Through the first two weeks of the season, the Las Vegas Raiders offense has been explosive. Looking at the 2-0 start and the lack of offense in the recent past, why are they just now hitting their strides?

The Las Vegas Raiders have been searching for the opportunity to compete for Super Bowls again. It’s been a long time since they were there. It’s been since the early 2000’s that the Raiders have been a legitimate contender. This year, we see arguably the most complete Raiders offense in franchise history. In this piece, I want to get into what the Raiders are doing well to make things click early in the 2021 season.

When the Raiders franchise announced that they would be hiring Jon Gruden from the Monday Night Football booth to coach the team, people were skeptical. The contract was ludicrous, locking Gruden in for ten years at $100M. The addition of Mike Mayock from NFL Network as the team’s general manager didn’t help things either. Could these guys go from comfortable TV lives back into the NFL rigor?

The first few years haven’t been ideal. The Raiders have been heavily criticized for selecting personnel, free agency decisions, and everything in between. It’s almost as though media jealousy has taken hold of most media analysts, angry that it was Mayock who got a chance and not them. The Twitter analysts preaching that “Draft Twitter should be running NFL personnel departments” have been most critical of Mayock, formerly a part of Draft Twitter himself.

The pieces for success

Unfortunately for Twitter critics, Mayock and Gruden have pieced together an impressive selection of weapons on offense. With their skill position hits, they have amassed an offense that creates stress on multiple parts of the field simultaneously. Let’s go over some of the players we will be discussing in this article.

Last year, the Raiders selected Henry Ruggs III in the first round, a burner from Alabama who ran a 4.27 forty-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Combine. His deep threat ability is a threat every play. Not only does Ruggs provide a deep threat ability, but his run-after-catch ability has a chance to turn the corner on any given play and outrun a secondary.

Between tight end Darren Waller and wide receivers Zay Jones and Bryan Edwards, the Raiders have an impressive intermediate threat for Carr to use. Waller leads the NFL in targets (26) through the first two weeks of action and has been the most vital force in the Raiders offense.

Slot receiver Hunter Renfrow has shown reliable hands since he was drafted out of Clemson in 2019. Between him and running backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, both of whom offer excellent receiving ability in his regards, the Raiders underneath weapons are reliable and formidable. The remaining tight end room, Foster Moreau and Derrick Carrier, also have received their share of playing action, mostly underneath.

PlayerRECYardsAVGCatch%TAYYAC/RDropsTD
Darren Waller1517011.357.699.84.321
Hunter Renfrow1112711.568.757.86.110
Henry Ruggs III715922.758.3313.18.511
Bryan Edwards712117.387.514.34.500
Glossary: REC – Receptions | AVG – Average yards per reception | TAY – Air Yards Per Target | YAC/R – Yards After Catch per Reception | TD – Touchdowns (Courtesy Next Gen Stats)

How have the Raiders offense has attacked opposing defenses

The Raiders typically like to run schemes similar to an “air raid” on offense, giving the quarterback options all across the field. It’s a form of the spread typically starting in bunch formations and spreading the defense out during the play, forcing them to run down the receivers more. The first play example is pulled from the Monday Night opener against the Ravens and is a “flood/levels” concept where the play starts to move to one side of the field.

Zay Jones and Darren Waller are the primary options here. Their job is to threaten the safeties vertically because of the zone coverage that the Ravens are playing. If Waller can’t get open on his crossing route because the safeties react to his route, Jones should be open coming behind Waller.

Foster Moreau runs an in-and-out underneath, trying to move the linebacker inside and get him to react to his cut back out. If the linebacker reacts to Moreau and goes outside, then Hunter Renfrow, who is sitting between the linebackers zones, should be wide open. He would be expected to drift to the reaction of the linebackers. Josh Jacobs leaks out if the pass protection is suitable.

What this does to a defense

This creates tremendous stress on a zone coverage play call. Three route concepts potentially interfere with the zones that the defenders are playing. Because of the nature of the routes, crossing through two or more zones, the defense has to play it to perfection, handing assignments over effectively to the next man. This is very difficult to accomplish and will leave receivers open, even for just a moment.

