The Oakland Raiders passing offense is much different from a year ago, as they expect to stretch the field by perfectly executing seam pass routes and completing deep vertical throws downfield. Quarterback Derek Carr is slowly gaining confidence, and who wouldn’t, especially with the new weapons (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) he has to throw to on crucial downs.
The statistical numbers support this statement, as the Raiders led the NFL with 109 punts last season. 2015 has been a slightly different story, with only 21 punts attempted through first five games. Why? Well, third-down conversation is the culprit. The Raiders are executing at a 45 percent successful rate, as opposed to a 34 percent rate in 2014. Opposing defenses are having their hands full curtailing the production from the wide receiver position, as Cooper and Crabtree have become legitimate big-play threats.
Cooper has been everything as advertised, a dynamic playmaker that can turn a short yard reception into a touchdown by using guile and nifty footwork to weave through a defense. Crabtree is quietly becoming a deep threat downfield once again in the NFL, as he caught 27 passes for 317 yards with one touchdown reception and has regained that swagger he had with the San Francisco 49ers. Each has outstanding speed that will create coverage problems for the Chargers defensive secondary.
The goal this week for Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is to keep the Raiders offense in long yard situations all game long by holding their talented receivers up at the line of scrimmage. The cornerbacks must be aggressive, but smart in not allowing Cooper and Crabtree to gain their desired spots on the football field. Collectivity, the secondary must coral them in coverage schemes rather than getting caught in one-on-one situations downfield, as the Raiders short passing game is designed to put the ball their hands and watch a big yardage play develop fast.
Injuries could play a role in how the secondary defends, as safety Eric Weddle is still nursing a groin injury and his playing status is undetermined for this weekend. Weddle is the Chargers most physical tackler, but he may have to play deep in a ball-hawking role that minimizes receptions in front of him.
The San Diego Chargers defense cannot allow Carr and Co. to gain rhythm by moving the chains because the evolution of their offense will put points on the scoreboard. Pressuring Carr in the backfield will help to force him to throw a pass a bit prematurely, but he’s smart enough to gain a first down by using his feet if the pocket collapses around him.
Carr is a talented quarterback, but he still has a distance to go before being considered a top-tier signal-caller. The Chargers defense must test his progression at the position if they ‘re going to win on Sunday.