Buzzing the Tower
The Raiders used strong rotation Cover 3 (Buzz) to keep tabs on the Chiefs passing game in route to their first victory against KC since 2020.
If one team in the NFL is surging to the finish line defensively, it is the Raiders. Since the firing of Josh McDaniels following their Week 8 loss to the Lions, Las Vegas has gone on a tear defensively. Though the record may not indicate it, the Raiders have become one of the better defenses in the NFL since the transition to Antonio Pierce as the Head Coach.
From Weeks 1-8, PFF had Las Vegas’ defense sitting 29th in total EPA and 31st in Success Rate (how many plays had a positive EPA). FTN had their defense at 23rd in DVOA (weighted efficiency), and according to RBSDM, they had the 22nd EPA/Dropback and 30th EPA versus the run.
The latter is where the most significant jump has occurred in recent weeks. If you split the season in half, you look at two completely different units. From Week 9, the Raiders now sit 4th in total EPA and 7th in Success Rate (PFF). Their DVOA has jumped from 23rd to 6th. EPA/Dropback is now sitting 5th, and the best run defense in football resides in Las Vegas. ESPN, heading into Week 17, has the Raiders sitting 7th in Run Stop Win Rate (RSWR), with DE Maxx Crosby sitting 3rd in the individual metric.
So what has changed? There has not been a major schematic shift in Las Vegas by Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham. According to PFF, their coverage rates are relatively the same. The only ‘significant’ difference in percentages is a dip in Cover 3 (which we will discuss in this article) and a rise in Cover 2. These changes can be explained by the Raiders’ schedule, which has seen two matchups with the Chiefs and another with the Dolphins since Week 8. Both see Cover 2 at volume.
Another deviation from earlier in the season was Blitz Rates on passing downs (PBR). In Weeks 1-8, the Raiders blitzed at a rate of 26.4%. Most of these pressures were of the five-man variety (71.8%). Las Vegas was 4th in six-man blitz rate at 21.8%. Since losing to the Lions, their PBR has dipped to 17.9%. Scheduling could also have something to do with this drop. Sim rates went from ~5% to ~18% in Weeks 9-16 (PFF).
When evaluating the Las Vegas roster, you will see that the only change has been at the CB spot. The image on the left shows the roster on November 1. The image on the right is the current starting lineup. Following the firing of McDaniels, David Long Jr was waved and replaced by Amik Robertson. Later in the month, and after a loss to the Chiefs, Marcus Peters was waived and replaced by Jack Jones, who was picked up from the Patriots on November 23rd. Jones, in particular, has had two intercepts in his five games, one coming in their victory against Patrick Mahomes.
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