Any Given Sunday: Falcons over Raiders

Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

From the very beginning of the Jon Gruden Era in Oakland (and now Vegas), Gruden has created a methodical offense to protect Derek Carr from Derek Carr. This season, the Raiders have allowed a pressure rate of just 17.6% per Sportradar data, one of the 10 lowest in the NFL. That's even better than the 20.3% rate they allowed last season. Gruden has mostly been able to accomplish this via scheme, making it harder for defenses to come after Carr because of extra tight ends and backs. The Raiders have run just 47% of their plays in 11 personnel this year per Sharp Football Stats, one of the six lowest rates in the NFL. (Minnesota is last at 31%; everyone else is at least at 41%.) In 2019, that number was 54%. Because of that, the Raiders have been one of the lowest-blitzed teams in the NFL. They were blitzed 111 times in 2019 per Sportradar, second-fewest in the NFL. That number has climbed a little this year, to 120 -- middle of the pack -- as opponents are generally finding the Raiders tougher to deal with as a pass offense.

Since firing Dan Quinn, the Falcons have started generating more pressure. They pressured Kirk Cousins on 21.6% of his dropbacks in Week 6 per Sportradar, Teddy Bridgewater at 23.3% in Week 8 (and they knocked him out of the game), Drew Lock at 32.7% in Week 9, and Taysom Hill at 24.1% in Week 11. While I don't have the pressure data from Week 12 to share, I think the fact that Carr was sacked three times and that the Falcons recorded five quarterback hits stands as evidence that they did a great job of making him uncomfortable in the pocket. Carr was benched in the fourth quarter, and when you watch him play, an easy outside diagnosis is just that he doesn't have much of an answer for dealing with pressure. You'll see the odd escape and good throw, but more often you'll see things like this:

Carr manages to get away on the first of these plays and understands that his ball had no chance. That's good! But once it happens, the checkdown is inevitable. There's not an extra gear here. Does that sound like a kind of tepid criticism? It kind of is! Carr isn't the sort of quarterback who is going to improvise plays like that. When his structure breaks, it's much harder on him. On the second dropback, you can see that he gets strip-sacked but that a lot of it is just him running into his own lineman's back. Now, his lineman got pushed back quite a bit -- the Raiders have been dealing with a rough patch of injuries -- but if you tighten things up for Carr, his life gets much, much harder than it does for some quarterbacks.

This was a game that, to be frank, the Raiders absolutely needed to have. There are nine teams over .500 in the AFC fighting for seven playoff spots. Dropping this one to a Falcons team that already fired its head coach is painful.

Gruden has done an excellent job for the most part this season of putting Carr in a terrific situation to succeed. And Carr, to his credit, has delivered often. He has done well against the blitz when it comes, he has stood in and made big throws down the field. This was a game where that all sort of came undone for the Raiders. I don't know that it's necessarily a death blow -- but as we talked about during Tampa Bay's loss to New Orleans, one game can snowball in a hurry. Particularly when you turn the ball over at a rate that suggests it is a philosophy rather than a mistake. But this is a clear and demonstrated downside to this Raiders team. I think Gruden deserves a lot of credit for how often he has been able to make it irrelevant, but it can still bubble up at times.

Where the Game Swung

Image 1

Where the Game Swung
Event Time ATL GWC
Derek Carr strip-sack 2 Q2 1:08 61.8% 79.1% +17.3%
Deion Jones pick-six Q3 11:48 79.9% 95.1% +15.2%
Derek Carr strip-sack 1 Q1 8:20 45.2% 59.0% +13.8%
Jonathan Abram interception Q1 2:34 65.5% 53.3% -12.2%
Fourth-and-3 36-yard conversion for LV Q1 0:14 54.4% 43.2% -11.2%
Fourth-and-3 Calvin Ridley TD Q2 2:23 57.9% 68.2% +10.3%
Failed LV fourth-down conversion Q1 11:35 37.5% 47.5% +10.0%

There isn't a whole lot to this because the Falcons didn't contribute a whole lot as an offense. Every turnover the Raiders had was a massive swing in favor of Atlanta. Deion Jones' pick-six was a knockout punch.

