Las Vegas Raiders 2021 Team Study

Part 28 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 27 here: Kansas City Chiefs. Part 29 now available: Los Angeles Rams.


Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.08 +0.05 15th

Offensive Eff. Rating (silver and black) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
16th 29th 5th

The Raiders offense was a bit of an enigma in 2021. Coming into the season I expected the offensive line to be a liability that limited the team's upside. But watching their games, it seemed Derek Carr was never under pressure. They used creative formations that included a lot of tight ends and even fullbacks to get extra bodies up front, and it seemed to work. Despite spending the 5th-most time in the pocket, Carr was only pressured at the 9th-highest rate. That typically speaks to a quality offensive line, but in this case had as much to do with the scheme as anything.

I believe this in part because the run game was terrible, both before and after contact. Josh Jacobs is a good runner but never had holes. Sometimes linemen are just better in pass protection than run blocking, but I think their success stemmed from Gruden’s scheme. However, it certainly continued after Gruden resigned, which means either that the offense just continued its approach or it wasn’t Gruden to begin with. Carr also deserves some credit. He is a very smart quarterback who understands how the formations help offset pressure and he anticipates players being open. He showed the ability to use a variety of weapons in the passing game and is finally getting the respect he deserves. That’s good to see.

When your best pass catcher is a tight end and your best receiver is a slot receiver, defenses built around solid cornerback play tend not to be as effective. When looking at game-by-game performance, we can see this in action. Chart A shows the Raiders’ offensive Adj. Effectiveness in each game, ranking each opponent by its DVOA against opposing #1 wide receivers. Many handicappers validly recognize that teams reliant on a top outside wide receiver can struggle against elite cornerback play. But it’s just as important to recognize that an offense not reliant on a top outside wide receiver tends to outperform against those very same defenses by comparison. Diverse passing attacks featuring tight ends, running backs, and slot receivers, tend to eliminate the advantage a top cornerback brings.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent pass defense in DVOA v. each team's top wide receiver.
*DVOA data from Football Outsiders.

Carr plays with a chip on his shoulder against the best competition. The Raiders offense – which was pretty much a reflection of Carr because the run game was underwhelming – played its best games against the toughest pass defenses. Granted, there is some correlation between good cornerback play and overall pass defense. But Chart B shows the Raiders’ offensive Adj. Effectiveness by each opponent ranked by its EPA/play allowed on passes. Carr stepped up in the toughest spots.  

Chart B

Chart B: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent pass defense in EPA/play on the season.
*EPA data from Football isn't played on spreadsheets.

Carr is a smart player. I would expect the Raiders to continue to do whatever they did to help offset the inevitable pressure that comes from having a weak offensive line. But it’s not a guarantee. It depends on how Josh McDaniels approaches the scheme. They also picked up Davante Adams to reunite him and Carr. Adams is a really good fit for this offense with his excellent route-running and reliable catching. Even though his overall production should take a hit with a downgrade at quarterback and more target competition, he should definitely boost Carr’s play and immediately lifts the upside of this offense.

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