Oakland Raiders Film Room: Week 7 (ARI)

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Passing to the Flat

Week after week Oakland attempts to throw the ball to the flat with disastrous results. Whether it’s a checkdown pass, a designed flat route concept, or a running back or receiver screen Oakland more often than not gets short to negative yardage – often on 3rd down. Here we’ll compare one of Oakland’s attempts to one of Arizona’s to contrast the differences and deduce the reasons for the difference in yardage.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Qb Derek Carr lines up in shotgun with 20 personnel (2 RB, 0 TEs, 3 WRs) on the field against Arizona’s nickel defense (3 DLs, 3 LBs, 5 DBs) in Cover 1 Man/Man-free coverage. Carr sees press coverage against WR Denarius Moore on the right side of the field, reading man, and assumes that RB Darren McFadden will be open on the bubble route in the flat. Carr doesn’t take into account that the Arizona linebackers are lined up directly over the running backs and will follow them on their routes, and that there is a safety dropped very low on the right side of the field. By the time McFadden gets the ball he has 4 defenders swarming him, leaving him no chance but to hit the ground.

So much about football is playing a numbers game. The idea is to have either more players to the side of the play to allow for a blocking advantage, or to use misdirection to take defensive players away and give the ball carrier or receiver a chance to make a play. Neither of that is available on this play. Arizona has four defenders outside of the hash mark before the snap on the right side (top of image). Whether zone or man defense throwing to McFadden puts him at a huge disadvantage without some major misdirection.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Arizona runs a textbook screen play out of an Offset I formation with 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs) against Oakland’s 4-3 Over front (4 DLs shifted toward the strong side, 3 LBs shifted toward weak side, 4 DBs) with S Brandian Ross lined up in the box for added run support. Firstly, look at the misdirection. QB Carson Palmer looks straight downfield during his five step drop to keep the linebackers and the safety honest. The offensive line shows pass block before letting the pass rushers by them. Andre Ellington hesitates and shows pass block before he gets into his route. Secondly, we get into numbers. Once the offensive line releases the pass rushers they get outside and to the second level. Due to the misdirection there is only one linebacker to pick up and then Ellington has a lead blocker and open field ahead of him against only a blocked corner and trailing defenders. When Palmer drops the ball over the defenders (not to the side like Carr often attempts) the numbers in the space in front of Ellington are clearly to his advantage. This is how big yards are gained in the NFL.

As Oakland faces off against Cleveland this week hopefully some of the bonehead mistakes like missed tackles will be fixed. More importantly, it would be nice to see Carr recognize the numbers advantages and disadvantages on the field to avoid wasted plays and take advantage of mismatches. The game against Cleveland is very winnable for Oakland. If the Raiders can maintain a continue to develop chemistry in the passing game and work on eliminating these key weaknesses they just might bring home that first big win for the Raider Nation.