If there was ever a team of destiny, the 2017 Raiders were supposed to be it. This is a franchise that had suffered through 13 straight seasons without a playoff appearance, only to have their quarterback go down for the year with an injury mere weeks before they finally made the postseason in 2016. Then over the course of the offseason, the Raiders finalized plans to leave Oakland altogether in 2019.

This was supposed to be the culmination of general manager Reggie McKenzie’s grand plan since he took over in 2012. Instead, it’s been back to square one. Offensively, defensively, there are issues nearly everywhere you look on the Raiders roster. Some problems though are bigger than others, and come down to not only talent, but scheme as well.

Boom-or-bust secondary

The title above is what the secondary was supposed to be. So far, the “boom” is nonexistent. They are the first team in modern NFL history to go without an interception through their first eight games. It’s almost difficult to believe with how much they’ve invested in their secondary in recent years (two first-round picks and a big free agent deal).

The problem resides with their utilization of the talent on the back end. Sean Smith was brought over from Kansas City as a man-to-man corner. Gareon Conley was a first-round pick because of his man coverage skills at Ohio State. Yet so far, they’ve played almost exclusively zone coverage. They’ve only played man on 24.8 percent of snaps this season, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. It’s no wonder they’ve struggled on the back end.

So far, they’ve allowed a completion percentage of 56.8 on passes targeted 15-plus yards down the field – the second-worst in the NFL. And it’s not like they are just getting terribly unlucky not snagging interceptions. They’ve only broken up 20 passes all season long, the 23rd-most in the league.

There have been gaping holes in the Raiders secondary, and unless they change philosophically, there will continue to be.

Quick-passing game

It’s easy to point the finger at the Raiders’ leaky defense, but that was never going to be the strength of this team. And it certainly wasn’t the strength of the Raiders a season ago. It was supposed to be Derek Carr and his myriad weapons taking the next step to become an elite offense. That step was taken in the opposite direction, however. The Raiders are averaging 21.1 points per game (19th in the NFL) after averaging 26.0 last year.

One of the luxuries of having a top-tier offensive line is that it affords an offensive coordinator the peace of mind to call longer-developing, riskier concepts. Even with $40 million-plus of cap space this season dedicated to offensive linemen, the Raiders have still called the quickest passing attack in the NFL. The offense could run at nearly identical levels behind the Seahawks offensive line with how quickly they’ve gotten the ball out. The numbers below are astounding:

Stat Derek Carr Rank (out of 32)
Time to Attempt 2.14 1st
Passes taking 2.6+ seconds 27.4% 32nd
Comp % on passes taking 2.6+ seconds 43.3% 31st
Passes targeted 20+ yards downfield 10.8% 20th

That 2.14 seconds figure is out-of-this-world fast. We’ve never recorded a quarterback to be below 2.2 over an entire season, and the league average is 2.68 seconds. Carr is rifling the ball out of his hands almost as soon as he gets it snap after snap. When things aren’t open right away and he has to work to a second and third option, he’s had nowhere to go. His completion percentage drops nearly 30 points when his throws take over 2.6 seconds – the largest such gap in the NFL.

Defenses have figured this out and it’s why the Raiders have stagnated. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have had a much tougher time generating space with defensive backs playing without fear of getting beaten over the top. It’s also not helping matters that they’ve had arguably the least effective play-action attack in the NFL.

Play Action Derek Carr Rank (out of 32)
Usage Rate 9.9% 32nd
Completion % 47.8% 32nd
YPA 7.0 31st
QB Rating 67.7 30th
Yards 162 32nd

Those statistics are absolutely inexcusable. Play action should be an integral part of any self-respecting NFL offense. Its benefits are massive, and it should be especially effective behind an offensive line like Oakland’s. The Raiders have treated it like an afterthought though. This is an offense that’s not being schemed to its talent, and sweeping ideological changes are needed to get back on track.

Mike Renner is a writer for Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.

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