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Analyzation of a New Problem: Red Zone Edition

An in-depth look at what went wrong for the Raiders in the red zone vs. the Cardinals.

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This is not last years Oakland Raiders offense. This year, the offense closely resembles an NFL offense. In fact, at times, they closely resemble a very good NFL offense.

They are moving the chains, eating up yards and bashing their way into the redzone in ways that this franchise hasn't done in years. Once they get there, however, they have been blindsided by a problem like it was trying to be, whatever it is you call it when Mario Henderson tries to block something.

They can't convert in the redzone. This may be a lingering problem or it may be a new one. It is impossible to tell, since it has been a long time since the Raiders have been in the redzone with enough consistency to get a good feel for their effectiveness there. After the one point loss to Arizona, on the backs of converting 5 trips into the redzone for one touchdown, it is impossible to not see they are struggling in the NFL's money zone.

A quick look at the numbers shows the difference between last year and this and the team's urgent need to figure out their new problem.

Last year the Raiders were last in the league averaging 1.8 redzone appearances per game. This year they are tied for first with 4.3.

The Raiders 23 percent redzone touchdown conversion rates is good enough for a 30th ranking. Currently there are only 12 teams that are converting less than half of the redzone trips into touchdowns.

Against Arizona, the Raiders had 14 possessions. Five of those possessions ended in punts and 4 of them ended with redzone field goal attempts. This is a disproportionate amount of failure.

Had they converted their redzone attempts to touchdowns on just an average level, that game would've been a blowout.

In '09 the Raiders converted their redzone attempts into touchdowns 43 percent of the time. Given that squads troubles moving the ball to this years, again we see the disproportionate amount of failure. Just to summarize, that is a team that is over half as likely to get to the redzone, being almost twice as effective when they are in it. A true case of 2+2=147.

The good news: For many reasons this almost has to improve. The Raiders ability to move the ball dictates it and so does the fact that the Buffalo Bills were the most inept at redzone conversion percentage last year at 31.5. Also, hey, the Raiders are making it to the redzone!

The bad news: What the hell is going on? This has already cost one game.

To try and figure this out, I reviewed every redzone play from last game. I actually went a bit beyond the redzone and reviewed every play ran from Arizona's 25 or closer.

I did not include the Raiders final possession as the Raiders were not playing to get a touchdown, but to simply setup a cash money field goal attempt. Given this and not counting field goal attempts the Raiders ran 20 offensive plays in the redzone. This includes every play where the ball was snapped, penalty or not.

Breakdown of Plays

13 of those plays were passes and seven were runs. What gets interesting in the breakdowns is when the plays were called. On first down the Raiders ran six running plays and two passing plays. Three of the first down plays were less than 10 yards to go. Those were all runs.

The Raiders ran seven second down plays. Of those plays, only one was a run. That was the two-yard touchdown run right before the half. The yardage faced on those second down passes was 4, 7, 20, 6, 8 and 5.

All five of the Raiders 3rd down redzone plays were passes. The yardage on 3rd down plays was 4, 20, 10, 12 and 5.

On the pass plays, four went to Zach Miller, four went to Darrius Heyward-Bey, two went to Darren McFadden, one went to Louis Murphy, one went to Marcel Reece and one was a sack.

What Went Wrong

There is a fairly equal amount of failure distribution to go around. I am going to start with the thing that stuck out the most.

An Ineffective Passing Game

On the pass plays Bruce Gradkowski was 4 for 11 (I am not counting the pass interference in the endzone on DHB, but I am counting the incomplete to Miller in which AZ got a holding away from the ball).

Of those four completions, only two were productive and they were both in my bonus redzone. The 22-yard touchdown pass to Miller and the 18-yard screen pass to Darren McFadden.

One of the completions was for a four-yard loss to Marcel Reece. Perhaps Reece should have just knocked that one down? The other was a two-yard gain to Louis Murphy.

This lead me to break down and categorize each pass play.

I put them into six categories:

Bad Throw

Bad Read

Bad Protection

Poor Receiver Play

Good Defense/Bad Play Call: I've never been one to get stuck on the individual plays called. I think most plays will be successful with the proper execution or stopped with superior defense. It can be hard to differentiate if it was the play call or the execution on either side of the ball.

Good Plays

Some plays saw multiple types of failure. These plays made it to a couple of categories, but here is what we saw in the redzone against the Cardinals.

Bad Throws: 4

Bad Reads: 3

Bad Protection: 3

Poor Receiver Play: 2

Bad Play Call/Good Defense 3

A few of these fall into the gray area of judging, but given the numbers one thing becomes obvious, even if the couple of gray area plays were moved or not: Gradkowski needs to play better in the redzone.

A look at some of the plays that illustrate this.

3rd and 10 on the Arizona 16 with 10:27 left in the 4th Quarter

This is the incompletion to Miller on a post that ended with a holding call on Arizona against Murphy.

This was a horrible throw. Miller had open space in front of him. If Grad leads him more to the middle of the field the safety is taken completely out of the play. Zach has a half of step on the man guarding him. A decent throw to the inside and this is six. 

2nd and 5 on the Arizona 5 with 8:13 left in the 4th Quarter

This play was an incompletion to DHB in the back right corner.

The ball was overthrown as DHB may or may not have been bumped when the ball was in the air. A little less distance on the throw and this ball hits DHB in the hands while his defender is kissing the grass.

