NFL Film Room - Week 5, 2020 - Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Goin' Deep
By Tyler Arthur
The Las Vegas Raiders have been rebuilding for the past two years, in preparation for this season, as they move to their new home in Nevada with hopes of coming up lucky. Through the first quarter of the season, they were a very respectable 2-2, including a primetime win against the New Orleans Saints in their first game at Allegiant Stadium.
Jon Gruden’s team had its biggest test in Week 5 when they travelled to Arrowhead for every team’s nightmare matchup, and historically speaking a bad one for the Raiders and in particular their Quarterback, and they put the league on notice.
The Raiders hadn’t won a game in Kansas City since 2012, and this week it was the talk of pundits that Derek Carr has never made it happen on this trip. This week he ended that streak.
They defeated the Chiefs 40-32, and their signal-caller had an absolutely huge day, putting up a ridiculous line of 22/31 for 347 yards and 3 TD’s with an interception.
The 71% completion rate is nothing new with DC4, who is one of the most accurate QB’s in the league, but the stat that stood out to me is his yards per reception of 11.2.
This week the Raiders beat the Super Bowl champions at their own game, creating big plays and having success in the deep passing game. An offense that is built on the ability to churn the clock and win the war of attrition actually created explosive plays, and a QB considered conservative and careful outplayed MVP gunslinger and absolute superstar Patrick Mahomes.
This week we are going to take a look at how the Raiders were able to flip their gameplan on its head, and repeatedly create big plays and turn the tide in a game where the momentum was tangible, through smart play design and that one thing you can’t coach – speed, and lots of it.
Henry Ruggs. Speed demon receiver first off the board in April’s draft. Hello! The Alabama prospect was declared a bad pick by many fans and analysts when the Raiders took him – not because of him lacking ability, but because there were other options in Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb that were more rounded as alpha receivers. This felt harsh; he hadn’t played a single NFL game and people were disappointed in the selection. In week one he showed some promise but was banged up and ended up missing time. This week he returned to the offense, had a breakout game, and opened up the offense completely.
The first big play of the game wasn’t any special play design that was drawn up to get a nice open read, it was just a rookie receiver going and making a play.
The Raiders lined up in a tight bunch formation, with Ruggs on the outside of said bunch to the boundary side, and he ran a slot fade, working outside the numbers with a quick release. The cornerback was carrying him a bit, but Ruggs blew straight by him and consequently forced the more central defender to break on him. As Derek Carr put the ball up, the young wideout didn’t disappoint:
The defender actually does a fantastic job. Rashad Fenton is playing as a nickel cornerback in a one-high five DB shell, yet he immediately drops deep on the snap to give Carr an unusual look. But DC4 recognises the leverage that Ruggs has and throws it up, knowing that if anyone is even close to making a play he sure as hell won’t be facing the ball. Fenton gets his hand right in the basket, but Ruggs shows insanely strong hands and comes down with his first reception in style.
This was a nice easy read, and a throw that put the ball in a spot where the defender wouldn’t be able to intercept it, and the speedster made a big grab for 46 yards.
Nelson in the TD Column
Another thing that has been impressive about Derek Carr so far this season is the fact that he has been making plays with players who were disregarded and even cut from previous teams. The standout name insofar as that sentiment is Nelson Agholor. Laughed out of Philadelphia (which is admittedly an embarrassing team to be cut by, as a wide receiver) and deemed terrible at catching, Agholor came to the team with a chip on his shoulder and has been genuinely good.
He had the first of the Raiders’ touchdowns this week, and at an incredibly crucial time in the game with the score at 14-3. The Chiefs at this point were looking really comfortable against the defense, and the play was really well designed.
This play is only a three-route call, and when the Las Vegas Raiders have 70 protection, you shouldn’t be getting a pass rush, so they just need someone to get open.
Before the snap, Henry Ruggs motions across from the left side of the tight formation to the right. When he does so, the safety to the right side of the field walks down and indicates a likely Cover 3 zone. Carr checks the play and audibles to a new one, then calls for Ruggs to head back across the formation to run a jet motion. The ball is snapped shortly after Ruggs crosses the center, with Carr dropping back behind the seven-man wall and reading the play:
Perfect Play Design
Ruggs’ jet motion turns into a slow-played short wheel, but the nuance to this route is that he is trying to threaten the sideline without actually moving too far north. The reason he is tempering his speed and looking back to his QB is two-fold. Firstly, he is the only even remotely quick read on the play, and if Carr wants to settle for the sticks on this 2nd and 5 play he is open for a back-shoulder throw. Secondly, the dig route from star tight end Darren Waller on the other side of the screen is going to attack the area further down the sideline if the play lasts long enough. If Ruggs took this wheel route up the sideline, Waller’s route would become irrelevant once he crossed the left hash.
