Meanwhile, in Carson, California, Oakland Raiders fans flooded the StubHub Center and the “home” of the L.A. Chargers only to see their team lose 26-10, in a game that was not nearly as close as the score would indicate.
Though people have been all too happy to write the 1-4 Raiders off as a bad football team—which they may be—they have had some promising moments. Oakland has started brightly in most of their games, and Jon Gruden’s game scripts are a big reason for this.
Offensive and Defensive Primers
Gruden’s return to the NFL was headlined by his apparent desire to bring it back to 1998. Like a lot of stuff that comes out of Gruden’s mouth in front of the media, that has proven to be untrue.
Through five weeks, Gruden’s offense has at least resembled something close to a modern offense. He’s used multiple personnel groupings, utilized motion to scheme players open, and Keith Smith, the team’s fullback, has only played 15% of the offense’s snaps. Not quite what Gruden (perhaps with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek) sold in the offseason.
Gruden’s roots are in the West Coast offense, having come up in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren. In the passing game, the focus is on quick throws (more on that later) and attacking up the seam. The biggest benefactor of this has been Jared Cook, who is on his way to career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns—more on him later, as well.
Though Gruden once declared if he were to come back to the NFL, he would “never huddle again,” that hasn’t quite been the case. The Raiders sit around the middle of the pack in time of possession per drive (13th).
On defense, Paul Guenther is in his first year as coordinator after serving in the same role for four years with the Bengals—and doing an admirable job. Obviously, Guenther was dealt about as devastating a blow as any coordinator could be when Khalil Mack was brainlessly traded just prior to the start of the season. And though Oakland has suffered as a result—they’re 31st in adjusted sack rate—Guenther has his defensive line one-gap and attack up field.
Similar to Mike Zimmer, who preceded him in Cincinnati, Guenther loves to sugar the A-gaps with his linebackers and bring pressure up the middle. Seattle’s newfound stability inside with J.R. Sweezy, Justin Britt and D.J. Fluker will be important against Guenther’s defense.
On the back end, Guenther’s defense is heavily rooted in zone coverage (cover-2), having used it on over 75% of plays in his final year with the Bengals.
Numbers that Matter
70: One of the most enjoyable parts of the season, at least for this writer, has been the slimmed down and motivated Marshawn Lynch. Having dropped back to 230 pounds after playing last year at 240, Lynch has played a central role for the Raiders through the first month of the season. At least while the game is close.
Lynch has played 70 snaps while Oakland is either tied or in the lead, compared to 21 for Doug Martin and 10 for Jalen Richard in the same situation. When playing from behind, Lynch has played just 19 snaps, while Richard’s snaps increase to 23 and Martin’s drops to 10.
Less than 10% of Lynch’s snaps in 2018 have come in the second half of games, as his role has been made perfectly clear. As much as Gruden wants his team’s identity to be a punishing, running team that plays with a lead and wears teams down, their skill level hasn’t allowed for it.
In what will surely be a bizarre and entirely wrong sight, expect Lynch to get a heavy workload in the first half against the Seahawks; if Seattle heads into the break ahead, don’t expect to see much of him at all afterwards.
14.8: Oh Derek Carr. He didn’t have to say anything, but when Lynch joined the Raiders in 2017, he couldn’t help himself. Infamously, Carr said he would give it to Lynch on the one-yard line, rather than throw it. But, shockingly, last week Carr threw it on the one-yard line, which resulted in a hideous interception.
Carr’s interception against the Chargers was representative of a bigger issue in 2018. Since his rookie season, Carr’s red zone QBR has steadily dropped year-after-year, and so far this season it sits at an ugly 14.8. The interception he threw against L.A. was his second red zone pass intercepted this year, on 37 attempts.
Despite Carr’s struggles in the red zone, if they’re playing from behind on Sunday, they may have no choice but to put the ball in the air with Lynch remaining on the sideline.
151.6: In last week’s Friday Rundown, we finally discussed Russell Wilson’s play-action excellence in 2018. Two days later, Wilson was again excellent off play-action, though it remained underused in the Seahawks’ offense.
Russell Wilson play action 2018: 36 dropbacks, 23/32 for 384 yards (6th), 71.9%, 5 TD (1st), 0 INT, 12.0 YPA (4th), 151.6 passer rating (2nd)— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) October 8, 2018
play-action rate: 21.7 .... (20th)
Regardless of the situation on Sunday, play-action would be hugely helpful in slowing down a defensive front that will consistently try to knife through gaps and attack.