The quarterback Derek Carr, in this case, has to read it well and find the open man. This requires the quarterback to play with an understanding of the defense that is being played. There are only so many coverage schemes that the defense can put on the field. He has to know which defenders are playing which zones and when his guys will be open.

Stretching the field with speed

The Raiders scheme is already difficult to read and defend because of the multiple areas of the field that they can attack any given play. When they add pure speed that can erase coverage, it’s all the more challenging for defenses’ to react. Our following play example comes from the week two match on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, the Steelers are playing man coverage and have two deep safeties playing deep-field halves. This is known as Cover Man Two.

The action of the play is designed to utilize the speed in the Raiders offense

Derek Carr wants to throw the ball to the primary target in this play, Henry Ruggs, running a deep post. Cover two can be tricky deep, especially on a deep post route. Typically, the post is designed to hit between the zones and requires Carr to make this throw as Ruggs is making his cut. In that case, both of the safeties would bear down and attempt to crush Ruggs as he makes the catch.

In this case, however, they want Ruggs to go over the deep coverage. That’s why Darren Waller, in this play, runs a curl route to the sticks. Because of his usage and the amount of time Carr spends throwing to Waller, they want the safety playing that side of the field to jump on Waller and assist the linebacker playing coverage on the massive threat at the first down marker.

The underneath concept

The play design underneath is an effective checkdown for Carr if he doesn’t get the coverage look he wants downfield. It’s known as a “trail” concept. The tight end Derek Carrier runs a crossing route underneath. His role is to move the linebacker out of the middle of the field, which should be playing man coverage anyways. If the middle of the field is vacated, it opens that space for Hunter Renfrow.

Renfrow’s role is to get his man defender to commit to outside coverage. He starts his route outside before cutting back inside the defensive back in coverage, breaking inside to give Carr an excellent place to throw the ball. This will only usually work against man coverage because there would be a linebacker there to pick him up in a zone coverage concept.

What this does to a defense

An aggressive defense, like the Steelers, wants to contest every football that is thrown at the catch point. It’s a physical approach to the field and, in theory, will wear down an offense throughout an entire game. However, the Raiders in this concept are using that against them by placing their best pass catcher in a position where they can be aggressive. If you look at how the concept is designed, even Carr’s eyes can manipulate the safety to think that the ball is going to Waller on the curl.

Here’s what this play looked like when run to perfection.

The Raiders offense results have been spectacular

The Raiders’ offense has been why they have seen the early-season success they have. This week, they moved up to the number eight spot on my NFL Top 20 and are currently looking for a Wild Card spot behind the Kansas City Chiefs, who are still projected to win the AFC West division.

The numbers that the offense is posting are mainly attributed to the passing game. Five different players are already over 100 yards receiving, which means that the distribution of the football is working well. That means that the offense is even harder to defend.

PlayerTGTRECCatch%YardsAVGDropsYAC/RADOTTD
Darren Waller261557.6917011.323.99.61
Hunter Renfrow161168.7512711.515.57.70
Kenyan Drake111090.9110510.508.72.40
Bryan Edwards8787.512117.304.115.00
Henry Ruggs III12758.3315922.717.914.81
Derrick Carrier22100136.503.53.50
Zay Jones221004120.502.520.51
Foster Moreau3266.673417.002.010.01
Josh Jacobs215066.014.04.00
Glossary: TGT – Targets | REC – Receptions | AVG – Average | YAC/R – Yards After Catch per Reception | ADOT – Average Depth Of Target | TD – Touchdowns (Courtesy of Pro Football Reference)

The Raiders’ offense isn’t perfect, as their run game averages just 67 yards per game. They’ll need to figure that out as the season goes along. However, from the passing perspective and the schemes that Jon Gruden can run with his personnel, they are explosive, fun, and will be adamant to stop. I love what Las Vegas is doing so far. I look forward to what they will continue to do on the field this season.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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