Oakland Raiders Film Room: Week 16 (Bills)
By Evan Ball
Big deep pass plays weren’t just a strength of the Oakland offense, they were a problem for Oakland’s defense. All of the Buffalo touchdowns came on deep pass plays. While Oakland did manage to steal two interceptions on deeper passes to help balance their performance out, without their deep coverage collapses the game wouldn’t have even been close in the first place.
When rookie WR Sammy Watkins scored his touchdown early in the first quarter the Raiders Twitter Nation exploded in all kinds of rage aimed directly at DJ Hayden for his loose coverage. Not only is the concept of calling a player a bust because of one play despite his fairly solid season a ridiculous idea, but the touchdown wasn’t even entirely his fault – it was also future hall-of-famer Charles Woodson’s. Oakland is in their nickel package (3 DLs, 3 LBs, 5 DBs) in Cover 3. Hayden’s job is three fold: disrupt Watkins’ release, maintain outside leverage & funnel Watkins toward inside help, and stay on top of the route. He fails on two out of three parts of this job as his attempts to keep outside leverage put him a step behind Watkins. However, all is not lost if Woodson does his job – be the deepest man on the field, in position to drive down on any deep route. Woodson correctly slides over to help with two deep routes on that side of the field but incorrectly cuts under to play the short route instead of staying on top of the deeper one leaving Watkins with an open middle of the field to work with. If Woodson maintains his discipline and stays on top of the deepest route he’d be in perfect position to break up that pass.
Buffalo exploits the coverage mismatch on this touchdown to TE Scott Chandler on the first play in the 4th quarter. The success of this play is a direct result of the Watkins touchdown above. Oakland is playing a pseudo 2-man coverage in their nickel package – pseudo because Woodson is heavily favoring help coverage vs Watkins from the start. This essentially sets up S Brandian Ross as a single deep safety, which is why he plays exceptionally deep. Chandler blows past LB Ray-Ray Armstrong on his skinny post route. Ross is too deep to be able to disrupt the pass and too far from the middle of the field (remember – Cover 2) to get a clean hit on Chandler for the tackle. Take note of the “route” Sammy Watkins runs. His short route is designed to take advantage of cheating deep cover guys.