Scouting Report: Darren Waller A Matchup Nightmare For Defenses

As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.

Today, checking out the Las Vegas Raiders’ offense.

Alex’s Scheme Report

Raiders’ Run Game

The Week 2 scouting report is honestly a little bit tougher than the Week One one. What do you want to go off of. 2020 tape? What happened in Week 1? It’s hard to find that line. But my focus for this report is on what the Raiders did in their Monday night win over the Baltimore Ravens, a wild, thrilling, overtime victory. The only AFC team to score more points in the opening week than the Raiders were the Houston Texans (a sentence I didn’t expect to write seven days ago).

It’s also interesting when those points came for the Raiders. Ten in the second quarter, 17 in the 4th quarter, and of course, the OT touchdown. No points in the first and third quarter. In fact, 20 of their 33 points came within the final five minutes of each half. So this was a group that scored late and ran a strong four-minute offense to put points on the board.

Josh Jacobs and the run game was stuffed most of the night but Jacobs found the end zone twice on the ground. Dealing with a foot/toe injury, he carried the ball just ten times. 40% of those came in the red zone, his touchdowns coming from 15 and two yards out. Backup Kenyan Drake ended up splitting a good deal of snaps with him throughout the game, especially outside the red zone.

The Raiders are a fullback heavy team. Alec Ingold played 23 snaps Monday night, fourth most of any fullback. Considering the Raiders often played this game from behind, that’s a pretty strong commitment. He caught four passes too against Baltimore so he’s not just a blocker, either.

It’s a zone-heavy scheme. They can run inside or outside zone and do it out of a lot of 2-back, which isn’t common in the NFL. Couple examples.


But they’ll run gap schemes as well. Several times Monday night, they ran G-Lead (the frontside guard pulling) out of two-back.


Had QB Marcus Mariota been available, you’d have to watch out for him coming in for specialty packages. Had a 3rd and 1 zone read/pitch option play where he ran for 31. He won’t play Sunday though, injuring his quad on that run. It’s unlikely the Raiders replace his snaps with anyone else on the roster, though it’s worth knowing they at least had the desire to mix things up in third and short and I presume – though we never got the chance to see it – in red zone/goal line moments.

The Raiders were successful on possession downs last week, going 7/15 on third down (also 0/1 on 4th down). They did, however, rack up the penalties with ten of them.

Raiders’ Pass Game

Led by Derek Carr, who threw for 435 yards Monday night, the third most he’s ever had in a game and his most since 2018. That included the game-winning TD to Zay Jones.

But when it comes to weapons, TE Darren Waller (#83) is the guy to watch. He’s much more than a tight end. He’s one of football’s ultimate weapons and the #1 cause for concern for Pittsburgh. Against the Ravens, he caught 10 passes for 105 yards and 1 touchdown. For context, what Waller did Monday is something only one Steelers’ tight end in their entire history has done. Elbie Nickel is the only one to have a 10/105/1 performance or better way back in 1952.

Waller did that damage on 19 targets, the most by a tight end since 2012. The thing about Waller is he lines up all over the field. He’s not a static traditional tight end. He can line up as the backside X.

As #3.

In bunch, not as the point-man, to allow him a free release.

And he can run any route. Wheel, backshoulder, seam, and the Raiders love to use him on crossers against man coverage. Get leverage and use his speed and size across the field.


Also see levels concepts to hold an underneath linebacker and get Waller behind.


But he isn’t the only weapon. Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs, two high pedigree, speedy receivers made an impact late in Monday’s win. All four of Edwards’ receptions that went for 81 yards came in the final 37 seconds and overtime, including the near-winning TD that took them down to the half-yard line. Edwards drew a third quarter PI while Ruggs got downfield for a long catch late in the game too.

In fact, six different receivers had at least one reception of 20+ yards Monday. The only two Raiders’ receivers who didn’t were RB Josh Jacobs and FB Alec Ingold. So this offense got vertical versus the Ravens.

Watch out for some 4×0 looks that have become more popular this season too. #1 ended up being on a screen with vertical/divide concepts by the other three to the bottom.

And this offensive line struggled against the Ravens’ blitzes. Pittsburgh’s probably going to be more aggressive in this one and attack the Raiders’ lineman, especially their interior guys knowing they’ve had injury issues there.


Josh’s Individual Report

It’s Raiders week, Steelers’ fans!

Coming off of a wild 33-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1 to open Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the Raiders ride into town at 1-0 looking to knock off the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers backed by one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Coming off of a decent offensive performance against the Raiders, the tape shows an offense that is roughly the same as the 2020 version, albeit with some new faces under head coach Jon Gruden.

The Raiders added running back Kenyan Drake and Steelers’ killer Willie Snead IV at receiver, along with names like Nick Martin, Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie Alex Leatherwood along the offensive line in hopes of finding some balance offensively.

So far, that hasn’t been the case as veteran quarterback Derek Carr had to carry the load offensively in Week 1, throwing for 435 yards in the overtime win.

