Brian Blanco / Associated Press
Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 | 2 a.m.
The Raiders won their season opener on Sunday, and in the NFL, every victory is earned. But it won’t be a celebratory week of practice ahead for Las Vegas — not after the defense allowed 30 points to a Carolina attack that is projected to be pretty pedestrian this season.
The Las Vegas pass rush was a big question coming into the year, and in Week 1 those concerns proved to be well-founded. Carolina ran 67 plays overall, and 40 of those were called pass plays (including their successful 2-point conversion), and to put it bluntly, the Raiders barely bothered quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther mostly left it up to the front four to create pressure on the quarterback and they were simply unable to do it. Of the 40 times Bridgewater dropped back to throw, the Raiders generated pressure on him just six times. And that’s with a generous standard of “pressure” (which we’ll define as altering the quarterback’s drop-back, throwing motion or follow-through in any way).
Take a look at the individual snap counts and pressure numbers for the defensive line:
Second-year defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell had a tough day in the trenches. Crosby rushed the passer more than anyone on Sunday and only affected Bridgewater on one play; Ferrell got the second-most rush opportunities and also managed to generate just one pressure.
On this 3rd-and-long on the game’s opening drive, the Raiders lined up Arden Key and Crosby at end with Ferrell and Maliek Collins inside. Crosby and Key both get a chance to fire off the edge against single blockers, and neither is able to win their matchup. Ferrell and Collins get stonewalled in the middle, and Bridgewater has all day to wait for his receiver to come open:
It’s difficult to know the exact play call, and it appears Crosby and Key may have been asked to bull rush in an attempt to contain Bridgewater in the pocket. Either way, that’s the kind of time Bridgewater had to read the field on most of his dropbacks.
Even the Raiders’ lone sack was due more to good coverage than a good rush. On the play, Bridgewater is able to take his full drop, set, and even crow hop in the pocket a couple times before Carl Nassib and Maurice Hurst finally force him backward and bring him down for the combined sack:
Despite the front four’s struggles to create pressure, Guenther only called six blitzes on the day. He sent linebacker Cory Littleton four times, and while Littleton notched a pressure in the second quarter, Guenther was probably right to limit his gambles, as his final blitz call almost proved to be disastrous.
Four of the Riders’ blitzes saw the team send one extra rusher; twice the team sent two extra rushers. Guenther’s final blitz, midway through the fourth quarter, sent Littleton and linebacker Nicholas Morrow after the QB, but Carolina picked it up with ease. Left on an island, rookie cornerback Damon Arnette bit on a double move by receiver Robby Anderson and was beaten cleanly for a 75-yard touchdown:
Considering the youth of the secondary as a whole — Arnette was playing his first game on Sunday, while safety Johnathan Abram was suiting up for just the second time — big blitzes may not be a viable option for the Raiders defense, at least until those back-end players get more experience under their belts.
Fortunately, Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs bailed out the defense with a game-winning drive after the busted blitz. But the front four’s inability to get after the quarterback — which forced Guenther to call a risky blitz — nearly ended up burning the Raiders.
Las Vegas will get thoroughly torched on Monday night if the defensive line gives Saints quarterback Drew Brees that much time to scan the field, and the coaching staff knows that. There were a couple positive signs, however, including a nice move by Ferrell that almost led to a turnover.
Late in the second quarter, Ferrell lined up inside and drew a single-blocking matchup against Carolina’s left guard. Ferrell disengages from the block and shoots the alley directly in Bridgewater’s line of sight, which prevents Bridgewater from fully stepping into his throw and following through; the pass floats and is deflected (and nearly picked off) by Arnette:
I recorded that as a pressure for Ferrell, and that’s a generous reading of the play. But it shows Ferrell has the ability to shed blockers and get into the backfield — he just has to do it much faster.
That goes for the entire defensive line. The front four has to be more disruptive, or Carr will be forced to win shootouts all season long.