Could the Trending “Black Ops” Package Solve the Raiders Pass-Rushing Woes?

The Las Vegas Raiders dropped to a 3-3 season record after losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday. While it was a close contest early in the fourth quarter, the Raiders would wind up on the wrong side of a 45-20 final.

Those 45 points would add to an unsettling trend that has witnessed the defense surrendering 30 or more points in 5 of the Raiders last 6 games. Las Vegas currently sits 31st in scoring defense, surrendering an average of 32.8 points per game. Just to put it into perspective, the Raiders have allowed a total of 197 points over their 6 games. There are currently 12 teams that have played in 7 games yet still have not reached that point total.

Overall, the stat sheet for this team’s defense is a horror show perfect for Halloween. They are 15th against the run and, sadly, that is the high point. Vegas ranks 26th in total yards, 28th in passing, and surrender a first down on 50% of the 3rd down situations they face. Forcing some timely takeaways would help offset some of these numbers, but even that isn’t happening as they are currently tied for 28th with a -5 turnover differential.

Having to rely on the offense to consistently put up over 32+ points isn’t a recipe for success. Head Coach Jon Gruden is obviously aware of this fact alluding to potential player and schematical changes on the horizon during his Wednesday press conference.

Jon Gruden on possible changes in store for the defense

But on a positive note, as depressing as all of those numbers are, there is potentially a way that Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther can turn the ship around. Outside of the rushing numbers all of the other stats can be remedied by simply manufacturing more pressure on the opposing quarterback. As the film, or the 1.2 sack per game average, or just any Raiders fan can tell you, quarterbacks have had far too many clean pockets to operate out of.

It hasn’t helped that the defense has faced a few elite-level quarterbacks, but that is exactly the quality of opposition the Raiders will have to overcome if they intend to make any sort of run into the playoffs.

This play from Sundays game is a prime example of the issues the Raider defense is dealing with.

3×2 Sail vs Cover-1

On this play the Raiders were in a Cover-1 coverage and had fairly good leverage on this Sail route. It wouldn’t end up mattering much as Tampa Bay Quarterback Tom Brady had room to step up and put the ball on the wide receivers outside shoulder. Even plays like this that finds the Raiders playing fairly tight coverage are ending in completions due to a complete lack of pressure.

It’s becoming obvious that this is where the Raiders staff is going to have to get more creative.

Without a top flight pass rusher to rely on, Guenther will have to design schemes that can get free rushers to the quarterback. Fortunately for him, the Arizona Cardinals may have unveiled a new scheme that Guenther will have some insight into and one that could help improve the Raiders third-down pass rushing.

Black Ops

Football is a constantly evolving chess match between offenses and defenses, with each attempting to come up with new schemes to shift the balance of power.

There are times that a new trend can develop independently, but also have very similar operating principles to older concepts. What makes this Cardinals new blitz scheme so intriguing for the Raiders and Paul Guenther, in particular, is it’s similarity to the old Double-A Mug scheme he used to run.

Here is a look at the personnel grouping which the Cardinals call “Black Ops” as well as Guenther’s Double-A Mug alignment. Also, an example of the Raiders running Double-A from the 2018 season.

0-6-5 “Black Ops” Personnel
4-2-5 Double-A Mug
Guenther 4-2-5 Double-A Mug

The first difference between these two images and film clip that will stand out is the personnel on the field. Arizona’s “Black Ops” scheme involves playing what would be called a 0-5-6 meaning their are 0 defensive linemen, 5 linebackers, and 6 defensive backs. By contrast the Double-A was typically run out of a 4-2-5 grouping. While the personnel is clearly different, the basic idea behind both scheme’s is very similar.

Both of these schemes are only utilized in obvious passing situations, especially “Black Ops” as the lack of defensive linemen leave it vulnerable to the run. They are also specifically designing to confuse the offensive line’s protection calls with the hope of creating free rushers. Both also have the added benefit of dropping players into coverage which could confuse the quarterback. That confusion could either cause him to hold the ball giving the pass rush more time to get home or lead to interceptions.

The weakness of the 4-2-5 Double-A Mug was that having defensive linemen on the field made decoding who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage much easier. Also dropping a defensive linemen into coverage is never ideal, though often a necessity.

Eventually offensive lines were able to figure out how to handle the alignment and it has seemingly been fazed out of most defensive game plans.

Arizona has avoided both of those issues because of the personnel that they use. It’s much more difficult to pick out which linebacker or safety will rush while also not creating any liabilities with the players that drop into coverage. In fact, having linebackers and safeties dropping into throwing lanes while the quarterback is expecting to be pressured is a great formula for creating turnovers.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson can attest to that.

Hot route miscomunication / INT

A miscommunication adds to creating this interception, but it is the fact that Wilson was expecting quick pressure that was the original catalyst. He is anticipating that his slot receiver will recognize the blitz and adjust to his “Hot” route. Russell floats the ball into the seam where he expects that hot route. Unfortunately for Seattle, only Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons is in the area or even looking for the ball. This interception lead to the Cardinals kicking a field goal to win in overtime.

