The Oakland Raiders went to Atlanta and did something no one thought they would do and scared the undefeated Falcons. The Raiders intercepted Matt Ryan three times and held the Falcons to just one offensive touchdown.
The Raiders improbably slowed down the Falcons and did enough damage of their own to scare the Falcons. The Raiders fell short in large part to three turnovers and 12 penalties, but the team played better than they have all season. Anytime a team can go on the road and nearly beat of the NFL’s elite teams it’s an accomplishment, even if the result wasn’t what the team or fans wanted.
It’s reasonable to ask if the game was a fluke and if the Raiders can replicate the success. They can, but they also need to clean up several things to win the game next time. The zone-blocking scheme continues to be a trouble spot for the Raiders, and Carson Palmer’s sketchy accuracy also played a big role in the defeat.
The Raiders didn’t have a single interception all season and picked off Ryan three times. Ryan also struggled to really get the passing game going, and the Raiders limited him to just 249 yards. The key was pressure and understanding of the Falcons offense. The Raiders didn’t let Ryan get through all of his progressions, and they forced him to throw before his receivers could break away from the coverage.
How the Raiders Gave the Falcons a Scare
Interception No. 1 – Film Study
The first interception was a good example of good film study by the Raiders. Linebacker Philip Wheeler is going to make a defensive call prior to the snap. The call may or may not have impacted the result of the play, but he almost assuredly was setting up the coverage on Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, who were all lined up to the left side of the formation.
Ryan actually gets good protection, but he stares down Douglas. Slot cornerback Joselio Hanson is a veteran, and he’s also watching Ryan as he played inside leverage knowing he had safety help and a linebacker roaming the short middle.
Ryan tries to thread the ball to Douglas and Hanson reads it perfectly and steps in front of the pass. Hanson was able to make a great individual play because he understood what Ryan wanted to do with the ball, and the Raiders were in the right coverage for him to take a risk and jump in front of a pass.
Interception No. 2 – Pressure With Four
It’s amazing what a little pressure can do to help the defensive secondary. On Ryan’s second interception the pressure off the edge led to an underthrown pass. Lamarr Houston (No. 99) gets pressure of the right edge first and forces Ryan to step up in the pocket. That’s a relatively normal occurrence.
Ryan steps up and sees Julio Jones running deep down the middle, but Matt Shaughnessy (No. 77) gets a piece of him as he throws the ball. Ryan can’t shift all his weight into the throw because of Shaughnessy’s contact.
Ryan made a good read as Jones was running open in the deep middle. The slightest contact by Shaughnessy caused Ryan’s pass to hang a little bit and Michael Huff would intercept it. If Ryan had gotten a little more zip on the pass, Jones would have had a very good chance to make a touchdown catch behind the defense.
Interception No. 3 – Blitz Pressure
The Raiders also got pressure on Ryan by blitzing. On Ryan’s third interception he was hit by Philip Wheeler, who blitzed along with Miles Burris. One of the keys to the success of this play was defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (No. 90) who lines up in the A-gap and slants to his left to draw the block of the left guard and the center.
The running back picks up Burris, but the left guard doesn’t see Wheeler blitzing as well. Since Wheeler is coming right up the middle, Ryan has to unload the pass to his hot receiver.
Houston also gets a hand on Rivers, but it is Wheeler who drills Ryan and forces a wobbling duck of a throw. Tyvon Branch fields the throw like a punt for Ryan’s third interception.
The Raiders used blitzes by Burris and Wheeler to force Ryan to throw before he was comfortable. On this play the blitz resulted in an interception, but on several others the result was an incomplete pass.
How the Raiders Still Lost the Game
With the score tied 13-13 and about three minutes left in the game, Palmer threw an interception that was returned 79 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders were driving and were at the Atlanta 28-yard line facing 3rd-and-6. Asante Samuel jumped the route, and the rest is history.
What went wrong? Palmer threw an inaccurate pass to Denarius Moore. That’s it. Samuel actually took a risk, because if he misses and Moore is able to make the catch, he might have been gone down the sideline.
Palmer’s pass was behind Moore. If the pass was toward the sideline and away from Samuel, the Raiders might be 2-3 and not 1-4. It wasn’t a bad decision, just simply an inaccurate pass by Palmer and mistakes he can’t make if the Raiders are going to turn things around.
Struggles with the Zone-Blocking Scheme
Perhaps less obvious than Palmer’s INT and the penalties was the continued struggles of Darren McFadden and the zone-blocking scheme. A couple long runs were negated and McFadden did run hard, but the result was still just 2.6 yards per carry on 27 carries.
The issue seems to be three-fold. McFadden is often impatient and doesn’t let his blocks set up, and when he is patient he routinely selects the less optimal running lane. The blocking is another factor, and McFadden is frequently getting contacted in the backfield. In light of the poor blocking, McFadden’s impatience makes sense.
Mike Goodson looked much better running the ball because he made the right reads and received better blocking than McFadden.
One play that demonstrated two of the issues was a run by McFadden in the first half blocking and McFadden’s ability to read the zone. Mike Brisiel is going to pull from right guard to the right edge. Stefen Wisniewski is responsible for first helping Cooper Carlisle seal off the defensive tackle and then moving to the second level to block a linebacker.
Wisniewski moves immediately to the second level to try and get a block on a linebacker, but he didn’t help Carlisle with the block on the defensive tackle. The result here is Carlisle having to lunge to try to block the defensive tackle, and he loses his balance in the process. Wisniewski also makes a poor fundamental block on the linebacker as he drops his head and eyes away and dives at the feet of the defender.
If both blocks are successful, McFadden should have a nice running lane, and if not, he should bounce the play outside.
The poor blocking results in two defenders in McFadden’s primary running lane, yet he still decides to run the ball inside. McFadden never planted his foot and cut sharply through the hole. McFadden was patient, but not real decisive, and the decision he did make was the lesser of his two options as there was a lot of room to the outside.
It might take time for McFadden to make the right reads, but he can get positive yardage just by being patient and decisive.
Goodson ran the ball better than McFadden and racked up 59 yards on four carries. Part of the reason Goodson fared better was he was more decisive, but he also received superior blocking.
The blocking sets up nicely for Goodson, and he gets two great blocks at the second level. The two outside defenders have their helmets on the outside shoulder of the offensive lineman which indicates that their momentum is going to carry them in that direction. Footnote: It’s a good thing Carlisle’s (No. 66) block was not essential to the play, as he was blown into the backfield.
The outside run is enticing, but in this case the cutback is the better decision. Goodson makes his decision and quickly makes his way through the hole. Once a running back is into the secondary they have the opportunity to make a big play, and Goodson makes a player miss and scampers for 43 yards.
The key to Goodson’s run was good blocking, a good read and a decisive cut. McFadden is still learning to make the correct reads and trusting the read that he has made, and the offensive line is still having trouble executing its blocks. When the offensive line is blocking well, McFadden will not feel like he needs to rush the play just so he can pick up positive yardage.
The Jacksonville Jaguars come to Oakland in Week 7, and the Raiders will use the game as an opportunity to work out the bugs in the running game. If the Raiders get the running game going, the offense could be explosive and help the Raiders win games they otherwise shouldn’t win.