What to do when your team lays a stinker? Flush it down the toilet and move forward. That would be my advice to an unrecognizable Oakland Raiders team that embarrassed themselves and their fan base on National television. Just as Oakland swaggered in to the Nation’s capitol on Sunday night, they left with their tails between their legs.
The Redskins appeared to have answers for every facet of the Raiders’ game plan. The offensive line was overwhelmed, the run game was stuffed, receivers were stifled in their routes, and the defense (which miraculously held this team in the game for the first 2 quarters) eventually collapsed and gave way to an eye-opening butt-whipping.
There are many theories abound as to what exactly happened to the Silver and Black Sunday evening. The conspiracies range from ridiculous to plausible. For instance, it’s been speculated that the offensive line gave up on their quarterback for refusing to take part in the the league-wide anthem protests that took place prior to Sunday’s games. Remember, Carr and Mack participated in their own unified protest just one week prior. Remember, this team wins and loses together and nobody wants to look like a fool on a National stage. While theories such as this can be tempting and juicy, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense.
It’s also been said that Carr has been ill all week and the combination of sickness, travel, and the humid hot D.C. weather was a big factor. There are also quite a few folks who have pointed out that Carr’s performance in big night games has been less than stellar throughout his career—save for last year’s domination of the Denver Broncos which was actually predicated on stellar line play and an unrelenting rushing attack.
Could there possibly be an easier, much simpler explanation? Could it be that we plain and simply s**t the bed on Sunday Nigh Football? Quite possibly so.
Here’s what we know: Washington was prepared and Oakland was not. More specifically, week 3 is the perfect time to pivot in the NFL. As teams spend the first two weeks finding their identities, they can turn their focus in Week 3 to finding yours. That is to say that, in the NFL, film is king. Self-scouting and unpredictability can be the cornerstone of success in a league where tendencies determine strategy and counter-strategy. On Sunday night, Washington was ready for everything Oakland has been showing and Oakland was unwilling to change.
Shallow crossing routes, zone run blocking, end-arounds, aggressive blitzing, and pre-snap motions (all hallmarks of the Raider offense through weeks 1 and 2) were all countered with zone coverages, gap discipline, check downs, and personnel recognition. Just thank god we didn’t attempt a flea-flicker. It looked something like a well-studied boxer taking on a stubborn juggernaut who refuses to improvise and carried on telegraphing every punch.
As far as the poor line play is concerned, the answer to that remains somewhat of a mystery. The blame can’t be placed solely on newcomer Marshall Newhouse or off-season holdout Donald Penn as perennial pro-bowler Kelechi Osemele gave up 2 sacks himself.
After spending some time watching film and trying to make some sense of the chaos, Washington’s defense took an opportunity to pivot in Week 3 which may have been enough of a wrench to dismantle the Oakland passing machine.
In weeks 2 and 3 Washington’s defense played primarily a man to man coverage scheme. In week 3, they adjusted to almost entirely zone. In order for QB’s to find open receivers amidst zone coverage schemes, their offensive line must hold up and plays often take longer to develop. The benefit of a zone scheme is that it eliminates the need to win 1:1 matchups and allows defenders to converge on the ball so long as defenders can react and execute accordingly.
After looking back at Sunday night’s debacle, it was apparent that Oakland schemed for man coverage and were surprised by zone-heavy defensive strategy. Much of Oakland’s pass game on Sunday incorporated crossing routes and throws to the flat. Typically, crossing routes are kryptonite to man coverage. As defenders get caught in the cross a pick or screen-like situation occurs which can and will create separation for one or both receivers at the point of contact. Also, flood routes which move man defenders from one side of the field to another are designed to clear out large gaps in the defense which are filled by backs and tight ends running to the flat.
When in zone, defenders hold their ground and concede less open field by doing so. Furthermore, receivers have a harder time running defenders into one another as they are typically not being trailed step for step but are running from one defender to the next as the exit and enter zones throughout the field of play. Underneath routes are taken away as backs and tight ends often find themselves running directly into an outside zone. With crossing routes, the success is predicated on clearing out to the opposite side of the field which takes more time than simply identifying mismatches in coverage.
While Raider Nation was celebrating Derek Carr’s impeccable 1.97 second average pass release time, Washington was devising ways they could dismantle it. The combination of a heavy dose of zone coverage combined with Downing and Carr’s refusal to adjust bought a hungry Redksins’ line enough time to cause an elite offensive line fits. In the NFL, the element of surprise (or the lack thereof) can be enough to steal a victory.
While the defense held their own for a short time, their inability to consistently string together 3 consecutive stops coupled with the sheer amount of time they spent on the field (nearly 40 minutes; 23 in the first half alone) was a recipe for disaster. Great plays by Joseph, Cowser, and Irvin would be overshadowed on an evening that the Raiders’ offense failed to adjust or even show up at all. While giving up 14-points coming off of 2 Carr interceptions, the defense did manage to force 4 Washington punts in the first half before the levy broke in the 2nd.
While all of this explains some of Washington’s success on Sunday night, it’s not to take away from the effort put forth by what was seemingly an average team. Both it’s defense and its coaches came into a game under the big lights to square off against a juggernaut who lacked one thing that Washington had in their possession—a chip on their shoulder.
With their eyes wide open and their asses gift wrapped and handed to them, it’s time for Oakland to regroup and commit to excellence. Now sitting at 2-1 and in 3rd place in the vaunted AFC West, Oakland has one more road game before settling into a three-game home stand that culminates against their perennial side-thorn—the Kansas City Chiefs.
Though embarrassed and exposed, the Raiders will have the ultimate chance at redemption if they can dismantle their long-time rival in their second Nationally televised game of the season. However, before we can begin discussing any of this, Oakland must head into Denver and take care of business in high altitude. But that’s the beauty of the NFL season isn’t it? There is always next week and here we are, moving forward.
Written by: Kenny Stapler