Why the Raiders struggle to score late in games

It’s recently been widely discussed and digested by many that the Raiders have struggled in the second half of most every game this season.  While this is correct, it doesn't actually tell the whole story – in fact, the Raiders actually have struggled in every quarter except the first.

Here is a look at the Raiders scoring broken down by quarter for each of the first 7 games:

             Q1      Q2     Q3      Q4

IND       0         7         3         7

JAX       7         3         3         6

DEN      0         7          7        7

Wash   14        0         0         0

SD        14        3         7         3

KC         7         0         0         0

Pitt       14        7         0         0

Total   56      27      20       23

As you can see, the Raiders have scored 56 points in the first quarters of the 7 games, to date, while only scoring 70, total, in the other three quarters combined.

Why this discrepancy? I think there are 5 main reasons, all of which apply to some level. Here are the five primary reasons the Raiders are struggling to put up points later in the game, in reverse order:

 

5. Failure to make proper halftime adjustments
Ironically, the most blamed culprit is the reason I think is the least likely. While some of the problem is likely halftime adjustments, it’s not likely to be that substantive. After all, the Raiders don’t just struggle in the second half- they struggle in every quarter other than the first quarter, especially in recent games.

If half time adjustments were to blame, the first and second quarter would be comparable before dropping down dramatically in the second half. This is not the case, so half time adjustments don’t appear to be to blame.

 

4. Execution
This is the reason the coaches love to use and it goes hand in hand with reason number three. Execution is on the players – it means the play call is good and the players have been put in a position to succeed with the matchups on the field but that one or more players failed to handle their assignments.

Coach Allen pointed blame here, partially, in both Sunday and Mondays’ meetings with the media. On Monday, in response to a question about thesecond half struggles, he said, “we’ve got to execute better. I mean we’ve got some opportunities to make some plays and we’re not making the plays that are there for us."

While execution is certainly partially to blame, it makes little sense that the team would suddenly fail to execute later in the game. Actually, there is one reason this would be the case and it’s my number one reason. But just to blame the players’ execution at the end of games does not strike me as correct.

 

3. Conservative gameplan
When the Raiders have a lead, as they’ve had in several games, recently, they don’t seem to be as aggressive as when they are behind or even with their opponents. This is partially due to the game plan, as Dennis Allen explained to the media after the game on Sunday.

Allen said, about the team's game plan, "I knew what type of game this was going to be; points were going to be hard to come by. Our defense was playing extremely well. I didn’t want to do anything that was going to give them an opportunity to get back into the game, so we wanted to be able to run the ball. We wanted to be able to get some quick, short passes out. When we call those short passes, we have to be able to complete some short passes so we can keep the clock running. I think we just have to do a better job of understanding situations and managing situations."

Allen is in essence saying, we had good plays called for the situation but the players didn't fully execute them. This is undoubtedly true to a degree but it negates the fact that once an offense becomes predictable in what they want to do, they become much easier to stop. The Raiders should still find ways to mix up the play calls and stay aggressive with a lead in order to avoid the scare they had on Sunday versus Pittsburgh.

 

2. Injuries
This is a big one and it was almost my top choice. Injuries have played a huge part in the Raiders struggles later in a game. Each game, the team starts out with it's top available players in the lineup and almost every game, the Raiders have lost some starters due to injury.

The Kansas City game is a perfect example of this. When the Raiders had Andre Gurode in at Center and Tony Pashos in at Right Tackle, the team was able to move the ball against the vaunted Chiefs defense. However, once those two players went out and the offensive shuffled, the team was no longer able to move the ball and was effectively stopped for the rest of the game.

Injuries is a solid explanation for the struggles later in the game but it doesn't strike me as the most likely reason. For that, read below.

 

1. Practice makes perfect
Every team scripts a set number of plays to start a game, offensively. The scripted plays are pulled from the film review and are plays that the team runs well, the opponent is very poor against or both and they are put in order and practiced, in order, so that the offensive unit can come out knowing how the first few drives will go and try to put together the best drives they can to start the game.

The Raiders are very good when the plays are scripted and I do not see this as a coincidence. NFL Football may look like a bunch of abnormally large men running around at random and banging into each other but it's an extremely well choreographed machine in which players are drilled in meetings, practices and walk throughs exactly where they must be in every play to give the play the optimal chance to succeed.

These walkthroughs are especially important when a team has a new offensive coordinator, as the Raiders do, because the team is still trying to learn all of the nuances of the coordinator's offense.

Walkthroughs of plays are probably the most important for younger players because they do not have previous NFL experience to fall back upon. A veteran may not have run this particular play before but a good vet will understand the intracacies of his position and be able to take previous plays he's run and apply them to any given play as long as he knows his assignment.

This is not true of a young player. Most positions have a lot of nuance to them, in today's NFL. No longer are receivers simply asked to run a 9 route or a slant when they break the huddle. Receivers are frequently now given a base route but expected to make changes depending on the coverage given them. Is the defense in man or zone? Is the cornerback lined up for press or is he giving soft coverage to make sure he's over the top of the receiver?

The answers to these questions and more dictate where the receiver goes after the snap. If the cornerback is lined up in man-press coverage, the receiver may be assigned to run a 9 route – straight down the field towards the end zone – in an effort to get over the top of the defense. If the corner is lined up soft, 8 yards off the line of scrimmage, the receiver may be expected to break off the route and curl back to get a 7 yard reception underneath the coverage.

The walkthrough sections of practice re-emphasize each receivers' responsibilities in those plays. During the game, however, the offensive coordinator may see some defensive tendencies that have him bring in a play that wasn't included in the walkthroughs. In these instances, the receiver doesn't have time to go over every nuance with a receiving coach or a veteran – as a professional, that receiver is expected to know the play, know his assignment and be able to perform.

This is not simply the case with receivers, either, although they serve as a good example with the Raiders, especially because the receiving corps is so young. The offensive line has a number of young players on it, too, from LG Lucas Nix and sometime starting RT Matt McCants to backup G Lamar Mady, who was pressed into duty during the KC game.

The offensive linemen have to be able to quickly sort out their assignment – is it a man blocking scheme? Zone? Are they expected to drive their player outside or should they be trying to drive their man inside? Is it a run or a pass? Are they to pull and lead block? Do they need to initially engage and then then shed their man to get a block at the second level?

The list goes on and on and for every position. For all of his skills and success, QB Terrelle Pryor is still working on understanding all of the situational nuances of his position.

I believe that the Raiders do better when the plays are scripted because of the amount of focus that goes into those plays during the week in preparation for the games. As the game goes on, the players aren't always on the same page and there is a higher chance for a breakdown in assignment or communication.

 

The good news, if this theory is correct, is that many of these issues will sort their way out in time. As the players get more experience, as they get more time in Greg Olson's offense, they will necessarily understand their role better and be able to simply focus on playing football instead of worrying about what their assignment is in every given play.

This is why it is so important to have coordinators continue year after year. It takes time for players to learn the terminology and the details of what the coordinator expects of them. It also takes them time to learn the nuances of what their position expects in the NFL.

The Raiders are a young and growing team. As they work out some of these issues, they will be able to score more consistently throughout the game. Every day the team practices together and especially every game helps the younger players get on the same page, this season, and an offseason's worth of practices together will help things even further.

For more Raiders thoughts and analysis, follow Asher on Twitter @AsherMathews

Asher Mathews

About Asher Mathews

Head writer for TFDS Sports, covering the Oakland Raiders and NFL at large. Proud Purdue alum. Follow me on Twitter!

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