87.5: Returning from injury in Week 5, Chris Carson was excellent against the Rams, rushing for 116 yards on over six yards per carry. Carson’s performance was simply the latest in what has been an extremely consistent season.
Of Carson’s 64 carries on the season, 56 have gained positive yardage. 87.5% of carries resulting in a gain is the second-highest mark in the league among backs with 50 or more carries (Kerryon Johnson leads the NFL at 88%). Now, Carson will face an Oakland defense allowing the fifth most rushing yards per game. Additionally, the Raiders are 24th both in run defense by DVOA, and in yards from scrimmage per game allowed to the position.
Once again Carson will be leaned on by Pete Carroll and Seattle, and this time it will be against one of the league’s weakest run defenses.
Matchups to Watch
Derek Carr versus pressure: Just over a year ago, Carr suffered a fracture in his vertebrae and missed one game before returning. However, the impact of the injury remains an issue for Carr. Since returning, Carr has appeared skittish in the pocket and avoids contact at all costs.
When pressured, Carr has a passer rating of 31.9, the fifth lowest in the NFL. Against the blitz, Carr’s passer rating is fifth bottom as well, at a better-but-still-bad 66.8. Any hint of pressure will lead to Carr making poor decisions, or simply throwing it away in an ugly manner.
Through five weeks, Carr and Oakland are third in the NFL in passes of five yards or less. Some of that is a product of Gruden’s offense, but some of it comes down to Carr forcing the ball out quickly. Among quarterbacks who have started multiple games in 2018, Carr has the fourth quickest time to throw.
If the Seahawks can create pressure—or even the allusion of pressure—on Sunday against the Raiders, they can force Carr into making bad decisions. Or, at the very least, he’ll simply throw a duck into the sideline.
Jared Cook versus Seattle’s middle of field defense: As previously mentioned, Cook has been one of the biggest benefactors of Gruden’s return to coaching. Cook’s importance to the offense was made immediately known in Week 1, when he put together a ridiculous 180-yard game against the Rams.
As the season has gone on, Gruden and Oakland have continued to lean on Cook and their tight ends. After five games, 26.69% of the Raiders’ passing yards have gone to tight ends. That’s the ninth highest mark in the NFL, and well above the league’s average (20.64%). Oakland targets the middle of the field often and as a result, Cook’s production has ballooned. His 41 targets is fourth among tight ends in the league.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have fixed the tight end issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Some of it can be credited to their use of big nickel packages early in the season, and, well, they haven’t exactly faced elite tight ends: Jeff Heuerman, Trey Burton, Geoff Swaim, Ricky Seals-Jones and Tyler Higbee.
On the season, Seattle’s allowed 17.76% of their receptions to tight ends—11th in the NFL and about 3% lower than the league average. Though Cook isn’t a particularly strong test, his role in the Raiders’ offense will test the Seahawks’ defense. He will be targeted, but Seattle should be up to the test.
Opponent to Know
Brandon Parker, RT: Parker, a third round pick out of North Carolina AT&T by Oakland in this past spring’s draft, made his first career start last week. The Raiders’ plan to redshirt Parker in 2018 had to be scrapped when Donald Penn was lost for the season, and Parker’s debut showed why they wanted to sit him as a rookie, giving up two pressures, a QB hit and being flagged for a false start.
However, Parker was one of my favorite offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, and someone I thought the Seahawks may target—my pro comparison for him was Duane Brown. Parker is an absolute mountain of a man and technically sound as a pass blocker, though prone to losing against inside counter-moves. He’s extremely powerful as a run blocker, and the biggest question surrounding him as a prospect was his level of competition.
As high as I am on Parker’s pro prospects, there is of course a possibility he is a disaster against Seattle. After all, he is a rookie tackle making his second career start. Our own Mookie Alexander already covered the favorable matchup the Seahawks’ defense finds itself in against a depleted Oakland offensive line. At the same time, don’t be surprised to see an enormous No. 75 engulfing Seattle pass rushers on a few snaps, either.
The Seahawks, regardless of their perceived struggles this season, are much better than the Raiders. However, games in London often lead to bizarre results. Seattle’s Week 6 matchup is a difficult one to read, but the Seahawks should be expected to get back to .500 (and 1-0 in England!) this week.