One of the biggest storylines going into this Monday Night Football game was Jon Gruden. It’s been 10 years since he last coached in the NFL, and many wondered how he’d be able make play calls in today’s NFL. The first drive Oakland started off strong, often mixing up personnel. They went with a 5 wide set on the 4th play of the game, and it payed off as they gained 25 yards. They even caught them off guard on a run play out of a 4 wide set that resulted in a touchdown (with some help by a great run from Marshawn Lynch). One interesting thing Gruden did was the fact that he didn’t put too much emphasis on trying to fool Los Angeles. Out of the 13 plays they ran from a 4 wide set they passed on 10 of them. They also passed on 22 of the 25 plays they ran out of singleback sets (sets with 3 receivers, a tight end and a running back) and they ran on 14 of the 16 plays when there was a fullback or multiple tight ends in the game. Typically most coaches would try to mix it up more, but the Raiders didn’t really have to. They still averaged 7.66 yards per attempt from a 4 wide set, 6.86 yards per attempt from singleback sets and out of obvious running situations with a fullback or tight end in the game they averaged a solid 3.57 yards per carry. It seemed as though Oakland ran just enough passing plays from sets where most teams run from, and just enough rushing plays from sets where most teams pass from, to keep the other teams honest. They were then able to pass from sets that help the pass, and run from sets that help the run, and it worked out pretty well.
While the Raiders seemed to make an effort to just get the best personnel on the field for the play, the Rams like to play a game of deception. On their second drive it seemed like it’d be a situation to establish a run game for Los Angeles, however they instead threw the ball on all 4 of their plays on that drive. They gained 50 yards, and a touchdown. Out of singleback sets, the Rams passed 12 times and ran 9 times. Their mixing it up worked as well, as they averaged 6.33 yards per passing attempt from those sets, and an insane 6.66 yards per rushing attempt. In fact, they seemed to move the ball well no matter what set they were in. Out of a 4 wide set they averaged 7.6 yards per play and out of two tight end sets they averaged 6.1 yards per play. However there was one set that didn’t seem to work out too well. The Rams like to run this play that essentially looks like a three tight end set, however two or three of the players that would be tight ends were actually wide receivers. On paper this set makes a lot of sense, the receivers could block for a run, and if it’s a passing play you now have 4 guys to throw the ball to. It worked out perfectly the first time they ran it as they ended up with a 30 yard gain. However that was really the last time it worked out, as they averaged just 2.73 yards per play the other 11 times they ran it.
On of the ways the Rams were really able to pull away in the second half was them going back to basics a bit. In their first two drives of the first quarter they had 4 plays they went for more than 10 yards, 3 were passes from 4 wide sets, and 1 was a run from a 2 tight end set. They were finally starting to force Oakland to prepare for the pass on passing sets and rushes on rushing sets. Then the Rams were able to have a much higher success rate with mixing things up. On their next drive they had a passing play for 17 yards from a 2 tight end set, a 30 yard pass from a three tight end set, and an 8 yard touchdown pass from a two tight end set, which put them up for the first time in the game.
On the always crucial drive right after a go ahead touchdown, it didn’t go perfectly for Oakland. On second and six they made a curious decision to run the ball. That itself might not have been that bad, but they ran it out of a set with two tight ends and a fullback. So it wasn’t going to catch Los Angeles off guard, and therefore was basically guaranteeing a third down. The run only went for one yard, and Derek Carr threw an incomplete pass on third down, which forced them to punt it away.
The trickery continued for Los Angeles, after they passes 4 straight times, they ran out of a singleback set that went for 23 yards. It’s obviously a huge advantage for the Rams that they can beat you with pretty much any play, but the way they were able to fool the Oakland defense really help them pull away. I actually thought for the most part both offensive playcallers got the better of their defensive counterparts, despite having completely different strategies. The Raiders let Derek Carr throw the ball out of 4 wide and singleback sets for each play on 2 straight drives in hopes to get them back in the game, however he threw interceptions on back to back drives. Carr had maybe the worst game a guy who threw for over 300 yards has ever had. He had 3 bad interceptions, and might’ve been the difference in this game. But at the end of the day I thought this was a fun matchup and I think both of these teams could do well this season.