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NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs

Ransacking the Raiders: What the Bucs need to do in order to beat Las Vegas in Week Seven

Bucs stand alone atop the NFC South after shellacking the Green Bay Packers. Let’s see how they can stay on top.

 Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) throws the ball in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs
| Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to be honest with you, that’s not the result I expected from that Week Six game against the Packers. Not just because of the final score, but also because of the lack of mistakes.

The Bucs simply didn’t shoot themselves in the foot and it ended up serving them very well as they absolutely demolished Green Bay.

While it’s nice to think about a big win, maybe the biggest in years, it’s unfortunately time to move on to Week Seven.

This week, the Buccaneers will be headed to Las Vegas to play the Jon Gruden led Raiders on Sunday afternoon, after their primetime game was flexed from Sunday Night Football.

This Raiders team is odd. They almost lose to the Panthers in Week One, lose to the post-Brady era Patriots in Week Three, but they also come with wins against the Chiefs and Saints. I am really just not sure what kind of team this is yet, but then again, I don’t know who the Bucs are either.

The problem with the Bucs for me is still the self-imposed mistakes. They may have stopped for one game but can they keep up this discipline for the whole season? I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.

For the Raiders, I think the problem is that their defense just isn’t very good and it causes them to lose leads when their offense is able to put one together. The great teams that they beat, like the Saints and Chiefs, they were able to beat because their offense just out-matched firepower.

In fact, the Raiders are sixth in the league in points per game with 30.2 ppg, however, they also allow the sixth most points per game, giving up 30.4 ppg in their five games.

So, what can the Bucs focus on or take advantage of to win this Week Seven game? Let’s find out.

Offense

Throw at the Raiders safeties and linebackers

One big issue with the Raiders defense, outside of not being able to get to the quarterback, is that their coverage isn’t very good. It’s not even because of a lot of miscommunications, it’s just guys out of position because they weren’t where they were supposed to be.

Their corners aren’t the best in coverage either, but their safeties and linebackers are even worse. Johnathan Abram, the second year safety out of Mississippi State is struggling quite a bit, as is former CFL safety, Erik Harris.

They can’t keep up with the deeper routes and were absolutely shredded by the Chiefs, despite their eventual win. As for the linebackers, three guys see a lot of time on the field, and only one of them is above average in coverage. The two that aren’t very good at stopping the pass are Cory Littleton and Nicholas Morrow.

While Pro Football Focus ratings aren’t the end all be all when it comes to field presence, they can still act as good indicators for how well a player does in a certain area. Against the pass, Cory Littleton holds a 36.4 rating, Morrow a 55, Harris a 46.9, and Abram a 48.1.

Just for some perspective, Lavonte David, one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL, holds a 90.6 Pro Football Focus rating against the pass.

Whether the defense is in man or zone, these four guys just can’t cover proficiently and here are some examples:

Here we’ll look at Cory Littleton against Travis Kelce in the slot. I will begin by saying that Kelce is one of the hardest tight ends to cover based on his size, speed, and skill. However, this was just bad.

Littleton initiates contact on Kelce as he stems inside but then gets immediately shrugged off when Kelce counters the contact. Not just this, but he stumbles when attempting to match the route that he ends up about four steps away from Kelce when the ball is thrown.

The issue here was the initial contact underneath, he was pretty much doomed from this moment. Littleton overextends pretty far when he tries to bump Kelce and it gets him off balance which makes it that much easier for Kelce to shrug him off.

Even when Littleton is in position, he can get out-muscled to the ball. Both he and Morrow can have issues with size, which I believe can set up some favorable matchups for Rob Gronkowski.

Outside of this specific matchup, I think that the Bucs will be able to take advantage of both of these guys in coverage with tight ends and receivers alike.

This is just an example in man, so he was likely to be lined up on a tight end or running-back. However, when in zone, he and Morrow allow receivers to get behind them for easy completions in front of the safeties, who also have problems with coverage...

