The Raiders were in the playoff hunt heading into the last game of the 2011 season versus the San Diego Chargers. Before the game was over, they learned that if they won, they would win the AFC West and head to the playoffs. They pulled to within five points of the visiting Chargers with under ten minutes remaining in the game, and their season hung in the balance. It became the fateful moment. The ensuing Chargers drive ended the Raiders' hopes. This is exactly how it went down, through the analytical eyes of TFDS contributor Asher Mathews.
The drive started with a squib kick by Sebastian Janikowski that bounced at the five yard line, where it was picked up by San Diego's rookie return man, Richard Goodman, at the one. Goodman bobbled the bouncing ball before scooping it up and inexplicably ran backwards into the end zone. The Raiders' coverage team swarmed him and he went down in the end zone with what appeared to be a safety to bring the Raiders to within three points at 28-31, as well as give them the ball right back.
The problem was the officials ruled that Goodman had brought the ball across the goal line, so instead of a game-changing safety, the Chargers retained possession with the ball spotted just inches outside the end zone.
Those watching could tell the game hinged on this drive. The score was still reasonably close at
26-31 with 9:32 left on the clock. If the Raiders could hold San Diego to a three and out, they could get the ball back with good field position and plenty of time to win the game to move on to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
For the first play, San Diego came out with three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back in a shotgun formation with two receivers split out on the left, and 6'5" Malcolm Floyd as the outer of the two.
My guess is that San Diego banked on Oakland running man coverage -- always a good bet with the Raiders -- because this route wouldn't have been nearly as effective in a zone, but with man coverage it can be devastating.
At the snap, the inner wide receiver to the left of the line ran an out route and his man followed, the two of them effectively picking Lito Sheppard, who was opposite Malcom Floyd. Floyd ducked inside and then straight towards the end zone with Sheppard in pursuit. Rivers threw a ball up for Floyd to make an easy 19 yard grab. It wasn't even a very good throw as Floyd didn't catch it in stride, instead turning his body around to catch it and then having to turn back and run forward while being tackled. It was effective enough, however, and Raider fans were left to wonder what might have happened if the Raiders' defense had held.
Carson Palmer wasn't too happy with the play, either. After the game, when asked about this play, he said, "That was the momentum changer. It's too bad he got out of there obviously because then they punt to us and we got a short field, we get the two points and the game is reachable. We might have been able to tie it up if we score or make it a game there. The guy made a play, did a good job of getting out of the end zone."
This was still a good situation for the Raider defense, however. Because the Chargers had been so close to their own end zone, even with this completion, they were on their own 20 yard line. The next play drew a holding penalty on Chargers left tackle Jared Gaither and they moved to their own 10 yard line.
For the next play, the Chargers came out in shotgun formation with running back Mike Tolbert to Rivers' right. Chargers' backup tight end Randy McMichael was initially split out left but then came in motion to Rivers' left side.
At the snap, Gaither took the defensive end on his side, Kamerion Wimbley, and the left guard and center doubled Raiders right defensive tackle, Desmond Bryant. McMichael acted like the fullback and moved into the gap and blocked Raiders' weakside linebacker Aaron Curry. Raiders' much-maligned middle linebacker Rolando McClain made a terrible read and ignored the signs that the play was going through the LT/LG gap and instead moved into the C/RG gap, effectively taking himself out of making a play near the line of scrimmage.
Tolbert is not a small, quick back but he wasn't really touched until he was 15 yards downfield. The first player to try, CB Lito Sheppard, didn't wrap up well. Tolbert is in the Michael Bush mold -- a big, strong runner -- and he went right through Shepherd until he was brought down around the 50 yard line by safety Tyvon Branch, a run of 40 yards.
The next play brought a modest seven yard gain for the Chargers, setting up second and three at the Oakland 43. At this point, there was still a small hope the Raider defense would stiffen and hold the Chargers out of field goal range to keep the score within striking distance. Those of us watching were hoping that, at worst, they would only allow a field goal, which would still make it a one score game if the Raiders could get a TD and a two point conversion. It was the next play, however, that put the Raiders down for good.
