Raiders best bet is to exploit Falcons’ inexperienced linebackers

71 seconds left, and a short pass is caught by Clive Walford in the middle of the field.

Those are the types of plays the Raiders need to correct in their home opener against Atlanta, a play quarterback Derek Carr should have directed towards running back Latavius Murray on the near sideline instead of the tight end.

Oakland’s clock management was poor late in the first half during their comeback win over New Orleans, a game that could have been a blowout if the Raiders had done some of the little things just a little bit better.

It might not have come down to consecutive two point tries if they got themselves into position for a field goal before the half; and though there were 47 yards to cover in barely over a minute, Oakland also had two timeouts and several chances to stop the clock.

The Raiders burned 14 seconds alone as they lined up to spike the ball, following a play where Walford and receiver Michael Crabtree ran inside slants out of a three-receiver set to Carr’s right, with Cooper also running an inside slant to the left side.

There was no outlet for Carr to check down out of bounds, something that would have presented the Raiders with time for at least one more play, and probably two.

With every replay of this final drive before intermission, it’s increasingly confusing why offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t call any plays that included sideline outlets.

There were no crossing routes, no running back in the flat, and nobody running a fade or deep post.

Musgrave may have been expecting that defenders were going to play deep quarters and protect the New Orleans 40 yard line, but that wasn’t happen. Carr didn’t audible at the line, and these factors may have cost the Raiders three points.

It’s likely been a point of emphasis this week at the Raiders’ facility in Alameda as the team prepares to face another potent offense that can beat defenses who are having their best days.

The NFL’s receiving champion along with two of the most threatening running backs in football and a young and incredibly quick linebacker group is something that doesn’t compare to what the Raiders faced in the Big Easy.

Clock management is still something that could mean the difference between winning and losing, though, joined with giveaways and not establishing the run.

Per the Raiders’ website, Musgrave said:

“It’s always best to be balanced, so they can’t key on you on defense. The rules are definitely lending toward more pass than run with the incidental contact, illegal contact, DPI back there in the secondary. Those guys playing in the secondary have a tough time with the way the rules are. For instance watching New Orleans and what they do, week in, and week out, I thought our defense did a super job. They got a turnover for us. They held them to field goals a couple of times. It’s just tough with the way the rules are set up to stop a passing attack like Drew Brees’ and Sean Payton’s and other people’s.”

What Atlanta does well, and the Saints did not, is bottling the run.

The Falcons drafted two extremely athletic linebackers this year, second round pick Deion Jones and fourth rounder De’Vondre Cambell. Raw in their technique and ability to read the field, the pair are integral in what the Falcons want to do, and capable.

At the same time, though, the Raiders could prey on their inexperience. And that’s what they should do.

Fans should expect a number of counter runs, draw plays, as well as play action. Perhaps a fake bubble screen — a play that has been used in every Raiders game since Musgrave took over the offense in 2015.

The Falcons just held Doug Martin and the Buccaneers to 3.2 yards per carry over 28 attempts last Sunday, though Tampa Bay was successful throwing to running backs: eight completions for 66 yards.

Atlanta’s ground game was anemic at best, too, averaging 2.4 yards per carry over 22 tries, and like their week 1 opponent, successful throwing to running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.

Stopping the smaller guys from gaining chunk yardage will be the name of the game Sunday.

That doesn’t mean the Raiders can forget about Julio Jones, though, one of the few receivers in football who can win a game almost on their own.

There’s really no coverage that can stop Jones. But adding an emphasis on rushing the passer and keeping Jones at the line for a relatively extended period of time is a good start.

Coupling that with stuffing the run, and passing attempts to running backs, should allow the Raiders’ offense to post enough points against a young defense to win the game.

Utilizing tight ends and running backs could also be useful, and Oakland has an excellent matchup using 12 personnel — one back, two tight ends, and two receivers.

They’d also have a nice advantage in 21 personnel — two backs, one tight end, and two receivers.

These are offensive packages that their young outside linebackers haven’t seen much in college, and probably not in practice, given Atlanta’s tight end faculty.

In the SFBay Raiders Season Preview, the expectation was a major offensive day combined with limiting the Falcons rushing attack to fewer than 80 yards. That still seems realistic.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.