Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Sep 2017

Any Given Sunday: Washington Over Raiders

by Rivers McCown

Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr have something in common. Most NFL observers who study quarterbacks would say that both Cousins and Carr look better because of the players around them. With Cousins losing his top receivers in free agency and the Raiders adding Marshawn Lynch to the backfield, Carr was supposed to look even better this year while Cousins would fall back to earth.

Instead, in a meeting of these quarterbacks and their teams, Derek Carr and the Raiders got stomped.

The number one bugaboo with Carr coming out of college was that teams worried about how he would do under pressure. If you go back to his rookie season under Dennis Allen, Carr had an obscenely low yards per attempt despite his cannon arm mostly because he's panicky under duress and Oakland's offense offered a lot of it.

Over the past two seasons, the story of Oakland's offense has been one of building a team around the quarterback. They imported Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn, and Kelechi Osemele to keep Carr from feeling that pressure. They brought in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree so Carr could succeed in the small game. The offense they built focused heavily on passing out of empty sets so Carr would have easy checkdowns. It has been a remarkable success, all things considered, and Carr's deep ball has flourished as a result.

Then there are games like this.

This is the average separation between the top four Washington pass-rushers and Carr, from the NFL's NextGen Stats. You'll notice these numbers are below average across the board.

The vaunted Oakland offensive line got bullied by Washington. It wasn't even all about Ryan Kerrigan, because everyone got pushed backwards. Carr couldn't handle it. Oakland barely attempted to run the ball at all (more on this in a few segues) and they just found themselves trying to rely on Carr's worst traits to come through and carry the offense. The result was ... well, you saw. It was 10 points against a defense that wasn't doing anything particularly special systematically. The pass rush was just crushing Oakland, perhaps inspired by Greg Manusky's tight shirt.

Star corner Josh Norman lined up and shut down Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree from his seated position on the left side of the defense. The two ran 16 routes against him (11 by Cooper) and caught just one ball: the lone Crabtree catch of the game, for 7 yards. Cooper is an odd player at this point. Everyone can see the physical talent required to dominate a game, but then he is utterly inconsistent at using it. This isn't only about his permanent case of the drops, either. His game logs are a roller coaster of 100-yard, two-touchdown games with dips to 4-30-0.

Overall this probably isn't a huge concern for Oakland going forward. They won't face this kind of domination on a weekly basis up front. But the weak point was on display for everyone to see, and I wonder if it might result in Carr facing more big blitzes than usual for the next few weeks.

By the VOA

Team
OFF
DEF
ST
TOT
OAK -69.5% 21.0% 8.3% -82.2%
WAS 22.8% -65.5% -5.2% 83.0%

I'm surprised that all three games we have covered so far in this column have been absolute ass-kickings. Maybe it's an early-season thing? I hope so. Oddly, all three games we have covered this year have also been won by the team with the lower special teams DVOA of the two. You know, just to further emphasize how big the dominance was for the other two units.

Questionable Coaching Decision of the Week

In five plays inside Washington's red zone, Oakland ran the ball once: an end-around with Cordarrelle Patterson that lost yardage. This has become an interesting little pattern, where Oakland has thrown the ball way too much in the red zone over the first three games. They've got nine carries there compared to 18 throws. I can understand that sometimes there are matchup advantages to pick on, and I can also understand that Carr has a history of being good in the red zone. But in a game where you are having a tough time throwing anywhere, let alone in a constricted area, it was puzzling that they continued to stay away from running the ball.

How Do You Defend a Chris Thompson Anyway?

There was a train of thought this offseason that went like so: Kirk Cousins' success in the air over the last few years was less about himself and more about the scheme and the talent around him. The pretext of this was that some expected Cousins to struggle without Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, especially if Jordan Reed couldn't stay healthy. While Garcon and Jackson have both been good on their new teams, and Reed hasn't been healthy from the minute the season started, Cousins has had some success throwing to an overlooked weapon: passing-down back Chris Thompson.

Thompson was a high-profile NCAA performer for Florida State. He fell to the fifth round of the 2013 draft mostly because nobody could believe that the slight back could stay healthy. He was rehabbing a torn ACL during the combine process and into OTAs, and at a listed 5-foot-7, 195 pounds, his body had the potential to be broken like so many Darren Sproles clones before him.