The Chargers came out in a similar personnel grouping as they had before: three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back. Gates stayed in on the right side of the line with two receivers split out to his right. Malcom Floyd was initially alone on the left side of the line with the running back in shotgun formation to Rivers' left, but the back went in motion and split out to almost the left sideline.
At the snap, Floyd took a step to the inside and Lito Sheppard, who was guarding him, bit on the slant route. Floyd immediately cut outside and up the field with Shepherd on his right. Rivers made a good throw to the outside where only Floyd was likely to be able to grab the ball, and Floyd turned back for the ball just as it arrived. Sheppard actually had fairly good coverage on Floyd considering that he's manning up against a very tall, fast receiver -- a difficult matchup even for an elite corner. However, Rivers and Floyd had good timing on the play and made the connection.
The catch was made around the 26 yard line, and Sheppard failed to wrap Floyd up. Safety Matt Giordano took a poor angle and overshot Floyd. At this point, Floyd highstepped into the endzone and the Chargers never looked back.
The poor play by Lito Sheppard on this drive is representative of his season: very rocky. That's a big part of why Coach Jackson has announced that Michael Huff will be moving from safety to cornerback next season.
The drive was also probably the last straw for Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, emphasizing that his defense was not able to make stops when they mattered. As of this writing, Bresnahan has not been offically fired, but coach Jackson's comments after the game indicated it would probably just be a matter of time, as drives like this one hurt the Raiders often in 2011, and ultimately ended their season.
Asher Mathews is a Guest Contributor special to Thoughts From the Dark Side. Levi Damien also contributed to this article.
That defensive alignment during the Tolbert run was for passing because of Branch lined up wide out on the field side. As for McClain being on the wrong gap, I disagree. He's suppose to be in the cutback lane while the safety comes down to clean up but that's impossible to do when you have the safety playing 15-20 yards back. If McClain had stepped into the WS B gap, he would not only be in Curry's gap, but also give up the cutback lane which Tolbert would have gained much more. I don't understand lining Branch out that far but if Breshnahan had him cheat out for the slant on the Cover 4. If they had lined up correctly, Branch would be on top of the field side slot receiver, and he would be responsible for cutback while McClain can roam more and jump into the desired gap. I see a lot of complaints about McClain this year and it's warranted sometimes because of his lack of pursuit but a lot of times, we get stuck playing man which is awful against the run. Today's offense is complicated and little shifts and alignments here and there makes the man defense less desirable against the run.
@HoangPham McClain has taken a ton of grief for poor scheme
@HoangPham That's possible - Raiders do play gap scheme, but I'm not sure what the responsibilities would have been here, because on player to a gap with no backup doesn't make much sense - all it would take is a TE, like the Chargers did or a pulling guard for blocking and the RB will spring a huge hole. If they don't have more than a one person/gap responsibility scheme, clearly Bres's scheme is worse than advertised...
that 1st and 20 play was disgusting i mean, the chargers need 20 and they get 40. the raiders couldn't stuff that shit to force them into obvious passing situations. oh wait what am i saying they couldn't stop that either. never mind
This was a well written analysis. This was the drive that put the final nail in our collective coffins, though I would contest that the last drive in Buff., Denver, and Detroit were just as damning. I certainly look forward to more detailed breakdowns in the future. Maybe you could send this to Bren. incase he has no idea why he finds himself unemployed.
Thank for the feedback, oaklandraider. I plan on doing more contribution for the site in the future and one of the things I will try to do is breakdown one play in more detail. This article was more about giving a basic idea of what the Chargers did and the Raiders failed to do and I didn't want to go into too much detail on the basics of who was out there for each team unless they happened to be involved - in order to not lose people in all the detail. In the future, if I'm breaking down just one play, I will try to be more detailed on the cast, as it were.
