The Oakland Raiders otherwise terrific win 34-31 against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers in a key NFL Sunday game was marred by a terrible injury to star wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
It’s an injury that could have been prevented, and was the child of poor pass play design. This is not to cast a dark cloud on Oakland Raiders Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp (the man who’s in his second Raiders stint since 2007) who has altered the Raiders offensive approach, pushing the ball downfield more than in the previous two games (and more in the style set by the late Al Davis), but it is to get the organization to pay attention to the analysis of a play from the perspective of time, space, and end. This will improve the performance of individual offensive plays, and the overall offense as a result.
The play this blogger refers to was ran twice in the game against the Steelers, and it almost produced simular results the first time. The overall concept is to freeze the linebackers and safeties with a double-running back play-action fake, then throw to the split end on the side of the play-action fake.
The play-action pass was the first play the Raiders called to open the contest Sunday. It came out of an I-Formation, with Darren McFadden as the halfback and Marcel Reece the fullback. Denarius Moore lined up as the split end to the right, which means the tight end is on the left side of the formation.
On the snap of the ball, Raiders Quarterback Carson Palmer turned to his right, and faked the dive running play to Mc Fadden, as Reece ran toward the hole between the center and the strongside guard on that side of the play.
Meanwhile Moore took an inside release then ran a pattern that asked him to run at an angle between his starting point and a point about 20 yards downfield and where an immaginary line from the offensive center up 20 yards would be. In football language, it’s a type of post pattern.
Moore ran this, but as he did Pittsburgh’s Free Safety Ryan Clark was standing where Moore would have been if he completed running the pattern. Fortunately for Denarius Moore, he slipped on the sand part of the baseball infield used by the Oakland A’s as baseball season is still in play.
Meanwhile Palmer threw the ball one hitch-step after his fake, and right to where Moore was supposed to be, and Clark was. The ball was intercepted. (The play itself can be seen at the NFL.com website for your analysis.) Had Moore continued the pattern, Clark would certainly have met him with a hard tackle, separating him from the football, assuming Moore were able to catch it.
The Raiders did not call the play again until much later. But overall, the game plan featured a number of passes to receivers running breaks much deeper than in the games against San Diego and Miami.
But this play that’s the focus of this blog entry appears to have been one that was installed just for the Steelers. Apparently the idea of the play-action pass play was to send the split end downfield in the middle, with the idea that the fake would freeze the safeties of a defense with “two deep” – that is two safeties taking one half each of the field, and theoretically leaving the middle open.
The problem with the play the Raiders called is that they called the play without getting that perfect two deep look. I have to believe the Raiders didn’t install an audible call for that problem – else Palmer would have checked out of the play as per coaching instruction.
Or, if the safety rotates to the middle, there should be an adjustment calling for the split end to run a deep crossing pattern, not the post. That was the first problem. The second problem was with the design of the play itself. It should be scrapped.
What the Raiders should do is take the split end and put the receiver out wider – about three yards wider. Then have the split end run a “skinny post:” ten yards downfield, and a slight angle inside.
Palmer could throw this off the same play-action and hitch-step – it would be complete. The play I described is basically the same one used by the 2010 Green Bay Packers. Arguably they ate the NFL alive with it. It’s a play that’s brutally efficient in that it opens a crease in the defense that’s formed in part by the wide split of the split end, the play-action fake, and the pattern itself.
Moreover, when the free safety is “froze” by the fake, where the safety is “held” is where they line up, which is just inside the crease; recovering to break up the throw is almost impossible for any current defender in the NFL.
The Second Time: Darrius Heyward-Bey Gets Hurt
The second time the Raiders tried the concept was the time Mr. Heyward-Bey was hurt. This time, in an effort to be unpredictable, the Raider ran the same concept using the flanker, and not the split end. Thus, it was Mr. Hayward-Bey’s turn at bat.
The Raiders had the tight end to the play-action side, and the formation was what some call a “strongside I” set, but the fake to McFadden, and his running up the middle, is the same.
In other words, same play, different formation – but same result. Darius Heyward-Bey was sent right to meet the Steelers safeties, and in trying to catch Palmer’s fastball – the only kind of throw that had a chance given that play design, he was hit by both of them, as the ball bounced off him because of the violent collision.
Mr. Heyward-Bey was hurt and sadly carted off the field. To close, the Raiders need to either scrap or redesign the play-action pass that was used. Moreover, Greg Knapp and his staff must be more, to be frank, intelligent, in their play design. Knapp is to be applauded for his much-needed change in overall approach – one that resulted in the Raiders largest average-yards-per pass play to date this year at 7.4 – but that alteration should not come at the expense of player safety.
Stay tuned. More at Zennie62.com