The New England Patriots don’t play the Denver Broncos until week 15, but the answer key to the test might already be available, courtesy of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20 on Sunday night, despite a mere 184 passing yards by QB Derek Carr.
How’d the Raiders pull it off? They ran the ball down the throat of the Broncos defense, over and over and over and over again.
“In the second half, we only ran two (running) plays," Raiders LT Donald Penn said after the game, per NFL.com’s Mike Silver. "We ran the same running play ten times in a row. We kept wearing them down with double teams. They knew it was coming. It didn't matter. That's when you take somebody's will.”
The Raiders finished the day with 218 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. You can watch all 10 runs highlighted by Penn here. Also, hats off to Penn for an amazing quote.
It’s not easy to “take the will” from the Broncos defense, which has been one of the best in the league. Denver was missing a few key pieces like DT Derek Wolfe that allowed the Raiders to dominate, but the running game would be considered impressive against any NFL defense.
"It's a play our defense calls Crunch, an off-tackle run that Pittsburgh brought into the league way back when, and a whole lot of us have since stolen," Raiders offensive line coach Mike Tice said, per Mike Silver. "It's basically a double-team -- center and guard, or guard and tackle, or tackle and tight end -- on one of their guys, depending upon what front they show. They tried to bring a couple of guys down low to pull us off the double team, which didn't surprise me, cause it was something Wade did to me when he was the head coach of Buffalo a long time ago.
"It didn't matter. We kept executing that play. We could have announced it. They knew it was coming."
So here’s what the Raiders did, over, and over, and over, and over...
The Raiders played one wide receiver in isolation to the right (off the screen) and added three extra blockers to the left side. The Raiders varied the depths of these extra blockers, based on their blocking assignment, but this was the presnap alignment of choice.
As Tice said, the run is supposed to be an off tackle, in this case to the left. Tight end #88 and left tackle #72 are supposed to double team the defensive tackle to seal off a rushing lane, while tight end #81 is supposed to pull to the inside of extra blocking OL #79 to make a crease. #72 is eventually supposed to block the linebacker in the second level.
The Broncos actually do a good job of defending this, forcing the running back to bounce to the right side. Of course the Raiders alignment means all the defenders are on the left side, so the running back had space to run.
This is honestly the same exact play and you can see that every Raiders player has the same blocking assignment. The center #70 does a much better job on this play, while the Raiders blockers on the edges lose almost every match-up. This funnels the run up the gut instead of off tackle.
The run wasn’t as successful as the Raiders would have liked, but they picked up yards and continued to run the clock.
There is a slight change in this alignment as tight end #88 takes the point position on the three blockers to the left and offensive lineman #79 moves inside. The defense is expecting a run to the right and the Raiders blockers do a nice job of accompanying them, while opening up a cutback lane to the left side.
The Raiders ran this play over and over and over with varying degrees of success, but most importantly they ran the clock, controlled the tempo, and prevented the Broncos from mounting a comeback.
The Patriots aren’t strangers to running the same play multiple times, either. In week 13 of the 2012 season, the Patriots needed to run the clock out against the Miami Dolphins and ran the same play with a pulling guard over and over and over again.
“It really [ticked] me off,” Dolphins DT Tony McDaniel said, per the Palm Beach Post. “It was disrespectful to us to run the same play over and over and be successful. Normally when somebody’s driving down the field you just think, ‘Well, they just had a good run there,’ but you run the same play over and over, as a competitor that [ticks] me off.”
Maybe the Broncos will be able to fix their problems over the coming weeks. Maybe the Patriots don’t have the personnel to pull this off. But now the blueprint is available if the Patriots want to run the ball with some success against the Denver defense.