On the surface, the Raiders Offense appears to be nothing special. They have no household names, and they’ve been in the bottom-10 in the NFL in scoring for the last 3 seasons. However, a closer look at the system and talent that Jon Gruden has put together shows that the Raiders are poised for a breakout year in 2020.
Last season, the Raiders Offense improved significantly in almost every facet of the game. They went from one of the worst teams in the league in pass protection a year earlier to a top-10 team in sacks allowed and pressure %, largely due to the additions of Trent Brown and Richie Incognito. The passing game reaped the benefits, also finishing as a top-10 team in passing yards, QB rating, 3rd-down conversion rate, and giveaways. The addition of rookie Josh Jacobs, who finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per game, helped turn the rushing attack into an actual weapon at times.
Even before they added as much talent as they did in this year’s draft, the Raiders had the makings of a premiere offense. To start with, Gruden takes a versatile approach with his formations, alignments, and personnel distribution. He loves to get his tight ends and running backs on the perimeter to provide indicators for Derek Carr, which helps define the coverage and mismatches.
Take the below play as an example. The Raiders aligned in an empty formation. Running back Jalen Richard and tight end Darren Waller aligned on the perimeter, and 3 wide receivers aligned inside in a trips bunch. The Lions matched up to Waller and Richard with cornerbacks, which was a heavy indicator that they would be playing zone coverage.
As a result, Carr knew he would have receiver Marcell Ateman running a seam route down the middle of the field against a linebacker, a huge athletic mismatch created by the formation. All Carr had to do was hold the backside safety, which he did.
You can see how the personnel, formation, and play-design all put pressure on the defense. That was also a hell of a throw by Carr.
Gruden used similar alignments often in 2019 to get his best asset, tight end Darren Waller, isolated in advantageous 1-on-1 situations. Waller was an absolute beast last season, showing that he has the size, strength, and athleticism to be the next big star in the NFL at tight end.
Below, you can see Waller use his size and physicality to get on top of the cornerback covering him.
Now watch him use his athleticism to win quickly off the line against a safety in man coverage.
Impressive how quickly he created separation there.
It was a breakout year for Waller, who finished the season with the 2nd-most receptions and yards by a tight end behind only Travis Kelce. With the addition of Jason Witten, Jon Gruden will have a tight-end pairing that will give him even more ability to create mismatches via personnel packages and formations in 2020.
Waller isn’t the only interesting piece in the Raiders’ passing game that will get lots of targets in 2020. Hunter Renfrow provides a good option in the slot and also seemed to develop a rapport with Carr during his rookie season. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams didn’t have the first year with the Raiders that he hoped for, battling through injuries for much of the season. But he provides Carr with another big target, as you can see on this 3rd down play against the Broncos.
Nice to have a tall receiver who can make plays on an overthrown ball like that.
With that said, Carr made this completion happen by holding the safety in the middle of the field, creating the opening for Williams.
To no one’s surprise, the Raiders’ ability to take the next step will hinge on their quarterback. In Derek Carr, Las Vegas has someone who knows how to play the position. You can see from this play, and many of the passes above, that Carr possesses all the tools to be a great quarterback. He has a strong arm and can make all of the throws. He’s accurate, completing a career high 70.4% of his passes in 2019. He’s athletic, can avoid pressure, and knows how to manipulate coverage. You can make a valid argument that 2019 was the best season of his 6-year career. He’s clearly becoming more comfortable in Gruden’s system and should only get better in year 3.
But like every quarterback trying to break through from good to great, Carr needs to become more consistent. He gets in trouble when he forces passes. Sometimes he sticks on his receivers too long as he moves through his progressions. Sometimes, he stares down his receivers and brings the coverage to them, like on this play below against the Chiefs in Week 12.
What else does Carr need in order to have more success? The same thing the passing game as a whole needs – a downfield threat that stretches the field and scares the defense (Something they thought they’d be getting last season in Antonio Brown). As you can see on the above interception, as well as the one shown below, defenses were not afraid to take chances in the middle of the field against the Raiders. We saw plenty of snaps of Cover-0 (man-to-man with no deep safety) and plenty of snaps with safeties sitting on or attacking intermediate routes with the confidence that any downfield threats could be neutralized 1-on-1.
Despite the lack of a true downfield threat, the Raiders were still able to generate 54 pass plays of 20+ yards, good for 12th-most in the NFL. That’s a testament to Gruden’s play-calling. Still, there is a difference between manufacturing big plays and having a downfield burner that can continually stretch the defense, which opens up the underneath and intermediate levels more frequently.
And this is exactly the approach Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock took in this year’s draft, selecting Henry Ruggs III and his blazing 4.27 40-yard-dash speed with the 12th overall pick. They added even more speed, versatility, and size in the 3rd round, drafting Lynn Bowden and Bryan Edwards. It’s clear the Raiders intentions were not just to fill their own holes, but to compete with Kansas City by trying to match them as an offense.
The Raiders now have everything they need to put points on the board in 2020. They have an intriguing system under Gruden. They have versatile talent everywhere. Their running game has to be accounted for and should only improve as defenses become preoccupied with the talent in the passing game. It’s unlikely that the Raiders will be able to actually match the Chiefs on offense in 2020, but they have the ability to come close in their first season in Las Vegas.
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