Raiders can still confuse the quarterback and offensive line by blitzing their linebackers from any of the four spots. The Raiders could still overload certain lineman and get creative with their zones as well because it puts two more players with versatile abilities on the field as opposed to four linemen that can only pass rush.
The NFL has seen examples of the 2-4-5 and 1-5-5 nickel defenses work. Many traditional 3-4 teams run some sort of four linebacker nickel package and a couple of years ago when Rob Ryan was in Cleveland; they used the five linebacker package with good success. Beyond scheme and gameplanning there are also significant issues with Tarver’s playcalling in these no huddle situations. This game saw a receiver screen go for fifty yards because the corners were in disgustingly soft coverage, and another play where LeSean McCoy motioned to the outside as a receiver and was not covered! It seems as if this entire defense the coach included, all tense up and lose their swagger in these situations and the only way I imagine fixing that is by being aggressive and unpredictable.
Lastly, the communication issues were apparent. It is tough to get a defense set in eighteen seconds, but it can be done. Tarver needs to think outside the box to fix this problem and simply mimic Chip Kelley. Because only one player can hear the play call, Tarver should hold up a sign with the play that corresponds to a wristband that every defender has. Yes the other team can see what is called and eventually key on it, unless you switch out the wristbands. I would propose a switch every half of every quarter where the plays are scrambled so the offense cannot derive the play call from the cards. In fact if they try, the defense may coax them into a bad play call.
Greg Olson and Terrelle Pryor
For some reason there seems to be a huge disconnect with Greg Olson when gameplanning and calling plays for Terrelle Pryor. Granted Olson comes from a combination West Coast and vertical passing offenses that utilize pure pocket passers, and this is his third quarterback he has developed a playbook for, but something doesn’t make sense. I see no growth in the playbook and few added route concepts. In fact if you watch the end of the game with Matt McGloin under center the Raiders threw two fade passes and Pryor hasn’t attempted one all season. Moreover, the Raiders utilized more complex route concepts with some shorter routes underneath.
This brings me to my main concern. I am seeing significant regression in Terrelle Pryor. I do not want to hear the excuse of a bad offensive line, because I have discussed in several columns how the Raiders can counteract that pressure with short passes and screens. What concerns me is the simple fact that Olson isn’t calling those plays and he is keeping the route concepts very simple with few reads. It concerns me because it tells me that Olson has little faith in Pryor’s ability to move through his progressions and find an open receiver and if that is true which I believe it is, it limits this offense dramatically. In fact, it wouldn’t matter who the offensive coordinator was, if the quarterback cannot find the open man then the passing game will struggle. Defenses will play a basic cover two man under shell and rush four while leaving man to spy Pryor and limit his runs. Wait a second…that’s exactly what the Eagles did.
You will not find a bigger Terrelle Pryor fan than I, but I am legitimately concerned that he will not break through this wall. The defensive gameplan to stop the Raiders will be so basic that most any team could do it and if the offense goes no huddle, this team will lose 42-20 every week. I want to see what Matt McGloin can do and it may not happen in this game, but I think every Raiders fan will see a huge difference in the passing game with McGloin. His coach his senior year was the offensive coordinator in New England and he helped Tom Brady build that complex receiver open route based offense that the Patriots use. McGloin is a polished quarterback with solid mechanics. His biggest issue is his height, but there are ways to work around that both schematically and by McGloin.
I proposed this idea on Twitter and it got mixed responses. Many people want to ride out the season with Pryor and see if he develops and that is a patient and legitimate response that I appreciate. On the other hand, many people recognize the shortcomings in Pryor’s game and they want to see a more pocket passer lead this offense. Neither side is wrong, but I will say that I am leaning toward the latter because I am seriously concerned about Pryor’s regressions.
One thing Pryor does best is scramble, but sometimes it is also his greatest enemies. When he does that spin move to avoid pressure rather than step up, he takes his eyes off his receivers which make it difficult to find the open receiver. He must learn to step up first and then if needed to mover to either side while keeping his eyes downfield. He also needs to be more decisive and get the ball out of his hand quicker. This issue has many angles though. On one hand it is a schematic and play calling issue, but on the other it is an anticipation issue for Pryor and if he cannot throw receivers open then he will continue to be limited. Lastly, he has to make it through his progressions before running. Too frequently in this game Pryor looked for one read then ran and if he continues to do that without giving the routes time to develop, then this offense will go nowhere.
What concerns me coming into this came isn’t the pass rushing from the Giants which has been limited since Jason Pierre-Paul has had his back surgery, but instead the potential for the Giants the put up fifty points on the Raiders. The Giants are coming off of a bye and their offense is entirely based on the pass. Even their running backs do their best work in the receiving game and with the trio of Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Hakeem Nicks with Eli Manning slinging them the ball, this could be a long day if they go with a no huddle offense.
If I were an offensive coordinator scheming to play the Raiders, I would run the no huddle exclusively and put Tarver on his heels. In those situations Eli Manning has been legendary and with the blows assignments and terrible plays that the Raiders had last week, I would expect the Giants to blow out the Raiders who will be traveling to the east coast. The Raiders will have the opportunity to force turnovers in game, but only if this defense gets its act together quickly. I was trying to come up with a plausible score for this game but there are too many unknowns especially when dealing with the Raiders defense. One thing I will predict, Menelik Watson will shut down Jason Pierre-Paul in this game. At least with that one I have football karma on my side with him running his big mouth today.