Let’s take a look at their safety situation:

On this play, the Raiders look to be in Cover 3. Safety Erik Harris is playing in the box so once pass is read, he should be sprinting to his position in the curl/flat zone.

He sort of makes his way there, however, on his way he seems to get confused and takes a step back towards the seam, instead of towards the sideline where a receiver catches an easy out.

There’s no receiver in the flat, no one is crossing behind him (which wouldn’t be his zone anyway), and Josh Allen is staring down this route. Trust me, I checked the end zone angle and Allen doesn’t move his head at all.

If Harris sprints to that area without that little step, he probably doesn’t knock down the pass regardless since the run fake occupied him for a second. But that doesn’t matter. If Harris makes it to that area, there’s the potential for a hit to dislodge the ball or to intercept it if it’s a bad throw inside.

Josh Allen could’ve thrown this ball about three yards inside and it still would’ve been completed and that’s not ok.

If two receivers were on that side of the field, the corner playing the deep third would have to take anything deep, leaving an out like that to be completed and then lead to a huge run after the catch.

This happens quite a bit, whether Harris is in an underneath zone, or in a deep one, receivers get away from him and it can lead to big plays. This is especially true when the receiver is a burner, like Scotty Miller.

Now let’s look at Johnathan Abram in man:

Abram is playing man to man with this receiver who runs a slant, pivots to the outside, and ends up wide open.

When playing man against routes like this, a speed turn technique is typically used to get the cover guy into a good position. This is what Abram does here, however, a speed turn needs to be exactly that, speedy. Instead of one quick hip turn and adjustment towards the corner, Abram takes far too long and it leads to an easy 25 yard gain.

I’m not going to sit here and type away about how easy this is, because it’s not. But, playing in the NFL requires that corners and safeties can do things like this at a semi-proficient level and this was not that.

If the Bucs throw some quick change of direction routes against these guys, I expect to see things similar to this. It’s not just Abram that struggles in man after all.

Keep the run game going

I won’t say a lot about this as I went into it pretty extensively against the Packers, however, the Raiders are allowing just as many yards per carry (4.8) as Green Bay was prior to Week Six.

I would say that this is just as important as it was last week, especially since the Raiders’ offense is potent, albeit not as potent as Green Bay’s. Holding onto the ball and keeping it away from the Raiders’ offense can only benefit the Buccaneers.

Now obviously, this is important in any NFL game. Controlling the ball and keeping drives going is one of the best and most well known formulas to win. However, against teams like the Packers and now the Raiders, this is something that shouldn’t be too difficult to do if the Bucs don’t commit too many penalties and end up in 2nd or 3rd and long situations.

Defense

Put the game purely on the shoulder’s of Derek Carr

This Gruden led Raiders offense is not predicated on deep routes and long throws, instead it is more of a run first, pass short, and control the ball kind of offense. Make no mistake though, this offense puts up lots of points, and lots of yards.

When the Raiders open up games, they tend to always begin with heavy rushing volume and some play action mixed in. Despite their propensity for the run though, Josh Jacobs is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry which puts him at T-42nd in the NFL.

It is perplexing though, as Jacobs is still a good running-back. Looking at the film, there were some flashes of excellence, but other times his line failed him or the play was doomed from the start.

However this is about stopping the flashes of excellence like we see here:

The Raiders run a split zone here which is just a zone run with the tight end pulling and cleaning up the backside edge. Once Jacobs gets the ball, he has three reads to make and they are all indicated by the arrows when the play freezes.

He sees almost immediately that the backside is wide open and the second he hits the line of scrimmage he makes a jump cut that gives him just enough space to get outside of Chris Jones (95). Even with the space, Jones hits him and we get to see Jacobs’ balance through the contact. After that, he just runs right over the corner and gets into the end zone.

Plays like this one don’t look spectacular on TV from the perspective of the running-back. However, when you take a closer look, you can see all of the different abilities and mental processing that separate average from good running-backs.