I will say, because it's still fresh in my mind, that on the 40 yard run by Tolbert the D line was, from Raiders right to left: Wimbley, Bryant, Kelly (I'm pretty sure), and Houston. Kelly and Houston got good pressure on the Chargers' right side, but they were single covered and the play was in the opposite direction so by the time they got there, the play had left them. Desmond Bryant impressed me on that play. He was the DT that was doubled and the line of scrimmage and yet he chased the play down - he was, I think, the closest player to Tyvon Branch when he brought Tolbert down - you don't often see a DT (or DE) chasing a play 40 yards down the field...
@AsherMathews It's your article but as I've read it's fine as it is. Dont overdo the whole cast bit. Tell it like it is - as you did - warts and all. If somebody f****d up and your analyzing that play / drive point it out big time. While Dizzle does a good general summary on B&B performances your taking it to a higher level of scrutiny. In the modern game with bodies flying everywhere small things like a brush block here, plugging a hole there, receiver / coverage mismatches, can be missed completely and totally overlooked. Going into detail about who's on the sideline may not always be relevant and you gotta hold attention in long articles like these. I'd say the screen shots are a great touch here and totally necessary -especially if you get a snap of a key moment eg pancake block, WR drop, QB pressure, McClain being 20 yards away from the RB etc. (couldn't resist that). Without the pix I think you may get trouble in visualizing your play description. A video with analysis would be an even better improvement but is there copyright issues? Not sure - just a suggestion anyhow.
@DevonRaiderUK Levi and I determined that for this article, the whole drive was relevant but what I envision for other times is breaking down one play in more detail. That would include who was out for the teams - probably not everyone, but certainly some key players - and then what happened on the play. For this breakdown, because it was so lengthy anyway, I focused on just a few keys for the plays but I like breakdowns where the routes are diagrammed and it explains what the offense and defense are trying to do to beat the other.
@AsherMathews I agree. Looking at one or two plays in particular will be more concise than for a whole drive. You should really consider the video option / action screen shots to back up your analysis IMO. That could really be a very nice niche that nobody else is doing as far as I'm aware.
@AsherMathews thanks man - I love the idea of focusing in on a key play / series. Can you remember if DVD got on the field at all ? I was so pissed that we didnt put him on at some stage to counter their WR's height advantage ... but maybe I just missed him ... it all happened so fast :(
@oaklandraider I'm sorry, I didn't see anything in particular one way or another. Routt and Lito were the clear starters but I didn't notice other than that. Despite the fact that the Raiders have drafted like 5 or 6 CBs in the last two years, it's still one of the - if not the - biggest area's of need on the team.
Huffs Ints and passed defended numbers in 6 years aren't great (think it was 9 and 42). If I was an OC I'd target him as his supposed ball skills aren't evident IMO.
@AsherMathews no worries - love the article !
@AsherMathews @oaklandraider , I actually thought chekwa was coming along nicely compared to the preseason, it's too bad he got hurt. Having Huff move to corner can help too, I think that also tells us what's on the coaches mind if he converts a player rather than work with what he has. I still believe Aso should have been kept instead of routt.
and I remember McClain doing pretty much exactly the same thing on the long run TD we conceded on the first drive v Packers. Moved into the wrong gap and took himself totally out of the play ... Patrick Willis he aint.
@oaklandraider on that run that gap was Seymour's and the safety was suppose to fill samething on a touchdown run where mike Mitchell was the safety
@CGison1 thats good to know ... thanks ... Im certainly not an expert on the technical side of things, so its good to know that its not all on him
@oaklandraider I breakdown alot of McClain plays because I was a big fan of him at Alabama and he was rarely out of position but I see him taking the wrong gap alot and I am beginning to wonder if the dline or the opposite backer is doing the wrong thing. As a team our gap control is terrible and he takes a ton of heat for it yet he still averaged 92 tackles his first two seasons I wonder if we were a better defense overall how his numbers would look?
I like this ... could you add who WE had on the field for each play ? Id be especially interested to know who we had in the secondary for each play ...