The 2020 Raiders tried to build a ground-and-pound offense by winning the offensive line battle and allowing Carr to pick his spots throwing deep to his speedy wide receivers and Darren Waller. After a promising rookie season averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Josh Jacobs was set up for a strong sophomore season. But things quickly went downhill for Jacobs behind poor run blocking as the offensive line fell apart with injuries. He dropped to just 3.9 yards per carry on the season as the Raiders stuck to the game plan despite its lack of success.
But to make up for the underwhelming performance in the run game, Derek Carr quietly put together the best season of his career, powering the 7th-ranked Raiders offense with incredible throws in big moments and mostly limiting mistakes. It didn’t seem to matter too much who was available for him to throw to provided he had his safety blanket in Waller, but he was at his best when Ruggs, Agholor, Renfrow, and Edwards were all healthy.
The offense played to the level of its competition. They played two excellent games against the Chiefs, winning one outright, and they beat the Saints by 10 points. There was a fairly strong correlation between the Raiders’ offensive performance and the quality of their opponent’s offense.
This chart tracks the Raiders’ offensive Adjusted Rating by each opponent’s season-long offensive rank. They had several of their best games against the NFL’s top teams in KC (+1.22 and +1.14), BUF (+0.66), CLE (+1.15), and NO (+1.61), but played poorly against NE (-0.26), DEN (-0.27 and -0.09), and NYJ (-0.42). I don’t put a lot of stock into psychological narratives, but it seemed like Carr really wanted to prove himself against the best competition. Whatever the explanation, the Raiders were simply better in those games.
But because the Raiders insisted on establishing the run (despite its relative lack of success), they were at their best offensively when they could actually get it going on the ground. Stout rushing defenses stymied the Raiders, as the whole offense took a step back in those matchups.
This chart tracks the Raiders’ offensive Adjusted Rating by each opponent’s defensive strength against the run (in yards per carry) versus the pass (in net yards per attempt). They played six teams who were relatively better against the run (on the left of the chart) and averaged a -0.25 Adjusted Rating in those games. By contrast, they averaged +0.72 against the ten teams who were better against the pass. They just weren’t able to take advantage of traditionally weak pass defenses because their wide receiver play was inconsistent (in part due to injury).
The offensive line injuries mentioned above, primarily Richie Incognito and Trent Brown, did slow down the Raiders. But they also suffered terrible turnover luck. Despite throwing only 10 interceptions all year, they had the 5th most turnovers (26) because they lost a league-high 16 fumbles. The median number in the NFL was 8, and only three other teams had more than 11. Fumbles are not generally a predictive stat category, so I would expect this to normalize. And losing 8 more fumbles than the median had a massive impact on outcomes.
But Adjusted Rating factors these in, which is why they finished with the 7th-best offense by my metric. There is some regression concern with a new offensive line. I also believe they outperformed their talent in 2020. But, based on how they played they could take a small step back and still be an effective offense.
The Raiders defense, on the other hand, was terrible. They suffered injuries throughout the year and played undisciplined football, making far too many costly mistakes. They stumbled along to a 28th-ranked finish and let their offense down. They did face a tough slate of competition but the final numbers were inexcusable.
Las Vegas Defensive Numbers
|Category||LV||NFL Rank||League Median|
|Opp. Scoring %||50.3%||32nd||40%|
Their 143 missed tackles (according to Pro Football Reference) was 9 more than the second highest team. This contributed to an NFL-worst 82.4% conversion rate allowed on fourth down and a third-worst 48.8% conversion rate allowed on third down. They just weren’t able to get off the field, and this really cost them. They were particularly bad against teams that favored a short passing game, which better took advantage of the poor tackling by putting receivers in positions to get yards after the catch.
This chart shows the Raiders’ defensive Adjusted Rating by each opponent’s average depth of target on the season. They had some fairly good performances against high-ADOT teams like DEN (+0.52) and ATL (+0.57), but particularly struggled against every team with a low ADOT. Their four worst performances came against NO (-0.88), NE (-0.97), IND (-1.05), and LAC (-1.28), all teams with an ADOT of 7.5 or lower. Providing more opportunities for skill players to make plays after the catch was a good strategy against the Raiders.
There isn’t much more to say about this defense. They did not implement an effective pass rush and were bad at tackling. This will always be a liability. Perhaps they can play with more discipline in 2021, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Putting it All Together
- The Raiders are fairly rated heading into the offseason. On one hand, their offense was under-appreciated due to an inordinate amount of fumbles. But they also outperformed their talent and were awful on defense. It would be truly surprising if the Raiders made a playoff push in 2021.
- Expect the Raiders to outperform expectations on offense if they can improve on the offense line and establish the run more effectively.
- We have not seen this offense without Darren Waller in the last two years, but given his outsized role in the pass game be wary of this offense if he gets hurt.
- Expect the Raiders to underperform defensively against short passing teams who excel at getting yards after the catch.
- Given that the Raiders often play to the level of their competition, favor them as big underdogs to cover the spread.
Fantasy and Player Prop Takeaways
- The Raiders brought in Kenyan Drake to bolster the run game and take some of the weight off Jacobs. Not sure how this plays out, but it signals an intention to return to a run-first offense. Given the low-volume passing game and plethora of targeted players, I will not be targeting Raiders receivers. But depending on how the offseason goes, someone like Bryan Edwards (who has a ton of talent but had limited opportunity in 2020) may emerge as a deep sleeper.
- Darren Waller should continue to be an elite tight end.
- In DFS or for prop purposes, bet on offensive players against the Raiders who are quick and elusive after the catch.
Application: SharpClarke Bet of the Year
In Week 5, the Raiders were 11.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs. Although I thought the Chiefs were clearly the better team, the line did not do justice to how well the Raiders were keeping up with good teams offensively. In addition, the Chiefs had a tendency to sit on leads and did not always cover big spreads due to their lacking ground game. I don’t like to put a lot of money against Kansas City, so I just put 1 Unit on the Raiders to make it competitive and cover the big number behind Derek Carr. The Raiders played the game of their season and ended up winning outright, 40-32, as big underdogs.
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