This was a quick pass to DHB, so Grad never even pretended to look left, but he should have. On this play, the Raiders had, from outside to in, Murphy, Miller and Higgins in a bunch on the left. Arizona had one defender for each guy on that side.

They went into man. Higgins went underneath and had a good seven yards of open field in every direction. He may not have scored, but he would've been close and if Murphy gets a block on his guy he could have walked into the endzone.

As Higgins's guy began to chase him, it left the entire inside half open to a slanting Miller. Miller's guy was fairly close, but a well thrown ball and Miller scores.

Both of those options were much higher percentage throws than the one to DHB. Looking at the pre-snap alignment, Grad has to see that there is going to be a high percentage throw out of the bunch. It was simply a matter of reading if they were in zone or man to decide whom to throw to.

The next play: 3rd and 5

An incompletion to DHB in the front right corner after the DB knocks it out of DHB's hands.

This play is a good example of DHB not knowing how to use his body quite yet. He jumped for the ball instead of stepping towards it and trying to get his body between the ball and the defender. 

Another play that Grad does not look left. JLH had space and would have had to beat one guy to get a score.

2nd and 20 on the Arizona 23 with 5:21 left in the 3rd Quarter

An incompletion to DHB as he cut in, but Grad made a throw expecting him to keep going straight.

This play is probably a completion if DHB runs where Grad is throwing or if Grad throws where DHB is running.

On the other side of the field, Grad had Murphy in a 1 on 1 situation in the endzone. I categorized this as Bad Receiver Play. Obviously, I have no idea who made the wrong decision here, but given the track records, I put this on DHB.

As I said, there is not just one thing to blame here.

Play Calling

Here are a couple of play calls I didn't get, given execution or not.

1st and 3 on the Arizona 3 with :47 seconds left in the 2nd Quarter

The Raiders went no huddle and then did a quick snap as soon as they were set and ran a QB sneak. Good idea, but three yards is a bit ambitious to try a sneak

3rd and 20 on the Arizona 23 with 5:16 left in the 3rd Quarter

The Raiders only sent two players anywhere near first down yardage. Miller and Higgins both ran short routes. Barry Sanders would have been hard pressed to get a first down from where their routes ended up. They didn't need a few extra yards to get into field goal range. A waste of play that ended in an incompletion to Miller after Grad flushed out of the pocket.

Offensive Line Play

The pass blocking was actually decent. Gradkowski was only under pressure three times and one of those was on a roll-out off of a play action where they were hoping the LB would bight on the fake. A few things did go wrong with the line though.

2nd and 8 on the Arizona 9 with 9:39 left in the 4th Quarter

Dockett sacked Grad as he was dropping back.

Arizona blitzed seven and two LB's on the right side of the Raiders line. Gradkowski had McFadden to his right behind him. On this play, the Raiders linemen have to pick up the inside rushers and allow McFadden to get the guy coming around the outside.

Carlisle picks up the blitzing ILB, while Barnes goes after the blitzing OLB leaving Darnell Dockett a free run. McFadden makes a great attempt to block him, but Dockett made an even better attempt for the sack. The Cardinals didn't hide that they were blitzing and Barnes should have seen the ILB coming and then stayed in to block Dockett.

1st and 10 on the Arizona 13 with 6:19 left in the 3rd Quarter

Mario Henderson gets called for holding on a run play. McFadden is running off tackle on Mario's side and Mario's block is key, but this is inexcusable. 1st and 20 in the redzone is a much bigger obstacle than 2 and 10. Mario should do anything, but hold here and it was an obvious hold.

1st and 1 on the Arizona 1 with 9:12 left in the 4th Quarter

A dive right up the middle to Michael Bush that goes nowhere. Samson Satele gets blown up and the trickle down effect created by his void cannot be overcome.

Overall, the line did a solid job. Loper, Carlisle and Veldheer looked good blocking the runs. Carlisle looked really good on the screen pass.

What Needs To Happen

  • I think the coaches made it a point at halftime that they liked the matchup of DHB against Greg Toler. Grad consistently looked that way first and never bothered throwing to Murphy in 1 on 1s against Rodgers-Cromartie. I'm not sure DHB is ready for this.
  • DHB, while vastly improved, needs to learn to use his body better before he will be an efficient redzone weapon. When they do go to him, Grad needs to get the ball higher in the air. DHB likes to jump for everything anyway and DB's will have a hard time going up with him.
  • If you are going to bother putting Higgins on the field, use him. He was wide open on a couple of plays and they didn't even try to pretend like they were going to throw to him.
  • On first down, especially in the short yardage, I'd like to see a play action or two thrown to Miller. When teams are geared for the run, this play almost always results in a wide open TE. Just fake a block and then slide out into the flat. Even if it doesn't work, it will help keep the defense honest.
  • They can't give up on the run in the redzone. Six runs and one pass on 2nd down should never happen again. Especially given the fact that five of those runs were from eight yards or closer. The one run they did have on 2nd down was a touchdown.
  • The sideline needs to get the play in sooner. You know, maybe look like you had a plan for when you do enter the redzone.
  • Most importantly, Grad needs to be better. He needs to make better pre-snap reads and be more accurate with his throws.
  • Oh wait, I almost forgot, bench Mario Henderson. Veldheer was way more effective and a lot less stupid in the redzone during this game.