Essentially, this just means that the Bucs have to stop plays like this one. They have to clog running lanes and leave no room for any sort of processing. If you can hit Jacobs before he gets to the line over and over again, it’ll just slow him down as the game goes on.

Outside of the running game, the Raiders like to implement short-intermediate passes to get the ball moving between runs. This is pretty clearly shown from Derek Carr’s intended air yards average, which measures the average yards per attempt a QB will throw past the line of scrimmage. Carr has the 10th lowest average in the NFL (min 53 attempts) with only 7.1 intended air yards per throw according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

If the Bucs are able to keep the running game at bay, these dink and dunk passes aren’t going to get the Raiders down the field on every drive. That means that Carr will have to shoulder the load and air it out.

This just isn’t something the Raiders do a lot, with the exception of their game against the Chiefs. The advantage the Bucs have here though is their ability to put pressure on the QB and squeeze the pocket.

When Carr is pressured he can sometimes get panicked and throw a bad pass, leading to turnovers. On top of this, if Carr is forced to drop back and survey the field, he’s going to get a lot of pressure on him, especially if the Raiders are missing Trent Brown or any other offensive lineman due to their recent issues.

Be prepared for the deep ball

Even though this team likes to throw shorter-intermediate passes, they still toss some deep routes in there every once in a while and it catches defenses off guard.

In the games I watched, it almost looked like they would lull a defense into focusing underneath by completing short, high percentage throws, and then BAM! Double moves and go routes for big plays.

Here’s a nice example of a fake crossing route that led to a touchdown against the Patriots:

The Raiders love these mesh routes underneath and they run concepts like this A LOT. However, on this particular play, they send Hunter Renfrow in and then upfield and he comes down with a touchdown. Carr does a good job of looking off the deep middle safety and Renfrow is just able to outrun his man.

Now, Renfrow is a fine young receiver, however, he is no Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs is the type of receiver that can completely change the game on any given play, and that game against the Chiefs definitely helped to build up his confidence.

The Raiders don’t do anything fancy on this play, they just send Ruggs on a go route and he easily beats his man. The Bucs HAVE to cover him better if they’re going to have any chance of limiting these sorts of plays.

The Chiefs look to be in Cover 0 here, meaning that everyone is man on. The reason I think it’s cover 0 instead of Cover 1, is because the safety comes up so far and only backs out once the running-back stays in to block. In either case, the outside corner has no safety help.

The reason I point this out is because the corner assigned to Ruggs needs to just bail out and hope to keep up with him. Instead, he sidesteps a few times before he eventually bails deep. This left Ruggs WIDE open in the middle of the field, with no safety help. 72 yards later he winds up in the end zone for an easy touchdown.

The Bucs have to understand that the Raiders still do things like this, despite their primary goal of slowly working the ball down the field. This is especially true now that Ruggs is back in the lineup after being sidelined with a hamstring injury.

I expect the Bucs to match speed with speed and line Jamel Dean up across from Ruggs whenever he’s on the field. He, and all of these other corners, have to be ready to take off without hesitation if it looks like he’s headed deep when there’s no safety help. It’s better to give up a 15 yard dig after bailing, than it is to give up a 72 yard touchdown, after all.

Conclusion

If the Bucs can keep mistake free they definitely have a chance to dominate. Combine this with their ability to stop the run and they should be able to force the Raiders to throw deep with Carr.

If they can put him in those situations, that pass rush is going to get a lot of opportunities to pressure Carr into bad throws, and bad throws lead to turnovers.

On offense, the Bucs have to just keep running the ball successfully and airing it out downfield when needed. Against the raiders safeties and linebackers, there should be a lot of opportunities no matter the coverage call.

All in all this should be an exciting game, and a game that I expect the Bucs to win. Let’s hope they can keep the mistakes in the past for another week in a row to start another win streak.

What do you think are the biggest keys to winning? Where are the Raiders biggest weaknesses? Let us know in the comments below!

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