One of the pivotal plays in the Saints first-teams drubbing the Raiders top players was Oakland’s inability to convert a first down on 4th & inches.
I was curious what had happened in this play as it was such a poor display of how to run the football and the results surprised me.
I had initially thought that the offensive line had no push and had allowed multiple defenders to penetrate and while this is true, in a way, it doesn’t mean that they failed to do their job.
The Raiders began in the position graphed, here, with RB Darren McFadden (20) behind FB Marcel Reece (45) in an offset I to the strong side. The line features two tight ends on the right side of the line and WR Brice Butler is split out wide on the weak side.
At the snap, LG Lucas Nix pulls to the right and lead blocks to the strong-side C gap (the strong side is the side with the tight end or ends and the C gap is the gap between the RT and interior TE).
McFadden takes the handoff and starts to the right side of the line. At the snap, the four offensive linemen remaining (remember that Nix is a pulling guard in this case) crash left to take out the defenders and draw them away from the play.
Lucas Nix arrives at the C gap and does a good job stopping the momentum of the defenders and getting some push. The first real decision has to be made by Marcel Reece who can either choose to run block the linebacker coming through the D gap (between Mastrud and Ausberry) or can go wide to block the corner on that side.
Reece chooses to flare wide and take on the corner – the wrong decision in my opinion – and that leaves the D gap unblocked.
As McFadden approaches the line, that appears to be where he is trying to go. It doesn’t look like McFadden sees the D gap is filled and simply tries to run into it.
If McFadden had utilized better vision, he would have anticipated an opening in the C gap due to Nix arriving and getting push, there. Had McFadden planted on the right leg and run towards the C gap, he would have arrived to a large hole that opening and would definitely have achieved a first down and possibly much, much more as it would have been he and the safety, one on one.
Instead, the play resulted in a turnover on downs for the Raiders. The play was reminiscent of many of the plays last year when McFadden wasn’t able to show good anticipation in the zone blocking scheme. For all of his physical skills, McFadden appears to struggle recognizing which gap will afford him the best play and too often tries to simply outrun the defenders.
That lack of awareness cost him, and the team, a new set of downs in this case.