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Scouting Report: Raiders’ Defense Centers Around DE Maxx Crosby

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. This year, Jonathan Heitritter and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on the scheme, Jonathan on the players.

Continuing things with the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

RAIDERS RUN DEFENSE

On the year, they’re just outside of the top 10 in yards per carry allowed at 4.3. They’re a 4-3 front with athletic defensive ends who can stand up or rush with their hand down just like virtually every even front these days. The lines have certainly been blurred.

For 2022, the Raiders have allowed 38 runs of 10+ yards, tied 9th-fewest in the league. So the run defense has been solid and steady. Their leading tackler is former LA Charger Denzel Perryman with 79 tackles, doing so in just eleven games. Over the last two contests, Perryman has played every single snap so he’s been their all-situations guy in recent contests.

It’s certainly worth noting what Maxx Crosby has done. While he’s known as a pass rusher, the guy also has 78 tackles this year, second on the team and one behind Perryman. Crosby’s stat line overall is impressive and full: 78 tackles (19 TFL), 29 QB hits, 11.5 sacks, 4 PDs, and 3 FFs. Of all the players with double-digit sacks this season, Crosby easily has the most tackles, nearly 20 more than Micah Parsons’ second-place 59 of them. Meaning, Crosby is more than just a pass rusher. He’s a threat in all phases of the game, similar to T.J. Watt.

Las Vegas does a nice job stopping perimeter and receiver runs. That’s become a part of the Steelers’ offense but the team may want to scrap those jet plays to Steven Sims. Raiders flow well and have athletic ends who can make plays 1v1 in space.

If there’s a potential exploit, Duo/man blocking has been more effective. Inside-zone could also work and the cutback lane is often open against the Raiders’ aggressive/fast-flow defense. Some examples.

Some other defensive stats. They’re allowing 24.1 points per game this season, 24th in the league. What’s really interesting is their offense is scoring…24.1 points per game. They’ve scored 338 points on offense and allowed 337 on defense.

As a defense, they’ve created only eleven takeaways, 31st in the league and they have a -3 turnover differential. They’re a poor situational team, 21st on third down (41.1%) and 25th with their red zone defense (61.9%).

RAIDERS PASS DEFENSE

Not a very good unit on the season. Allowing 7.3 YPA (tied 21st) and opposing QBs to complete 68% of their passes, 29th in the league. They’ve picked off just four passes this year, tied for 30th in the league while opposing QBs have a 100.1 QB rating against, the only defense in football to give up a QB rating in the triple digits. So across the board, their numbers don’t look good.

One reason for their struggles is a lack of pass rush. Despite having a stud in Crosby, the entire defense has just 25 sacks, meaning Crosby has 11.5 and the rest of the team has only 13.5. Fresh off his game-winning touchdown, Chandler Jones has gotten hot with four sacks over his last two weeks. But they’re the only two players with more than 1.5 sacks this year.

Defensively, they’re trying to get after the QB with a high blitz rate, 12th in the NFL at 26.9% but they have the 25th-ranked pressure rate of just 18.7%. So it’s a real issue for this squad. It’s worth pointing out this group is able to knock the ball out with a total of nine forced fumbles this year.

In the secondary, Duron Harmon is the only Raider with more than one interception. He has two this year to go along with a pair of forced fumbles.

Schematically, it’s a good mix of man and zone coverage. You get more MOFC and single-high/three-deep looks and there’s a good amount of “Lurk” coverage, especially on 3rd and 7+. Man-free with a safety spinning down and robbing crossing routes, similar to what the Steelers often do with Minkah Fitzpatrick. There’s a healthy amount of post-snap rotations so Kenny Pickett has to be aware and able to adjust.

They also play heavy man-to-man near the goal line though that’s pretty typical of a lot of defenses. Still, I’d say the Steelers are comparatively more zone-heavy inside the 10 than the Raiders are.

While they have a high blitz rate on the year, I didn’t notice any clear tendencies in the tape that I watched. Crosby is really the guy to take care of in terms of pressure and pass rush.

Jonathan’s Individual Report

The 6-8 Pittsburgh Steelers will attempt to brave the elements Saturday as they are set to face the 6-8 Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve. As far as the Raiders’ defense goes, they rank near the middle of the pack when it comes to stopping the run (15th in rushing yards allowed) and near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to defending the pass (26th in passing yards allowed). They ranked 23rd in the league on points allowed per game and second-to-last in the league in turnovers forced with 11 on the year.

Defensive Line

The Raiders traded away Johnathan Hankins before the trade deadline to the Cowboys and have been relying on #91 Bilal Nichols to step up in his absence. Nichols has filled in well in Hankins’ place as the former Chicago Bear has become a capable run defender that does a good job stringing out runs down the LOS and occupies blocks to let LBs run unimpeded to the ball. He’s not much of a pass rusher (1.5 sacks in 2022) but plays with a fair amount of effort to push the pocket. The Raiders also have my former draft crush #97 Andrew Billings who profiles more as a run stuffer but hasn’t played since November with a fibula injury and is currently questionable for Saturday.

Replacing Billings in the lineup is former Charger DL #90 Jerry Tillery who was released by Los Angeles earlier this year and now finds himself in the silver and black. Tillery is a former first-round pick that hasn’t been able to put it all together despite his measurables, struggling against the run and providing an inconsistent pass rush. Along with Tillery on the DL providing depth are #93 Kyle Peko who is an older, well-traveled veteran and rookies #94 Matthew Butler and Neil Farrell Jr. of which Butler is the better pass rusher and Farrell profiles more as a classic two-down run defender.