But that hasn't happened, and with Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson still trying to find a footing in the Washington offense, Jay Gruden and company have realized that Thompson is their most explosive option at the moment.

A good thing to do if you are a defense is to cover Chris Thompson. The Raiders had some different ideas about that on Thompson's touchdown catch.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

However, it was the other catches where Thompson really shined. Towards the end of the first half, on Washington's two-minute drill drive, look at him hold up on this screen and wait on Pryor's block to pick up yardage.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

That's a very savvy and technical football play, by someone with a full grasp of the field.

Also, he can make some guys miss in the open field.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

Whether Cousins can keep this up with a steady diet of Thompson is anyone's guess, but it's time to stop thinking that Thompson is a flash in the pan. He's got the ability to Sprolesify the Washington offense, which gives them one more dimension than we thought they'd have in the preseason.

Now, if they could get Doctson going beyond the long touchdown pass, Washington might actually get their offense humming.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 26 Sep 2017

9 comments, Last at 27 Sep 2017, 2:52pm by Vincent Verhei

Comments

1
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:11pm

To be honest, didn't watch the entire game, but one thought kept coming to mind: Why are the Raiders blitzing so much?

They did this in the Jets game too, and Fitzpatrick had tons of success. The Washington offense is at least two grades above the Jets and they did the same thing. Not like they're getting much pressures on those. I could see Del Rio (not a blitzer) almost fuming on the sidelines.

As for the offense, that was disastrous, but they seem to have these games. Similar in a way to the TNF loss last year in KC.

What's odd is the Raiders first two wins if anything look more impressive now (Titans won against Seattle, Jets easily beat Miami) and then they lay an absolute shockingly bad stinker.

3
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 1:10pm

Fitzpatrick is with bcucs now. you meant j. mccown.

ehh. just bad game all around. redskins good secondary. front 7 played better than normal. so ti al made it tough on d. carr.

Raiders defense still ebign molded into top degense. will become better as season goes on. K. Joseph up and cominger. Mack already top end. Others good and coming along. Can afoord to lay stinker against NFC team. Still expect Raiders to go 13-3. Even Pates would sometimes lay eggs in belichick era. see time team lost to colt McCoy browns or game in 2014 qhen Pates fans wanted Soft Balls Bardy to be sent out to pasture.

edit- "laying an egg" would eb funny to see team relaly do that. like all the players stand together on sidelines or soemtyhing ansd then an egg pops out of the head coach's butt and it has Raiders logo on the egg.

4
by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 2:07pm

Isn't it possible that Washington has a really good defense? The Rams scored 40 points or more in the other two games they played. Philly's offense didn't do that great in the first game either. Jonathan Allen was probably a really good pick for the skins, and having a shutdown corner in Norman helps too. Now Allen is going to demand a lot of attention, and Kerrigan and co. will get to clean up on the quarterback.

6
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 2:26pm

I agree that Washington does seem to have a very good defense. The Raiders offense was also hyper-efficient the first two games - and the Jets defense has held up reasonably well in non-Raiders games.

It's way too early anyway to get caught in these transitive property relationships. I was very impressed with Washington, but more disappointed the Raiders just failed to show up.

2
by billprudden :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:11pm

"Sprolesify"

If you are a real NFL fan, you can instantly define this effect. Excellent litmus test.

5
by jklps :: Tue, 09/26/2017 - 2:12pm

The Raiders had a first and goal in the middle of the third I think, and have the following options on offense: Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree. Number of targets/touches for them in three plays: Zero.

Sometimes people make football harder than it has to be.

7
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8
by BearDown103 :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 9:47am

How do you determine which game to discuss in Any Given Sunday? I thought the leading candidates for this week were Bears over Steelers, Saints over Panthers, and Jets over Dolphins.

9
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 2:52pm

There was a lot of debate amongst FO staff over this. "Steelers lose road game to a bad team" has been done to death. We didn't think there was much to the Saints win beyond "Cam Newton is hurt." We just did the Jaguars in Week 1. And we didn't think anyone would care about Jets-Dolphins. So WAS-OAK might not have been the biggest upset, but we thought it would be most interesting.