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Film Room: Attacking the Oakland Raiders

How should the Titans go about gameplanning for the Oakland Raiders this weekend?

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know very well, on Sunday, the Oakland Raiders come to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans in the 2017 season opener.

Today, we’ll step into the film room and take a look at how the Titans might be able to attack the Raiders on offense and how to contain them on defense.

Oakland Raiders 2016 Team Stats

Record Passing Yards/Game (Rank) Rushing Yards/Game (Rank) Total Yards/Game (Rank) Points Per Game (Rank) Passing Yards/Game Allowed (Rank) Rushing Yards/Game Allowed (Rank) Total Yards/Game Allowed (Rank) Points Allowed Per Game (Rank)
Record Passing Yards/Game (Rank) Rushing Yards/Game (Rank) Total Yards/Game (Rank) Points Per Game (Rank) Passing Yards/Game Allowed (Rank) Rushing Yards/Game Allowed (Rank) Total Yards/Game Allowed (Rank) Points Allowed Per Game (Rank)
12-4 253.2 (13th) 120.1 (6th) 373.3 (6th) 26.0 (7th) 257.5 (24th) 117.6 (23rd) 375.1 (26th) 24.1 (20th)

Despite finishing last season with a 12-4 record, the Raiders were just the 5th seed in last year’s playoffs. The Chiefs won the division, relegating the Raiders to a wild card berth while they accomplished a better record than the 3rd and 4th seeds.

The Raiders’ star quarterback Derek Carr suffered the same terrible lower leg injury as Marcus Mariota on the same day, Christmas Eve 2016. With Connor Cook under center, the Raiders were unable to muster much offense against the NFL’s #1 ranked defense last season and were forced to exit the playoffs very early.

Roster Turnover

Key Losses

Over the offseason, Oakland didn’t lose anyone particularly noteworthy. Some of the players who departed in free agency:

  • Austin Howard, RT

Howard started most of 2016 at right tackle. It seems the Raiders will be passing that starting responsibility on to free agent signee Marshall Newhouse.

  • Latavius Murray, RB

Murray likely won’t be missed by the Raiders with the signing of Marshawn Lynch and development of 2nd-year players DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

  • Malcolm Smith, WLB

Levi Damien of Silver & Black Pride (recently featured on MCM Radio) called Malcolm Smith “steady but underwhelming” when he signed with the 49ers in March. Though a former Super Bowl MVP, Smith contributed to Oakland’s problems covering tight ends last season.

  • D.J. Hayden, CB

The Raiders former first-round pick never lived up to expectations in Oakland. After trying him at slot corner last season, the Raiders have finally decided to move on. A potential addition-by-subtraction situation here.

  • Darren Bates / Brynden Trawick, ST

Bates, a back-up linebacker, and Trawick, a back-up safety, didn’t offer much to Oakland’s defense last year, but the two were key special teamers that Oakland will have to replace on their coverage and return units. Titans fans know this of course because Bates and Trawick are now in Nashville.

Key Additions

  • Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR

Former Volunteer playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson, once a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, signed with the Raiders in the offseason. Patterson hasn’t been able to make much of an impact in the NFL as a receiver, and he won’t in Oakland with Cooper, Crabtree, and Roberts all ahead of him on the depth chart, but he does provide a lot of special teams value as a dangerous kick returner. Patterson has been to two Pro Bowls and been named a 1st-team All Pro kick returner twice (most recently last season). The Titans revamped kickoff coverage unit will be tested on Sunday with Patterson fielding kicks.

  • Jared Cook, TE

The former Titans tight end has bounced around a few teams. He now finds himself filling Oakland’s void as the pass-catching tight end. Cook hasn’t played the Titans since 2013, his first season with the Rams, when he recorded 3 catches for 36 yards and a score.

  • Marshall Newhouse, RT

Newhouse will likely take over as the starting right tackle now that Donald Penn is back in the lineup on the left side. He is a considerable upgrade over last year’s starter, Austin Howard.

Film Study - Offense

Now that we’ve reviewed the Raiders’ offseason moves, let’s get into the film.

**NOTE: This film study is based on 2016 tape and some of 2017’s preseason action. As it is Week 1, there is no tape to study yet for this year. From preseason, we will glean what we can but take it all with a side of salt.

As evidenced in the chart above, while the Raiders had one of the NFL’s more explosive offenses last season, their defense left much to be desired.