When you’re running a three-route concept, you need all three routes to be viable and work off of each other.
Finally, the route that Nelson Agholor is running, and the target that Carr chose is the slot post route. He starts inside but then before actually committing to his route he stems up to give himself the ability to break in any direction. He could break down and run a dig, a deep out, a corner (likely the intended threat, with Ruggs sat holding the cornerback low) or of course a post route. After just forcing Tyrann Mathieu to hesitate for a second, he breaks on the post route and gets open for a beautiful throw from DC4.
As you can see, Ruggs holds his defender, Darren Waller pulls a safety all the way across the field, and then Agholor creates separation from Honey Badger, and catches the ball in stride before the right cornerback can make a play.
If you cover Ruggs and Waller – the two biggest and scariest threats – that doesn’t stop the offense, and that is something that will be incredibly important. The distraction value and the defensive focus on these two stars will create opportunities like this, and Gruden and Carr (a quick reminder that DC was the person who called this play, at the line) will exploit the defensive bias and score with their less flashy players whenever they get the chance.
After the clear target-leader in Darren Waller, the second and third most targeted players in this game were Jalen Richard and fullback Alec Ingold, with no individual wide receiver getting more than Henry Ruggs’ three targets. They spread the ball around and throw it to the open man.
Ruggs Revels In Man Coverage
Following that touchdown the Chiefs hit back, before the Raiders went 75 yards in 5 plays, due to a huge run from Devontae Booker (again, not just the stars are making plays). The drive was capped off by a Darren Waller touchdown.
This touchdown wasn’t a deep pass so it doesn’t qualify for this breakdown, but you can watch this absolutely beautiful bullet getting ripped into the tight end’s hands, just for fun.
After this score, the Raiders defense held the Chiefs to 8 yards on their next drive and got the ball back on the twenty, losing 21-17.
And that is when Henry Ruggs got involved again.
This isn’t a play that needs a lot of breaking down to understand but it is relevant for later, and once again demonstrates the Raiders taking deep shots with alarming success.
This play is out of Gun Bunch Weak Right, with the Raiders’ three best receivers in the bunch – Hunter Renfrow at the top and Henry Ruggs and Darren Waller on either side. Waller runs an out-route, Renfrow runs a shallow crosser and Ruggs runs a soft breaking post route in behind everyone.
It’s 3rd and 2 on this play, which I think is important, because it brings the focus on the running backs and the short-route experts. The Chiefs are running a Cover 1 defense and Daniel Sorenson comes down from his assignment over the top to help with the run and double down on Renfrow’s crosser. I would strongly advise against leaving someone in man coverage against Henry Ruggs on his own, though.
Third And Renfrow
The key to this period of the game was keeping their foot on the accelerator constantly. After Jacobs scored and the Chiefs immediately went three and out, the Raiders had the objective of bleeding the clock and getting as many first downs as possible, which is where this final deep passing play came in.
The Raiders got put in a tough spot by an offensive holding call on the very first play of the drive, and they ended up in 3rd and 18 from their own 22-yard line.
This is a play that I’d refer to as either ‘Curl post’ or ‘Sticks post’, out of a trips left formation. On a third and long, (long being an understatement here), they have three curl routes, with the two outside curls sitting just below the first down marker, trying to catch the ball and grab a couple of yards after the catch to get to the sticks. Then Darren Waller runs his about 10 yards, breaking down earlier than everyone else. This draws the defense down onto him, and ‘Third and Renfrow’ himself sneaks in behind them to get wide open – another understatement – for a huge 46-yard gain.
The defense plays into the play design perfectly:
Earlier I mentioned how the Chiefs let up a big play to Ruggs because Hunter Renfrow drew two defenders on 3rd and 2. This time, Darren Waller drew two, and the infamous third down target for the Raiders (who had 0 catches and just 1 target prior to this catch) smoothly ran in behind them.
This offense is excellent at using its stars to open up its role players, and their deep passing game thrives on that, especially now that Henry Ruggs is back and healthy. Derek Carr looked phenomenal going deep in this game, and the fact that three different recipients hauled in the four deep passes that we looked at is a testament to Jon Gruden and his offense.
The Raiders won’t be putting up 40 points a week, and they won’t beat the Chiefs every time they meet. But this football team is building momentum, and the deep passing game is an element that will be central to them making a playoff push and creating a powerful offense for the future, mixing their pound-the-rock mentality with huge play potential.
Viva Las Vegas.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.