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Upon Further Review: Preseason week 2, Raiders vs Cardinals, Offense

The second article with observations in review of the Raiders second pre-season game with the Cardinals.  Yesterday’s piece involved Special Teams and Defense.  Today’s will have some thoughts on the offense and specifically the offensive line.

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I spent the majority of my time in film review focusing on the offense to see why the first team has struggled as much as they have.  Part of the issue, I believe, is that the offensive line is still trying to adjust to the many nuances of the zone blocking scheme.  More on that in a moment.
The plays that resulted in the most success for the Raiders are the ones in which there is pre-snap movement. This is not unique to the Raiders, it’s actually true for most if not all teams.  Pre-snap movement confuses the defense – they can become confused as to who to key on and that can lead to hesitation or outright mistakes.  Misdirection is an important tool for both offenses & defenses in today’s NFL.
Knapp seems to understand this and used pre-snap movement a number of times throughout the game.  The presnap movement can be as simple as moving a TE across a formation and seeing how the defense adjusts or can include the FB, RB and wide receivers to confuse and misdirect.

Carson Palmer weighed in on the first teams offensive struggles yesterday and basically his response was to shrug his shoulders and move on.  He doesn’t feel that there’s too much to worry about because in preseason the team is trying to gel, still plus he takes extra shots that he may not in an actual game because he wants to test how he and his receivers work together in those situations.
There were a lot of near-misses for the Raiders first team offense in this game that indicate that he is correct; things can be tightened and and the team can become much more productive. The first team offense was able to string together some longer drives and get into scoring position a number of times.
There were two almost-TD passes – one to DHB (which is well broken down, here) one one to Rod Streater that ended with a pass interference penalty that put the Raiders on the 1 yard line.  More on that below.
Also, there was a long reception by DMC coming out of the backfield for a screen pass that went 17 yards but could have gone longer. If team can tighten timing on some of those plays, they can be explosive.
On the 22 yard DMC run along the left side of the line, there was some very good blocking that allowed McFadden to get free (that run is also well broken down, same article as above).  In the play, TE Ausberry moved from TE position to FB and provided the key block at the line.
Simultaneously, at the snap, RG Brisiel pulled left behind the line and sealed off the DE coming from the edge.  McFadden and Brisiel’s blocks allowed McFadden to squeeze through a hole and into the secondary where he was able to beat a LB coming across the backside of the DL and 22 yards down the field before being tackled by a DB.
On McFadden’s 17 yard reception free agent acquisition RG Brisiel also had a key block that sprung McFadden for the gain. At the  snap, Brisiel brushed by his man and got out in front of the play, a screen. His block wasn’t that great but it was enough to give McFadden a crease and he was able to move up the field before the defense caught him.
Obviously it bodes well for the team that many of their successful plays came from solid blocking.
And, talking about blocking, we come to:

Offense Line:
Unsurprisingly, the Raiders OL has shown some struggles with backside blocking in the zone blocking scheme.  Backside blocking is one of the most difficult things to learn and perfect.  Because ZBS utilizes each lineman working in an organized scheme as opposed to a power man scheme in which each lineman is put one on one with a defender, getting the nuances and details on how to avoid a linebacker or safety to slip through from the backside of the blocks takes some time to learn.
The offensive line also has some work to do on blitz blocking.  There were a number of times in which a blitzer pressured or hit the QB because the O-line didn’t correctly block in towards center.  One of the difficulties in the zone system is when two defenders overload one gap (the gap between two offensive lineman).  In this situation, the offensive line should default to blocking defenders closest to the Center and, if there are more blitzers than linemen to block and they must leave a player unblocked, the player unblocked should be the one furthest outside who has the longest path to get to the QB.  There were several times in which an over-load blitz in one gap was incorrectly handled and the blitzer got through untouched or with just a brush and was able to get near or to the QB.
Young players struggle with that a lot but, more worrisome, there were some issues with the right side of the line which is manned by ZBS stalwart Mike Brisiel and veteran Khalif Barnes.  In my tale of the tape on Brisiel I noted that he sometimes has issues with these blitzes in the past.  Hopefully these will be worked out with better communication and more time together and, of course, some breakdowns are inevitable.
I was interested in how Cooper Carlisle looked at LG.  He seems to have transitioned well. He made some good blocks and is still mobile.  The starting O-line can use him and Brisiel as focus points as the two of them have mostly made their careers on being zone blocking specialists.
That starting lineup appears to be set on the offensive line with the line running: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Cooper Carlisle, C Stephen Wisniewski, RG Mike Brisiel, RT Khalif Barnes. Those 5 started the very first practice together and they’ve never lost their starting positions throughout camp.
However, Wisniewski has missed a number of practices and the last game with a calf injury.  He will miss Saturday’s game vs Detroit as well.  The Raiders are really missing Wiz at center as he’s got very good push, especially on running.
Parsons isn’t bad – he’s actually quite good for a backup.  He gets a good snap out at center, doesn’t make many mental errors and is all around solid albeit better in pass protection.  Wiz is one of the better young players on the offensive line in the league, however, and his run blocking abilities are missed right now.
I reviewed the failure of the first team to get into the end zone after 3 attempts starting at the 1 yard line.  I don’t think the play-calls were the problem as much as the execution, specifically of the line. 
The first appears to have been Veldheer’s fault. He didn’t get his pads low enough to knock his man backwards.  His opponent, a larger DE in the 3-4 DE mold, was knocked down a bit but his momentum took him over towards the play and his man was able to get an arm around DMC for the tackle.  Because the DE was able to get lower than Veldheer he was able to fall forward and make an arm tackle play.  Had Veldheer been able to get the better of him, DMC would have made it into the endzone.
For the second play, it appears that Parsons missed a block at the second level.  It’s a little difficult to tell, precisely, because I don’t know what the blocking assignments where.  In that play there’s a TE (Gordon, I think) to the L side of the line and he, Veldheer & Cooper clear their men well left of the play.  However, they clear them well enough that there’s a gap there that the LB shoots through to stop McFadden short of a touchdown.  In a ZBS, some players have to engage with the guys opposite them, slip those blocks and move to the second level to handle the linebackers.  It looked like Parsons may have been assigned that duty but he couldn’t disengage his block in time to get to the LB so the LB was able to make the play.

In all, there are a lot of details that seem to indicate that the offense has a chance to be above average this year.  The question is whether the team can overcome injuries and the amount of change that has come into the team’s offseason to clinch their first playoff appearance since 2002.