Despite their struggles, the Raiders 2016 defensive unit was extremely opportunistic. The team was 2nd in the NFL in takeaways with 30, and they finished tied for first in turnover differential at +16. Oakland was 7th in the NFL in points off turnovers with 84.

As is the case for virtually every NFL game ever played, a huge key to victory will be the Titans ability to avoid turning the ball over.

In last season’s matchup with Oakland, the Titans turned the ball over three times en route to scoring just 10 points.

Nearly half of the Raiders’ takeaways (14 to be exact) were recovered fumbles, like this one from Week 1.

Bruce Irvin strips Drew Brees in Week 1 of 2016, and the Raiders recovered the fumble (NFL Gamepass).

Any quarterback who sits in the pocket for that long deserves to be strip sacked. Fumble recoveries is traditionally a stat that doesn’t have much carry over from year to year.

Even so, the point is that Marcus Mariota will have to get the ball out quickly or get on the move to avoid the prying attempts by talented pass rushers Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack to strip the ball.

Speaking of Khalil Mack, this is a guy the Titans will need to key on every single snap. In the preseason, the Rams experimented with assigning to a pair of tight ends the impossible task of blocking Mack. That went about as well as one would expect...

Khalil Mack fights through a tight end double-team to sack Jared Goff (NFL Gamepass).

Conklin and Lewan will have their hands full with the Raiders pass rush. However, if they can give Mariota time to find his weapons downfield, they should be able to get open without too much trouble.

Getting the run game going will be important in slowing down the Mack Truck. Solid gains on 1st and 2nd down will keep the team out of third and long situations, where Mack thrives.

The Raiders allowed the 10th-most rushing yards in the NFL last season in part because of their high-powered offense. Teams looked to establish the run in an effort to keep the opposing offense off the field. The Titans took a similar approach last season, and I expect the Smash Brothers DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to be used heavily in this game.

The Titans were very successful running against the Raiders last season. DeMarco Murray carried for 114 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (7.1 YPC) on his way to becoming the first Titans’ running back to rush for 100 yards in a single game since Chris Johnson did it in 2013. Henry was no slouch himself, gaining 45 yards on ten carries.

Heavy formation. Offensive linemen on the move. Murray finishes the run strong (NFL Gamepass).

The Titans used a lot of heavy “power” formations with multiple tight ends and fullbacks on the field and were able to blow the Raiders off the line of scrimmage with ease.

With Jace Amaro, Phillip Supernaw, and Jalston Fowler all on the field for the Titans, DeMarco Murray runs for a big gain against Oakland in 2016 (NFL Gamepass).

Rookie third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes will start at defensive tackle for the Raiders on Sunday, but I’m not sure how much support he will provide against the Titans powerful rushing attack.

Captain Arronax of Silver & Black Pride posted an in-depth scouting report on Vanderdoes yesterday, and he had this to say:

“Vanderdoes's greatest and most concerning flaw is his inability to read and react to what the offense does. . . . Instead of looking for the football, Vanderdoes prefers to follow the offensive lineman allowing him to consistently be fooled by things such as pulling lineman, play action, screen passes, and draw runs.”

The Raiders pass defense was also not good in 2016, and they were especially susceptible to tight ends. Oakland allowed the 6th-most receiving yards to tight ends last year with 1,027.

Jack Doyle catches a wide open pass against the Raiders poor coverage (NFL Gamepass).

Those struggles showed up for the Raiders in the preseason when the ageless wonder Jason Witten caught a touchdown pass in the third preseason game. Delanie Walker didn’t even get a chance to suit up against Oakland last season. I suspect he was licking his chops in film study preparing for this game.

I would talk more about how the Titans can attack the Raiders using the mismatch posed by Delanie Walker, but Mike has saved me the trouble by going into detail on that subject already. If you haven’t read that yet, what are you waiting for?

If the Titans can avoid turnovers, get the power run game working again and use Delanie Walker to create mismatches, they should stand a chance put up more than 10 points this time around against what is expected to be a poor defense. If these elements are working, it could open up the passing game for the Titans’ new wide receivers.

The Raiders secondary wasn’t good last season, and the unit continued to struggle in the preseason (again, it’s only preseason, so we’re not going to make any judgements from this, but when Jared Goff leads back-to-back scoring drives against the first-team defense, there is cause for concern).

The Raiders secondary completely loses Cooper Kupp off the play-action fake (NFL Gamepass).

The Titans offense, on paper, will be tough to contain. Against a bad defense, they should be able to find success. The Titans should be able to exploit the Raiders defense with play action, like in the Cooper Kupp touchdown above.

