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 defense. I will focus on the scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, scouting the Las Vegas Raiders’ offense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
RAIDERS RUN GAME
A very potent attack. Something you might not expect. Heading into the year with his fifth-year option declined and preseason rumors of a committee and timeshare, Josh Jacobs has been arguably the most productive back in football this season. He’s leading the NFL with 1495 yards rushing and with still three games remaining, he has the second-most yards in a single season, only trailing the legendary Marcus Allen who put up almost 1800 yards in 1985. There’s a chance Jacobs could still break that record.
Jacobs is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He’s also a workhorse back in an era that doesn’t have many of those. Even Pittsburgh’s gone away from the idea. Jacobs is logging 74.9% of the offensive snaps this season, third-most among all running backs this year only slightly behind Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook. No other RB on the Raiders has more than 16 carries. There are some pass-down guys behind, but Jacobs is the guy in this offense. As a run game, they have 46 carries of 10+ yards, tied-11th most in the league. Jacobs is responsible for a whopping 37 of them. The only player in football who has more this year is Nick Chubb’s 39.
Receivers do get involved on sweeps and end around with Davante Adams and Mack Hollins combining for seven carries this season.
The Raiders do use a fullback quite a bit in this offense with #45 Jakob Johnson, logging roughly 15-20 snaps per game. He’s at 28% of the snap share on the year. They will also use wide receivers on insert blocks, their bigger guys like Mack Hollins. #77, rookie OG/OT Thayer Munford, a mountain of a man, is used as an occasional 6th offensive lineman. Roughly 4-6 snaps per game in jumbo personnel.
Two-back runs are a big part of what they do. You get lead strong/weak and even inside zone behind a fullback. They get a little creative with it, too, and will try to fool the linebacker’s eyes with the path of the back. Like here, basically false keying the FB by having him run strongside with the run going weakside. If you key the FB as linebackers often do, you’re going to be wrong sometimes.
You also get plenty of draws and two-back runs out of gun in this offense. Even on third and medium, 3rd and 5, they’re not afraid to run draws.
As I wrote above, their receiver run game is part of their offense and has some interesting elements. Not just standard jet sweep stuff. They run more end-arounds and even the occasional reverse. They layer that with pulling guards and even having the back lead the way for multiple lead blockers. Like here.
Some other offensive stats. They’re tied as the 10th-ranked scoring offense in football at 24.1 points per game. They’re a feast/famine offense. In four games this year, they’ve put up 30+ points but in five games, they’ve scored 20 or fewer. They’re struggling in situational football, 19th overall on third down (38.2%) and a lowly 29th in the red zone (47.5%). Importantly, they have not down well in close games this season 3-7. Pittsburgh isn’t much better 5-5 but they are better. So it’s worth considering.
Raiders’ Pass Game
Still led by QB Derek Carr, a good-not-great quarterback in the league. Carr’s having a fine season with 23 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Turnovers are a little high, he’s thrown a pick in four straight games, and his completion rate is a little low (61.2%) but he’s still a dangerous arm. With healthier weapons in last week’s win over the Patriots, he tossed three touchdowns.
Should note WR Mack Hollins has thrown a pass this year. Came all the way back in Week 3. Down 14-3 in the third quarter on 2nd and 8 from the opposing 36, Hollins threw a short pass. So watch for that if the Raiders are trailing and looking for a spark.
The Raiders reunited Carr with his Fresno State teammate in Davante Adams, acquiring him from Green Bay this offseason. Adams remains an elite receiver who the Steelers’ gameplan must revolve around. He has an 86/1275/12 line this year. Over his last seven games, he’s averaging a whopping 109 yards per and one touchdown per contest.
Hollins has been a reserve most of his career but carved out a role with the Raiders, second on the team with 51 receptions. His previous season-high in catches had been just 16. RB Josh Jacobs is third on the team with 46 grabs and like Diontae Johnson, still looking for his first touchdown. Important to note the team returned TE Darren Waller and WR Hunter Renfrow returned to the lineup against the Patriots. Waller caught a touchdown while Renfrow was active in the offense.
As an offense, they have 46 completions of 20+ yards, tied for 9th-most in the league. Davante Adams has 20, 4th most of any player.
Conceptually, there’s a heavy amount of play-action and max protection. The team likes to scheme up Adams knowing defenses are trying to take him away and they’ll move him around the formation out wide and in the slot. Here’s an example of post/wheel with Adams as #2 in the slot (to the bottom away from the post/wheel but it’s a lot the defense must defend).
And when it’s the middle of the field closed, Adams tends to run vertically and Carr gives him the chance to make plays. And Adams makes them.
It’s conceptually called well with a lot of concepts and the offense relying less on the individual players winning matchups. Level concepts, and good spacing routes, but they do well to put safeties in conflict. Examples. Mills/Dagger? and here’s a Dino (double-post) to put the safety in a lose/lose and throw where he isn’t.
Should also note how important them getting Waller and Renfrow back is. It really opens up the interior of their offense. Renfrow on option routes, Waller on slot downs or plays down the seam. He caught a 23-yard pass down the seam against the Pats.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Raiders week, Steelers fans!
