Oakland Raiders Film Room: Week 14 (49ers)

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Play Calling

Among the most impressive aspects of this game was the offensive play calling. There’s a prevailing talking point that goes around from time to time that trick plays and misdirection are just gimmicks used by sloppy teams and that these plays don’t really belong in the game. Often times these people generally lack an understanding of the complexity of the play calling chess match between teams and have never heard of the

constraint theory

of play calling. Essentially it uses the opponents knowledge of the offense against them. Perhaps it’s knowledge of the plays they’ve run on a single drive, in a game, or even in a situation over the course of the season. Once the defense cheats defender positions and assignments in anticipation of a particular play, the offense counter punches with a new play designed explicitly to attack the new weakness of the cheating defense. All of this was on display against San Francisco, often to incredible results.

If there’s anyone that’s railed more aggressively against Oakland use and poor execution of screens than myself, I wouldn’t believe it. Especially on long 2nd and 3rd downs, for whatever reason, Oakland repeatedly has run doomed RB and WR screens which generally gain them little more than a yard or two. I can’t imagine a team that’s scouted them which wasn’t excited about stuffing an ill-executed screen. Against San Francisco they used that scouting against them.

On 2nd & 9 in the second quarter Oakland executes an absolutely beautiful fake WR screen out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) on the go ahead drive. WR James Jones does the hitch step and comes back for the screen pass while TE Mychal Rivera and WR Vincent Brown work very hard to sell their blocks. LB Chris Borland reads screen and breaks super hard on the ball, opening up the middle of the field. Then nearly in unison, Rivera and Brown slip past their defenders and are wide open. Carr delivers a strike to Rivera for 19 yards and a first down inside the SF 10 yard line. It almost makes the 400 failed screens which came before worth it… almost.

Oakland is at the top of the league in number of plays with 6 linemen. Primarily in the power run, the 6 linemen formations have been Oakland’s thing. The benefit of this? Other teams read it as a power run, especially when inside the 5 yard line. On this TD play, Oakland uses a heavy 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 1 WR, 1 extra OL) to fake the power run and throw a play action pass to T Donald Penn in the flat. Penn does a great job of blocking first and waiting a solid two count before his release to really sell the run. Nearly the entire San Francisco defense swarms run side before moving back, but by then it’s too late. Carr could have thrown a better pass but it got the job done for the TD. Poor S Eric Reid tries his best to knock Donald Penn back, but that much weight wasn’t just going to change directions that easily.

Now here’s a screen that worked wonderfully. Sometimes a play can work because it’s different from what’s expected by ANY team in a similar situation. A situation like 3rd and 1 near the goal line while down three points generally lends itself to safe plays: maybe a power run; maybe a short slant route with the RBs staying in to block. Situations like this are prime times for the defense to load up the box and send linebackers up the middle. Oakland sticks with 21 personnel but spreads out the defense by splitting RBs Marcel Reece and Latavius Murray out wide against the man to man Cover 0 defense San Francisco is running. Then they run a kind of pick play, or a slant screen if you will. WR Brice Butler immediately runs to block S Eric Reid (playing inside on pattern match man coverage) while Reece uses Butler’s body as a bit of a pick, cutting inside of him on the slant to the wide open middle of the field. Though Carr knows he has outlets on the other side of the field it’s obvious to him in the pre-snap read that Reece is the man to go to and throws the TD. Such a beautiful play call against an increasingly aggressive defense, frustrated with the time Carr has had to throw all game.

Against San Francisco the Raiders played their best football of the season. The entire team played well against a legitimately threatening team. Hopefully they’re have more of this on display in Kansas City on Sunday. One thing is for sure: This team has a lot of bright spots and is much better than its record would imply. It was going to be a rough year anyway considering the massive personnel turnover and ridiculously difficult schedule but things are looking up in Oakland.

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