EDGE

While the interior of the defensive line may not be that impressive for Las Vegas, the EDGE position is a different story. The Raiders have a couple of dudes on either side with #98 Maxx Crosby playing LDE and #55 Chandler Jones playing opposite of him. Crosby has made himself one of the best pass rushers in the game as a former fourth-round pick, having impressive size (6’5″, 255lb) and the athleticism to match coming off the edge. He is a well-versed pass rusher, having several moves like the two-hand swipe, dip/rip, and an inside counter to beat tackles across their face. His condor-like wingspan aids in fending off blocks and batting down passes having four PBUs and 11.5 sacks so far in 2022.

 

Jones signed with the Raiders as a free agent this offseason, and while he hasn’t made a huge impact in the sack department this season compared to the past (4.5 in 2022), he still knows how to hunt the QB. Jones also is a long, lengthy pass rusher that possesses a ton of bend and flexibility. He can win on an outside pass rush as well as by countering inside when he gets the tackle to show his hand early. Jones also benefits from being used on twists and stunts where he can cover ground quickly into the backfield. While capable run defenders, both Jones and Crosby have their warts on tape when it comes to anchoring and getting off blocks consistently in run defense.

 

Behind the two starters is former first-rounder #99 Clelin Ferrell who has not panned out as a former top-five pick. He has started one game in the past two seasons and only has 2.5 sacks during that timeframe (one in 2022). A decent run defender, Ferrell mainly rotates in to give either Jones or Crosby a breather. Also serving as reserves for Las Vegas are #51 Malcolm Koonce and #96 Tashawn Bower who each have less than 50 defensive snaps played on the season and are more special teams contributors.

Linebackers

Manning the middle for the silver and black is 2021 Pro Bowler #52 Denzel Perryman. The long-time Charger played well in his first season with the Raiders last year and has carried that momentum in 2022. Missing a couple of games due to injury, Perryman has amassed 79 total stops, 13 TFLs, a sack, a PBU, and an INT this season. He is an aggressive downhill thumper against the run, having the speed and stopping power to shoot through gaps and chase down ball carriers in pursuit. His coverage skills are alright, being better in zone where he can react to the ball in front of him rather than having to turn and run with backs and TEs. In man.

 

#59 Luke Masterson has been starting alongside Perryman as a player who tends to be around the football a lot thanks to his awareness and instincts. He plays the run well when freed up by the defensive line and can cover backs and TEs in man. With Micah Kizer, Jayon Brown, and Divine Deablo on IR, the Raiders have had #36 Curtis Bolton and #58 Darien Butler step up as the primary backups behind Masterson and Perryman at off-ball linebacker. While this unit shows strong pursuit of the football, they can tend to struggle against the run when they are covered up against the opposing OL.

Cornerbacks

The Raiders traded for #26 Rock Ya-Sin this offseason to try to provide depth to their secondary, acquiring him from Indianapolis with the hope that Vegas would provide greener pastures for the former second-round pick. It’s been a mixed bag for Ya-Sin as he has provided physical play against the run and has a few nice pass breakups, but also has gotten beat several times down the field due to a lack of top-end speed and awareness at the catch point. Ya-Sin looks to be trending in the wrong direction with a knee injury that held him out of the team’s last game against the Patriots.

 

One CB that should suit up for Las Vegas Saturday is #39 Nate Hobbs. Hobbs is a former fifth-round pick back in 2021 who started nine games last season and hasn’t looked back. The 6’0″, 195lb cover man is feisty and competitive at the catch point and is a physical run defender, willing to put his body out there as a tackler. Still, while you love Hobbs’ heart, he isn’t the greatest athlete in coverage and will get caught grabbing receivers out of their breaks due to a lack of foot speed. Pittsburgh would be wise to stretch Hobbs vertically or have Diontae Johnson work him with clean breaks out of his routes to generate separation.

 

#21 Amik Robertson factors in the slot as a nickel/dime defender that is physical for his size but lacks the length and frame (5’8″, 187lb) to excel in man coverage. Still, Robertson has seven PBUs and an INT this season along with a fumble return TD as a player that likes to factor in near the LOS. Rookie #48 Sam Webb has been factoring in more as of late, starting three of the last four games as a longer corner (6’2 195lb) that can matchup with bigger receivers. Also on the depth chart for the Raiders at CB is #31 Sidney Jones IV and #37 Tyler Hall. Hall has logged two starts and can be used as a blitzer as a nickel/sub-package defender.

Safeties

Starting at safety for the Raiders is #25 Trevon Moehrig. Moehrig was selected in the second round last year as one of the best pure free safeties in the draft, having the size (6’2″, 202lb), athleticism, and range to cover the backend of the defense and make plays on the football. He hasn’t been as impactful in coverage this season as he was last season, but he still shows off that closing speed on tape, whether it be working from deep centerfield to the sideline in coverage or as a run defender, coming from the top to fill the alley.

 

One name Steelers fans are likely familiar with is former long-time Patriot #30 Duron Harmon. Harmon is a versatile chess piece that factors in near the LOS in the box, deep in the secondary, and occasionally will come down to cover TEs in the slot. Harmon has good size (6’0″, 205lb) and the stopping power to separate ball from man while contributing in run defense. While not the fleetest of foot when it comes to chasing receivers in man coverage or making open field tackles, Harmon does well in zone coverage, relying on his instincts to take him to the football to make plays.

 

#33 Roderic Teamer also factors in for Las Vegas at safety, having three starts in 2022 as he sees more action when the team decides to use more sub-packages and three safety looks. #40 Isaiah Pola-Mao is primarily a special teamer that has seen a handful of snaps the last few weeks on defense while #41 Matthias Farley is a long-time special teams ace that provides depth, having only seven defensive snaps in 2022.

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