Of course turnovers are great but we are really here to find a way to heat up some quarterbacks and “Black Ops” could be an option.

While the Raiders do not have the same number of linebackers at their disposal, they do have defensive ends like Maxx Crosby, Arden Key, and Clelin Ferrell who are all of a similar build. Offensive lines would have a difficult time differentiating between so many players that are similar body types and it would create confusion for their protection schemes similar to the way it is done in Arizona.


Wilson was able to get rid of the ball and avoid the sack here but this rush illustrates the stress this personnel group puts on the offenses’ protection plans. Both the right guard and right tackle end up blocking the same linebacker as the outside safety gets a free run at the quarterback.

The Raiders lack a serious pass rushing threat that can consistently win individual matchups, so they need to get creative in order to manufacture some pressure. Getting some free rushers like this is paramount to improving their dismal pass rushing performances.

Guenther could get creative and get his corners involved in the game plan, as well. Arizona also brought rushers from the secondary, as if attempting to dissect the players lined up inside the box didn’t stress the offensive line enough.

Once again they found uncontested success.

Slot Blitz

It almost feels a little unfair to add slot blitzes to the Cardinals’ “Black Ops” package. The offensive line is so focused on the guys in the box that the slot corner gets yet another free run at Wilson. It’s worth pointing out that both of these two rushes got home while only bringing four rushers because of the disguise provided by the personnel.

You can see that disguise in action as the right guard, right tackle, and tight end all take the initial C gap rusher, while the center isn’t blocking anyone. Arizona used their pre-snap alignment to overload the left side of Seattle’s offensive line. That overload gets them to use a “Slide” protection to their left while bringing a slot blitz off the right side. It ended up creating a free rusher against a 7-man protection, while only rushing 4 players. It was an absolutely brilliant design and the Raiders might be able to overcome the lack of elite pass rushing talent if Guenther could recreate this level of creativity.

While it’s great to hear Gruden talk about meeting with his defensive coordinator to discuss possible schematical and personnel changes, it cannot stop at just “talks”.

The poor performance from every measurable aspect of this defense is quite literally an anchor around the neck of an otherwise playoff caliber team.

Arizona has provided a blueprint similar to a scheme Guenther has run in the past – and one that could potentially help the Raiders third down defense.

Regardless of what changes he actually institutes, Guenther needs to drastically improve his side of the ball. It will cripple the Raiders’ playoff hopes if Guenther doesn’t come up with something. And if he doesn’t come up with something, Gruden will soon be having “talks” with a new defensive coordinator.

Twitter: @ChrisReed_NFL

Cover Image Credit:


8 thoughts on “Could the Trending “Black Ops” Package Solve the Raiders Pass-Rushing Woes?

  1. There is no evidence Gruden will be ” having talks” with other defensive coordinator prospects.

  2. The only thing that Gruden is going to do is have another losing season as the Raiders head coach and offer a plethora of excuses as to why they didn’t succeed. That’s his M.O. Additionally, because he was hand picked by Mark Davis, Gruden will have SEVEN, yes literally SEVEN, more years of making “questionable decisions” as the Raiders head coach. All Raiders fans need to accept and realize that and just suck it up and deal with it. Oh sure, it’s inevitable that true and loyal Raiders fans are going to bitch, moan, gripe and offer multiple suggestions on how to fix things and Gruden will just turn a deaf ear and collect his annual 10 million dollar salary. In spite of ALL the lack of success, that Paul Guenther has exhibited as the Raiders “defensive coordinator,” Jon Gruden will continue to insist that Paul Guenther is “…a good coach.” This guy lies between his teeth and in the faces of EVERY Raiders fan alive and STILL sportswriters aplenty write the most insane optimistic articles about him, insisting that he will turn things around. If this type of thinking sounds kind of familiar, it’s because Americans currently except blatant lies as truth, in the face of obvious “statistical evidence” to the contrary, about subjects that are personally devastating to their families and themselves. Jon Gruden has intentionally chosen to detach himself from reality while the truth is blatantly obvious and staring him in the face. His thinking and coaching skills are retrograde. Get ready for more bloviation, hyperbole and ineptitude for the rest of this season and beyond, Raiders fans. Also, the next time you are at the grocery store, load up on Tums because you’re going to need them.

  3. Great article!

    I wonder how that defense would work against a draw play up the middle if it was used to counter that defense?

  4. It’s LUCK OF THE DRAW. Having the right scram at the right time with the best personal in there
    GO RAIDERS !!!

  5. Imho they better off in a 3-4.
    DT 3tech- Hurst/ irvin
    NT 1tech- Hankins
    END- Irvin/ ferrell
    ROlB- crosby
    Rilb- littelton
    Lilb- Kwiatowski
    Lolb- ferrell/ Nassib
    Fs- joyner
    Ss abram
    Lcb Mullen
    Rcb Johnson…till arnette is back
    Ncb- lawson
    They could switch up what they do often.
    They could use irvin at 3tech, collins as 1tech and hurst as 5tech.

Comments are closed.