There is one last element that will be crucial to the Titans winning on Sunday, and that is converting on third down. The Titans were one of the better teams in the NFL at doing just that a year ago (4th in the NFL with 46.08%). Mariota was the most accurate passer in the NFL on third downs in the red zone.

However, in last year’s game against Oakland, the Titans were a miserable 2-12 on third down and unsuccessful on their only 4th-down try, the play that could’ve tied the game late in the 4th quarter. The Raiders were a middle-of-the-road team defending third downs last year, finishing 13th in the NFL in third down conversion percentage against. Theoretically, the Titans should be much better than they were last year in this regard.

Offensive Summary

Power run plays to set up play-action were the bread and butter of the Titans offensive philosophy last season. I expect they will evolve by adding more three-wide and spread concepts to the already established ground-and-pound attack. I also expect a healthy dosage of read-option and run-pass option plays in an effort to slow down Khalil Mack and confuse the young players on the Raiders defensive line.

I have a sneaky suspicion that we’ll see a lot more of Corey Davis this week than the coaches are letting on.

I’m also curious to see if Adoree’ Jackson will get any touches on offense after he was not used there at all in the preseason, though if I had to guess, I would say we do not see any of this in Week 1.

The Raiders are beatable on defense. The Titans must avoid 3rd-and-long to neutralize Khalil Mack as much as possible. They must convert a healthy number of third-down tries. And they must avoid the drive and game-killing penalties that have cost them the chance to beat Oakland two years in a row now (phantom or not).

Film Study - Defense

The Raiders offense is very good. Scary good.

There is no way to “stop” them. You can only hope to contain the offensive explosion.

Marshawn Lynch is back after a year of retirement and playing now for his hometown Oakland franchise. The Titans were pretty good at containing opposing teams’ rushing attacks last season. Lynch’s most recent body of work was not particularly impressive, but that was in Seattle running behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines.

Now he gets to run behind one of the best. However, he doesn’t scare me nearly as much as a certain wide receiver...

Amari Cooper has only played two seasons in the NFL, but in that time, he has already established himself as one of the best route-runners in the league.

Cooper wins many ways. Cooper has size, athleticism, and as I mentioned, he is an incredibly nuanced route runner who will beat man-to-man single coverage nearly every time.

Amari Cooper gains 9 yards against man-to-man coverage (NFL Gamepass).

The Panthers held Amari Cooper to 4 catches for 22 yards last season. The above 9-yard completion was his longest gain of the day. The Panthers did this by limiting the number of times their corners had to play Cooper on an island.

Watch this next play as the safety, tasked with providing help on Amari Cooper, immediately diagnoses a similar slant play as the one above (though this time Seth Roberts crosses to the outside) and quickly breaks on the route to cut off the passing lane. Carr is forced to look elsewhere and eventually throws the ball away.

Amari Cooper tries the slant against man-to-man coverage again, but this time the safety provides excellent help (NFL Gamepass)

The Chiefs, in the same division as the Raiders, played them twice last year and accounted for 2 of the Raiders’ 4 losses. In their second matchup, Cooper caught 5 passes on 10 targets for just 29 yards.

Marcus Peters is one of the best cornerbacks in the game, and one of the few who can win reps against Cooper, but even so, watch the safety immediately slide to Cooper’s side of the field to provide help if needed. Carr looks to his right initially but quickly moves on to his next read.

The Chiefs consistently shadowed Amari Cooper with safety help over the top (NFL Gamepass).

Of course, the Chiefs fielded one of the most talented secondaries in the league in 2016. They were able to hold Cooper to just 29 yards in their second meeting, but in the first, he torched them for 129 yards on 10 receptions.

He did even more damage to the hearts and souls of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he racked up a career-best 173 yards on 12 catches, including this 36-yard touchdown.

Sometimes, shadowing Cooper with a safety doesn’t work. The Buccaneers are in a Cover 2 Zone defense. Cooper is quickly passed off to a safety, but his nuanced route running allows him to run open downfield as his subtle hint at a deep post route freezes the safety.

Sometimes, keeping a safety over the top isn’t enough to stop a player as talented as Amari Cooper (NFL Gamepass).

I expect the Titans will keep a safety over the top of Cooper for much of the game. Michael Crabtree is a talented receiver in his own right, but he doesn’t pose nearly the same threat as Cooper. I would argue that much of the success Crabtree has found in Oakland is due to playing with Amari Cooper across the way.