Carr seems to be overlooked nationally as a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL, considering he doesn’t put up the eye-popping numbers of lead the Raiders to wins consistently season after season.

He’s pretty solid overall in my eyes and has really come on strong with star tight end Darren Waller emerging in recent seasons. Carr has a big arm and underrated athleticism and accuracy, but he does struggle with consistently overall and isn’t a game-changing starter, which is fine.

Carr made some big-time throws in the three games I watched ahead of the Week 2 matchup, taking on the Miami Dolphins in Las Vegas in Week 16 last season, the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 17, and the Ravens in Week 1 this season.

Typically, Carr targets Waller when he needs a big play. The new-age move tight end usually delivers downfield, winning one-on-one matchups the Raiders scheme up for him.

Here against the Broncos in Week 17 last season, a game in which the tight end set the record for receptions and yardage in a single season for a tight end in franchise history.

Lined up in the slot as the lead receiver in bunch, Waller runs a slot fade against a Broncos’ safety, easily creating separation downfield on the fade, tracking the football well over his shoulder for the score on a great throw from Carr.

The slot fade with Waller is something the Raiders love to run, especially when he’s on a linebacker or a safety.

The previous week against the Dolphins, the Raiders called the slot fade for Waller against Dolphins’ safety Eric Rowe. Granted, the fade route for Waller was aided by the Raiders running a bit of a rub on the route, allowing Waller to win downfield.

Earlier in the game, the Raiders did a great job scheming up Waller into single coverage on Rowe on the boundary, running a simple fade route that Waller easily won vertically, catching a dime from Carr for the big gain.

When not running fades or other vertical shots for Waller, the Raiders like to get the big, physical, fast tight end working across the formation, putting defensive backs and linebackers in the trail technique on over routes, making for easy throws over the middle for Carr.

Against the Ravens in Week 1, that was on display quickly as Carr and Waller wasted no time hooking up over the middle.

That’s a really tough cover for the Ravens, especially from a single-high look like they were in pre-snap.

Aside from Waller, the Raiders have an intriguing young WR core featuring Edwards, Henry Ruggs II, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones and Snead IV. Jones caught the game-winning pass in overtime from Carr, finding himself wide open on an over route out of the slot, which the Raiders ran a ton of against man coverage from Baltimore.

Ruggs was really successful at it, catching a late bomb from Carr to put the Raiders in scoring position.

Using that guy on an over route like this against man coverage is a cheat code, especially with his speed. That’s a coverage beater right there every single time.

While Ruggs steals the name recognition at receiver, Renfrow might be one of the savviest route runners in the NFL. He certainly isn’t the biggest or fastest, but he’s always open and winning downfield due to his attention to detail into and out of his cuts and his overall footwork. He’s a real problem in the slot.

The guy I’m worried about on Sunday though is Edwards, who is coming on strong, putting together two good performances in the last two games he’s played in.

Edwards was terrific in the fourth quarter and overtime on Monday night, but he was even better in Week 17 against the Broncos in 2020.

He’s not overly fast, but he’s physical and knows how to get himself open. He’s very good in contested-catch situations and has very strong hands that can pluck the football out of the air through contact. Expect the Raiders to target him often on Sunday.

In the backfield, the Raiders have a strong 1-2 punch on paper with Josh Jacobs and Drake. Jacobs is the typical Raiders’ running back: good vision, downhill thumper with some speed. He struggles with consistency week to week with production on the ground, but he consistently falls forward and will rip off long runs here and there.

Against the Dolphins in Week 16 he showed good patience and vision to let the hole develop and then burst through it for 15 yards.

He’ll make defenders miss in a phone booth too, so the Steelers must be strong in the tackling department to keep the young running back in check.

Jacobs didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, but I do expect him to play on Sunday.

Of course, the defense should be aided by the front seven that will go up against a banged up Raiders’ offensive line that lost starting guard Denzelle Good to a torn ACL in Week 1, and will be without Richie Incognito this week while he continues to deal with a calf injury.

Left to right on Sunday, the Raiders should line up like this:

LT — Kolton Miller
LG — John Simpson
C — Andre James
RG – Jermaine Eluemunor
RT — Alex Leatherwood

It’s a decent offensive line on paper, one that I like at tackle moving forward, but Miller and Leatherwood will have their hands full on Sunday with the Steelers’ pass rushers. It could get ugly for Carr in the pocket.

On special teams, I am worried about Renfrow as a punt returner. He consistently rips off good returns and gives the Raiders good field position overall. He’s smart and safe with the football and seemingly always finds a lane and gets north in a hurry.

Kicker Daniel Carlson has a huge leg and can hit from anywhere inside 60 yards with ease, but he has struggled on extra points in his career, which is a bit odd. At punter, A.J. Cole has a monster leg, and I’m not writing that lightly. He booms punts and makes it look so easy.

Against the Ravens in Week 1 Cole consistently flipped the field and pinned the Ravens deep, making for difficult field positions for the Baltimore offense. If he can do that on Sunday in Heinz Field, it could be a long day for the Steelers’ offense.

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