This week will be a different game for Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
That’s not to say Carr won’t play very well and lead the Oakland Raiders to a win, like he did last week. But he’ll face an entirely different challenge and a much different scheme.
Last week Carr faced a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that ran mostly zone, rarely blitzed and had a poor pass rush. And he played very well (I broke his performance down here), throwing for 513 yards. On Sunday night Carr will face a Denver Broncos defense that likes to play man, blitzes a lot and has perhaps the best pass rush in the NFL.
Last week the Broncos faced San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is as good as it gets when it comes to not being affected by a pass rush. But Denver’s pass rush got to Rivers.
Outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware change passing games in a number of ways: protection concepts, play calling, and usually the quarterback has to play a little faster. That’s what happened last week. When Chargers right tackle Joe Barksdale struggled with Miller’s edge speed and flexibility to bend the edge, it forced Rivers to climb the pocket prematurely and hurry throws.
Denver pass rush also forces offenses to change protection concepts to account for it. Miller and Ware in particular impact an offense’s ability to get five receivers into routes within the timing of a quarterback’s drop. The Chargers knew Barksdale needed help with Miller. So they had running back Melvin Gordon help Barksdale with Miller and had left tackle King Dunlap block Ware one-on-one.
That attention to a pass rusher limits a quarterback’s options, of course.
The Broncos also do a good job with alignment to create confusion, something the Raiders will have to prepare for. This was a great example from last week’s game. On third-and-15, there was protection confusion because Miller and safety T.J. Ward both aligned outside Barksdale, with tight end Antonio Gates flexed outside. Barksdale blocked Miller with Gates chipping down on Miller too, but nobody blocked Ward and he got the sack. On the other side, tight end Hunter Henry was busy double-teaming Ware with Dunlap.
The Broncos thrive off big plays created by their pass rush. In the third quarter last week, Miller and Derek Wolfe executed a tackle/end stunt when Wolfe split the right tackle and guard and applied quick pressure. Rivers didn’t have time for Travis Benjamin’s route to define itself and he threw the ball earlier than he wanted, and cornerback Lorenzo Doss did a great job reading Benjamin’s route and jumping the throw. Safety Darian Stewart picked off the deflected pass.
One chess match that will be very interesting centers around a common concept that the Broncos like to utilize: the green-dog blitz.
A green-dog blitz happens when a defensive player sees the offensive player he is assigned to cover in man coverage has stayed in to protect, so the defensive player automatically blitzes the quarterback. The Broncos got a sack on a green-dog blitz last week in the fourth quarter. Denver was in “man free blitz” with safety Justin Simmons matched up on Gordon. But Gordon helped Barksdale with Ware, so Simmons attacked the pocket. A stunt on the other side collapsed the pocket and forced Rivers to break down, and Simmons got the sack.
Here’s something to watch on Sunday night: On 17 percent of their snaps, the Raiders use six offensive linemen. They’re also coming off a game in which tight end Clive Walford and running back Latavius Murray flanked Carr in the backfield, because the Raiders’ halftime adjustment was greater emphasis on pass protection on third-and-long. But having a sixth offensive lineman or keeping eligible receivers in to protect Carr probably will create some green-dog blitzes from the Broncos. By keeping in more players to protect, they’d be inviting the Broncos to send more rushers. So how will the Raiders adjust to that tendency from the Broncos’ defense?
The Super Bowl saw a good example of how maximum protection can backfire against the Broncos. The Broncos were in dime against the Carolina Panthers (who used max-protect concepts a lot last season), with Ward matched on tight end Ed Dickson and Stewart on running back Fozzy Whittaker. Dickson and Whittaker flanked Newton in the shotgun (which is what the Raiders did on occasion with Walford and Murray after halftime last week), and a full slide right by the offensive line. Ward beat Dickson on a blitz, forcing Newton to move. Stewart green-dogged because his man in coverage, Whittaker, was protecting. Stewart got the sack – it shows how a defense can beat a seven-man protection scheme with a full slide by the line.
These are the things coaches are looking at during the week, before a difficult matchup. The Raiders know the Broncos’ tendencies, and vice versa. Now how will the two teams adjust for a big game on Sunday night?
– – – – – – –
NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.