All that said, it was Michael Crabtree, not Amari Cooper, who gave the Titans the most trouble last season. With Perrish Cox on him for most of the game, Crabtree hauled in 8 passes for 102 yards.

The Titans will trot out new players at both corner spots and both safety spots for this third match-up in as many years. Logan Ryan was with the Patriots, Adoree’ Jackson was at USC, and Johnathan Cyprien was a Jacksonville Jaguar the last time these two teams met. Kevin Byard played 32 defensive snaps, but he did not start the game.

There will be growing pains as this group of players learns to play together. Ryan and Jackson were both burned for long gains in the preseason.

With Jackson expected to start on Sunday, the Titans should be prepared to give up some big plays. Hopefully, Jackson’s playmaking abilities will allow him to make a difference positively to offset the bad.

Mike also offered fantastic analysis of the Titans secondary match-ups in this game, detailing why Adoree’ Jackson actually should start. Look, the kid is raw. That is acknowledged and not debatable. He will get beat. But it’s not about which corner can stop the talented Oakland receivers, because none of them can. It’s about which player gives you the best chance to flip the script and make a potential game-changing play when it really counts.

I noticed in my review that the Raiders run a lot of screen and swing-type passes. This was confirmed by Cian Fahey’s Quarterback Catalogue, which shows that 49.6% of all of Carr’s pass attempts traveled within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

The graph here also happens to include some interesting stats about Mariota’s target depth distribution. He threw downfield much more than casual NFL fans (and even analysts) give him credit for.

The Raiders offense is not nearly as vertical as people think. But they do take deep shots after lulling an offense into a daze with repeated short throw after short throw before BAM! launching one deep and connecting for a massive gain.

Derek Carr is a good quarterback and he is surrounded by weapons. But he is beatable.

The biggest criticism I had for Carr coming out of college was that he gets extremely panicky under pressure. Luckily for Carr (or perhaps by design), he plays behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and thus doesn’t see all that much pressure relative to most quarterbacks.

Although Carr only threw six interceptions last season, the panic under pressure did not go away. In the Monday Night Football matchup with the Texans last season, Carr made one of the worst decisions a quarterback can make, chucking the ball downfield into double coverage because of the quick pressure off the edge.

Derek Carr throws a bad pass up for grabs under pressure and is intercepted by A.J. Bouye (NFL Gamepass).

Getting pressure on Carr is not easy though. According to Football Outsiders, Carr faced pressure on just 18.7% of dropbacks last season, 2nd-fewest in the NFL among passers with at least 300 attempts.

The thing is, Carr has this really weird tendency to panic even when given a clean pocket to work from. This is a trend that I first became aware of through Jonathan Kinsley’s Twitter analysis, so I watched for it closely in this review.

It’s a real thing. And it’s totally bizarre.

Cian Fahey also noticed this strange trend, and he explained how the Chiefs were able to limit Carr and thus beat the Raiders twice last season.

Carr doesn’t like to stay in the pocket for very long. He gets antsy and starts to feel phantom pressure, or else he finishes going through his progressions and then checks down when he doesn’t need to.

The Titans don’t necessarily have to pressure Carr to rattle him. In fact, I expect the Titans to run some extremely exotic blitz packages and frequently bluff blitzes before dropping most of the defense into coverage.

Of course, this analysis doesn’t account for any potential growth by Carr over the offseason. I’m sure that he watched hours of film on himself while recovering from his injury to continue improving, and if Cian Fahey, Jonathan Kinsley, and I were able to see this clearly on tape, there’s no question the football minds of the Oakland Raiders know that Carr needs to improve in this area.

It will be interesting to see how he does in this regard in 2017.

Defensive Summary

The Titans’ defense has their work cut out for them on Sunday. The Raiders field an explosive offense with dangerous weapons and, despite the criticism above, a young and talented quarterback.

However, the Titans somehow managed to limit the Raiders to their third-lowest scoring output of the season when they held them to only 17 points (excluding Week 17 with no Derek Carr). The two lower scores came in the losses to the Chiefs.

The Titans essentially upgraded every defensive position this offseason. If they can rattle Carr by confusing him and forcing him to stay inside the pocket, and somehow limit Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the defense might stand a chance.

They probably won’t hold the Raiders to 17 points again, despite the improvements. And part of the defensive strategy will be to control the time of possession on offense. Complimentary football and all that. If the Titans can limit the Raiders’ big plays and force a turnover or two, they’ll give the offense a shot to outscore the Raiders.

Marcus Mariota versus Derek Carr. Who will come out on top? Find out this Sunday, only on CBS!