That thing I said about Carr being comfortable in the pocket? Yeahhh ... not the kind of base you want him throwing from.

By the (D)VOA

LV -86.5% -8.1% 5.3% -73.1%
ATL -30.3% -80.0% -9.3% 40.3%
LV -81.8% -16.9% 5.3% -59.5%
ATL -20.4% -75.6% -9.3% 45.8%

This was the worst single-game offensive DVOA of the 2020 season. Yes, the Raiders were worse than the team that started a practice-squad wide receiver at quarterback during a pandemic. We'll see if that holds up as the rest of the DVOA piles up over the course of the season. Here's the rest of the top five:

Worst Offensive Games of the 2020 Season by DVOA
Week Team Opponent DVOA
12 LV ATL -86.5%
7 DAL WAS -85.0%
12 DEN NO -81.8%
10 DEN LV -76.3%
5 CIN BAL -75.3%

Yearly Falcons Late-Season Defensive Improvement Boogaloo

I wanna start this off by pointing you to Derek Carr's throwing chart for this game:

Image 2

22-of-34 doesn't sound bad and it's not terrible, but Carr had one of the 10 toughest games of the week as far as Next Gen Stats' "aggressiveness" percentage which measures how often a quarterback threw into tight coverage. The Falcons created tight coverage on 20.7% of Carr's throws. That's well above Carr's average of 16.4% and, more importantly, a huge jump for Atlanta's coverage. In Week 1 against the Seahawks, Russell Wilson's aggressiveness was ... 0%. Only one full-game quarterback had thrown above a 20% aggressiveness percentage on the Falcons pre-Dan Quinn's firing: Aaron Rodgers in Week 4. Since then, the Falcons have created three different games with that kind of aggressiveness against coverage, and won all three of them.

On this first play, Carr actually does a good job of getting out of the pocket, but the deep safety reads him once he's out and lets it rip on Hunter Renfrow after the other interior receiver is settled. Second play is one-on-one with Darren Waller to the outside. The Falcons covered him with a corner -- respect for the tight end -- and Darqueze Dennard did a good job making a play on a deep ball. Even some of the completions that the Raiders actually did make down the field were contested.

One of my favorite things about the Atlanta Falcons of this era is their penchant for suddenly staging a good defense after they bury themselves in the early season. It's like they take a six-week coffee break to remember they're playing an NFL season and then, oh yeah, let's try actually playing defense the way we've been coached:

Atlanta Defenses After Five Weeks, 2017-2020
Weeks 1-5
Weeks 6-17
2020* 13.1% 30 -12.9% 9
2019 12.1% 27 0.8% 18
2018 19.3% 31 10.3% 27
2017 12.6% 28 3.1% 20
2016 12.0% 29 5.0% 23
2015 8.7% 22 6.1% 22
* Second column shows DVOA from Weeks 6-12.

There are very few consistent things in the NFL on defense, and so I think we need to take a moment to step back and admire this hustle. Falcons fans, I'm so happy for you. But also, this is objectively funny.

I have no real opinion on whether Raheem Morris deserves the full-time job or not. I think it'd be cool if he got it because minority hirings are way down and Morris did manage to get us that year Josh Freeman fooled everyone in 2010, when the Bucs went 10-6. But at 4-2 after six weeks, and with experience being a major part of the turnaround with last year's defense, Morris is certainly making it more of a conversation than I think a lot of us imagined it would have been after Week 5. Nothing is stronger than Atlanta second-half defense energy.


1 comment, Last at 02 Dec 2020, 11:44am

1 Another funny thing is, when…

Another funny thing is, when I saw last Sunday the Falcons were way ahead of the Raiders in the second half, I was sorely tempted to switch over to that game. I was surprised to find the Flacons only increased their lead. I tell you, there's something odd going over there in Atlanta. Maybe Morris does deserve a shot. Or maybe it's just anyone else other than Quinn that does.

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