Film Session: How Darren Waller Is Becoming the Centerpiece of Gruden’s Passing Attack

This weekend the Las Vegas Raiders scored their first ever home victory knocking off the New Orleans Saints 34-24. It was an eye-opening victory that not many people outside of the fan base and organization believed might happen.

The upstart Raiders were able to secure their upset by utilizing a ball control game plan that was intended to keep Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, on the sidelines. Their strategy had the intended consequence with Las Vegas dominating the time of possession to the tune of over 36 minutes compared to only 23 minutes for New Orleans.

Head Coach Jon Gruden would like this to become a familiar trend and he has weapons at his disposal to make it happen. In the backfield is running back, Josh Jacobs, who currently sits at 5th in the NFL with 181 yards and tied for third with 3 rushing touchdowns. Out wide are a pair rookie wide receivers in Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, who the team acquired in the 2020 draft.

While the young promising receivers are getting some justifiable attention, it’s the teams returning tight end that was the catalyst for this week’s success. Darren Waller had an under appreciated 2019 season and it somehow went unnoticed on the national stage that he was second among TE’s with 1,145 receiving yards. If this week’s game is any indication, he is even better this year, and Gruden doesn’t have to get creative to make it happen.


Darren Waller is a massive 6’6″ and 255-pound athletic freak that ran a 4.46-40 Yard Dash at the 2015 NFL Combine. His combination of size and speed make him a nightmare for NFL defenses to cover. Gruden took advantage of his physical skill set by getting him into simple one-on-one matchups like this Y-Choice route (below). Here is that route in the 49ers playbook and the play Gruden drew up.

Darren Waller running “Y-Choice” from 11-personel

He ended up finishing the contest with 12 receptions on 16 targets for a 75% completion rate. New Orleans threw every level of their defense at him, but couldn’t seem to slow Waller down. He had 6 completions against cornerbacks, 3 against linebackers, 2 against safeties, and even 1 against a defensive end. The Saints had no answers for Waller.

In the clip below it was 2nd & 7 with 13:30 left in the 3rd quarter. Gruden dialed up Y-Choice to beat man coverage. Waller was being covered by Saints cornerback P.J. Williams, which is a match-up he can win easily. He is just too physical for smaller defensive backs to handle, as seen below.

2×2 Y-Choice

Williams didn’t stand a chance against a much larger tight end who had a two-way go. Even just getting Waller on the ground after the catch was a challenge and he ended up getting carried for almost another 5 yards. The Raiders offense will be tough to get off the field if they can consistently create these kind of matchups.

Something that made Waller especially difficult to handle was that he wasn’t limited to simply producing on inside routes. Only 4 of his 12 receptions came inside the numbers, for a total of 43 yards. His other 8 catches, 60 yards, and even the touchdown he scored, happened outside of the numbers. He was a handful for the Saints regardless of the coverage they employed. He pulled in 4 out of 5 targets against single-high safety looks while 8 of the other 11 targets were completed against 2-high safety shells. Waller can be utilized in any part of the field, against any coverage.

Red Zone

The Raiders issues in the Red Zone were one of a few reasons the team ended up missing the playoffs last season, but it’s a problem Waller can play a role in fixing. Offensively the team scored a touchdown on 28 of the 53 (52.8%) red zone possessions last year. For comparison, the Raiders defense gave up 37 touchdowns on 55 (67.3%) opposition red zone opportunities. It’s only been two games, but Las Vegas has punched it in on 6 of their 8 (75%) trips this season, including this gem to Waller.

QB Waggle Y-Flat

It was 4th & Goal with 10:03 left in the third quarter. Gruden dialed up a “Play Action, QB Waggle, Y-flat” that gets Waller all alone in the corner of the end zone. New Orleans was keyed in on Josh Jacobs after he scored three touchdowns last week and they sold out to stop him from adding another. I’d expect this to be a common refrain when the Raiders are inside the 5-yard line this season and getting Waller targets while the defense loads up against the run should be a priority.

Las Vegas added some promising young offensive receiving prospects in the last two drafts and the future of their offense looks bright. While the high draft picks are garnering most of the attention, a player the team stole off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad is proving he is the current superstar in Gruden’s offense.

At the rate he’s going right now, Darren Waller’s 2020 season will not go unnoticed at the national level. If pundits need a professional reference or two, the Saints locker room figures to have a few.

Twitter: @ChrisReed_NFL

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1 thought on “Film Session: How Darren Waller Is Becoming the Centerpiece of Gruden’s Passing Attack

  1. I suspect Waller will be heavily bracketed this week and see a decrease in productivity. However I think Renfrow will have his best game of the year and score a TD

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