A Happy Holidays to all, and a happy Immaculate Reception 50th anniversary celebration, even if Franco Harris is no longer with us. Hopefully, the current Steelers honor him the best way possible on Christmas Eve against the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium with a hard-fought win.
Speaking of the Raiders, this is quite an interesting offense overall under first-year head coach Josh McDaniels, who left New England to take over the black and silver in Sin City.
Under McDaniels, there are plenty of high-end pieces offensively with star wide receiver Davante Adams, standout running back Josh Jacobs and solid quarterback Derek Carr, not to mention tight end Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow.
This offense has serious pieces. They just struggle with consistency overall.
While the offense very clearly runs through the run game with Jacobs, who is having an All-Pro caliber season, the Raiders live and die with Carr’s right arm. If they get good Carr on the day, they have a real shot at winning.
A bad Carr and the Raiders are all but sunk.
That doesn’t sound all that different from most teams in the NFL in today’s era, but that’s largely how the Raiders go in the Carr era.
He has all the tools to be a high-end quarterback overall, but as I said, the consistency eludes him. He has a big, strong right arm and good overall athleticism for the position. Where he sometimes struggles is between the ears when he tries to do far too much.
That said, he throws a great ball and having his college teammate and roommate back with him in Adams has done wonders for the Raiders’ offense.
Las Vegas loves to take shots down the field with Carr’s arm and Adams’ ability to get open and make incredible catches. It helps that Carr is extremely accurate overall.
There is no throw that Carr is hesitant with. He’ll pull the trigger at any point.
Jacobs in the backfield is the key cog for this offense though.
Under McDaniels, the Raiders love to run the football, and Jacobs can do it at a high level.
After the Raiders unsurprisingly declined his fifth-year option, the former first-round pick emerged this season as a potential star in the backfield.
He’s a great combination of power and speed, and possesses great vision. Jacobs is very good between the tackles and can hit the home run consistently.
He’ll be a load to handle for the Steelers on Sunday, especially in frigid conditions. He consistently falls forward and loves to dish out punishment.
Adams is the go-to guy at receiver. The Raiders and Carr force-feed him the football, as they should.
He’s an elite route runner and is an absolute technician overall. He shows late hands as a receiver, keeping defenders off balance and has hands made of glue overall. Hall of Fame talent.
The Raiders got a boost last week with Renfrow making his return to the lineup. He’s a route-running savant out of the slot, one that is exceptionally hard to cover one-on-one. He’s not the biggest or the fastest and certainly doesn’t look like an NFL player. He just gets open though and can really carve up defenses.
Without Renfrow for a long period this season, Mack Hollins emerged as a trusty receiver for Carr and a real playmaker for the Raiders. McDaniels loves to get him the football on end arounds and reverses, letting him use his speed in the open field to chew up yardage.
He’s really emerged as a solid receiver though, consistently creating separation and making the plays that are there. He might not profile as such on paper, but he’s a solid No. 3 at receiver for the Raiders.
Waller’s recent return gives the Raiders a massive boost offensively, giving Carr another matchup nightmare to take advantage of.
Waller is a seam stretcher, one that is so hard to slow down, let alone stop. He’s one of the best pass-catching tight ends in football when healthy, right up there with a guy like Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
Along with Waller, tight end Foster Moreau is a solid piece in the Raiders’ offense, one that emerged as a dual-threat tight end with Waller out due to injury. Moreau can line up in-line and hold up well in the run game and has shown a knack for winning his matchups against linebackers and safeties in the passing game. He’ll be a sneaky second option at tight end on Saturday night.
In the trenches, it’s not flashy or impressive as far as names go, but the Raiders’ offensive line is playing at a high level, especially in the run game. Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Saturday.
LT — Kolton Miller
LG — Dylan Parham
C — Andre James
RG — Alex Bars
RT — Jermaine Elumunor
Miller is one of the most athletic linemen in football and has really found his game this season as a run blocker and pass protector. He’ll have a tall task against Alex Highsmith Saturday night, but he has the footwork to hold up well.
Elumunor is more of the road-grading player at right tackle and really fits what the Raiders want. He’s having a very good year.
The interior is rather intriguing overall. Parham is a great athlete inside, one that was very intriguing overall in the 2022 NFL Draft coming out of Memphis. James has quietly been quite the find as a UDFA out of UCLA in 2019.
He’s a mean, physical player and personifies what a Raider is in the trenches. Bars is a great fit next to him. They love to move people in the run game and block through the whistle.
On special teams, Las Vegas is loaded.
Kicker Daniel Carlson is one of the best in football and has one of the strongest legs overall. He can hit from 60+ yards with ease. That likely won’t happen Saturday night, but he’s a threat anywhere.
Punter A.J. Cole is averaging 49.46 yards per punt this season and should be an All-Pro once again. Huge leg, excels at directional kicking and has great touch on his punts.
In the return game, Renfrow and Keelan Cole will rotate as punt returners. Both are dangerous with the football in the return game. So, too, is Ameer Abdullah as the kick returner. Abdullah led the NFL in kick return yardage as a rookie in 2015 with Detroit, recording a 104-yarder that year that remarkably didn’t wind up in the end zone.
Last season in Minnesota he had a 45-yard kickoff return as well. He’s very consistent overall and is a threat to break one.