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.
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)|
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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