The season is at the quarter-mark, but teams are still attempting to discover the best playing style for their respective rosters.
With a huge win over the Broncos in Week 4, Josh McDaniels has started to get a feel for his squad and how this team must play to earn victories each week. After reviewing the tape, here are some observations on the Silver-and-Black's performance this week.
It is about the players, not the plays
Josh McDaniels is one of the most creative schemers in football, but he chalked up his first win with the Raiders by keeping the offensive plan as simple as a youth football call sheet. Instead of focusing on whipping the Broncos with exotic schemes, the head coach put the ball in the hands of his best players and let them go to work.
Davante Adams, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller touched the ball on 40 of the Raiders' 74 offensive plays while accounting for 169 of the team's 385 scrimmage yards. Most importantly, the Pro Bowl trio made plays when they had the ball in their hands. Jacobs and Adams, in particular, played like the best players on the field as the focal points of a game plan that emphasized getting the ball to the "stars."
While McDaniels dressed up his tactics with motions and shifts, the Raiders' offensive playcaller opted for a "players over plays" strategy that emphasized getting the ball to the team's top players instead of tricking opponents with schemes. The simple strategy is built on the premise that five-star players with superior talent will eventually make a big play or touchdown that changes the game.
The Carr-to-Adams connection worked to perfection with the quarterback finding WR1 nine times on 13 targets. Although Adams did not register a catch longer than 20 yards, he posted a 100-yard game on an assortment of short and intermediate passes that kept the chains moving. Moreover, the "pitch-and-catch" tactics enabled the Raiders to maintain control by utilizing a low-risk strategy in the passing game.
Jacobs flourished as the focal point of the game plan with 144 rushing yards and two scores on 28 carries. The fourth-year pro not only put points on the scoreboard, but he salted the game away with a series of punishing runs in the fourth quarter. With McDaniels putting the ball in the hands of the bruising runner to finish off the win, the Raiders were able to put a "W" on the board due to a simple strategy.
Mad Maxx is flourishing in Patrick Graham's scheme
The Raiders have been waiting for one of their Pro Bowl defensive ends to take over the game in Patrick Graham's scheme. Maxx Crosby showed up and showed out against the Broncos as a disruptive force off of the edge. The fourth-year pro finished the game with four tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks while executing a series of twists, stunts and games that enabled him to utilize his speed, quickness and burst to blow past blockers at the line of scrimmage.
Graham cleverly mixed in some four-man rushes with a variety of five-man pressures that created one-on-one chances for an aggressive defensive front at the point of attack. With few blockers capable of blocking Crosby without assistance, the aggressive plan helped the Pro Bowler slip through the cracks to produce a handful of splash plays that impacted the game.
Part of Crosby's success can be attributed to his non-stop motor and competitive spirit. He simply does not stop working at the line of scrimmage, and his relentlessness eventually pays off in a disruptive play. Whether he is hustling down the line to corral Javonte Williams from behind or executing a quick swim move against an overmatched tight end to sack Russell Wilson, Crosby's energy and effort were enhanced by a Raiders' scheme that features line movement.
It's all about the finish
Despite earning a playoff berth a season ago, the Raiders are still learning how to win under McDaniels. The team had lost three straight games by one score, including a 20-point blown lead to the Cardinals in Week 2. With confidence teetering on the brink, the Raiders relied on a tried and true formula down the stretch to earn a win.
In the fourth quarter against the Broncos, the Raiders stayed committed to running the ball with Jacobs and Zamir White. The Raiders ran the ball ten times in the game's final 15 minutes to stretch out and preserve the lead. Most impressive, the Raiders ran the ball against an elite defense when everyone in the stadium expected runs between the tackles.
To win key games down the stretch, the team must be able to effectively execute a "turtle" offense (slow down) against a defense that is geared up to stop the run. The running backs must protect the ball while continuing to fight for extra yardage to move the chains and sustain drives. In addition, the offensive line and wide receivers must secure their blocks without holding to avoid costly penalties.
For the Raiders to effectively run through a stout Broncos defense playing loaded boxes in key situations speaks volumes about the team's potential as a ground-and-pound squad. If McDaniels can continue to get this offense to embrace the commitment, physicality and toughness that it takes to develop into a strong running team, the Raiders could win a lot of games down the stretch, beating opponents up with a hard-nosed running game.
View the best photos from the Raiders' Week 4 victory against the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium.