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FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Raiders Final Evaluations – Pt. 5 – Cornerbacks

Franchise Sports Media

Part Five: In looking closely at the Las Vegas Raiders’ cornerback unit, the conclusion was drawn: These guys clearly needed a fresh face directing the defense. The Zo Huddle not only looks at what went wrong on the Silver and Black corners, but how things could look moving forward in the new defensive scheme.


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Photo Credit: John Bazemore/AP

The number 28 had a positive and negative effect for the Raiders in 2020.

Twenty-eight represents the number of aerial touchdowns Derek Carr threw. However, 28 also signifies the number of scores the pass defense surrendered.

And of the 28 passing touchdowns opponents fired upon the Raiders, the Zo Huddle counted nine that covered between 22 and 92 yards…with cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Isaiah Robertson and Nevin Lawson being targeted multiple times.

Nine. Explosive. Plays…and it contributed to a change in defensive leadership.

The first move the Raiders made to improve their ability to defend the pass: Dump Paul Guenther as the defensive coordinator.

Now the next trio of moves: Wiping away the big plays, improve field communication between players and coordinator and turning “The Death Star” into a place where opposing quarterbacks see interceptions across their stat line.

Time to look back on how the CB’s fared and decide who moves forward in the Silver and Black and who could benefit the most in the Gus Bradley-led D:




No. of CB’s who saw action: Eight (includes Lamarcus Joyner who played some nickel corner)

Who took the most snaps: Trayvon Mullen, 932 (the most snaps by a Raiders defender)

Best tackler: Joyner, 66 total (53 solo)

Best ball-hawk: Mullen, two interceptions

Best swatter: Mullen, 14 pass deflections

Best graded CB: Nevin Lawson, 55.6 rating per PFF


Blunder with Guenther?


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Photo Credit: Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Defensive struggles usually fall on the man calling the defense. And in this case, Guenther was plastered with the blame regarding the defensive woes.

Former players have openly said Guenther wasn’t the most organized game planner during the week leading up to the game and ran a confusing scheme. Guenther relied on a zone 4-3 scheme but featured as many as 15 different coverages, 46 blitz schemes (26 designed to attack the A-Gap between the guard and center) and plays that involved bringing pressure from odd fronts irrespective if the Raiders lined up with three or five linemen across the line of scrimmage. Former Raider Will Compton shared in an Dec. 22 interview on his Bussin’ with the Boys podcast that Guenther had between 25-30 different defensive calls for just the third down defense alone.


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Photo Credit: Raiders Wire

And if you watched closely on most of the Raiders’ blown coverages, it was the result of confusion from the sideline that carried over to the play. One example: Guenther tried to get his CB’s to rely on kick sliding during certain coverage looks. While the tactic can be capable of working during press coverage, opposing wideouts on the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four other teams that got multiple touchdowns against the Raiders found a way to knife through the kick slide.

Cornerback alignment was another mishap on Guenther’s part. Sometimes he trusted undersized corners to slow down wideouts with a near seven-inch advantage over the Raiders defender. Example: Guenther plugged Lawson – all 5-foot-9, 192-pounds of him – on Rob Gronkowski with the Raiders up 10-7 in the second quarter and facing second and goal. With no safety help, Gronk bullied Lawson to the end zone then hauled in the 5-yard TD, igniting the Bucs’ 45-20 rout.

By the time Guenther showed signs of simplifying things, it was already too late, and he was sent to the unemployment line before the season ended. From there, the Raiders relied more on fundamentals under interim DC Rod Marinelli.


Was there a true lockdown cornerback in Sin City?


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Photo Credit: The Raider Ramble

Skill-wise, the Raiders do have two CB’s capable of becoming shutdown defenders in the former second rounder Mullen and last season’s first rounder Arnette.

Problem is, both struggled too often throughout the year – because of a mix of bad play-calling and bad technique shown on the field.

Arnette’s first rookie mistake came on the Robby Anderson 75-yard touchdown in the season opener when he over-pursued in picking up Anderson’s route, extended out his right arm in the attempt to slow him up, only to spin and fall…then watch Anderson give Carolina the late lead. Fortunately for Arnette, the Raiders squeaked out the 34-30 road win.

From that point on, Arnette’s inaugural NFL season saw missed games due to thumb and neck injuries plus this stat line: Surrendering 26 receptions on 32 targets in nine games; meaning QB’s successfully completed 81.25% of their throws when targeting the rookie. He was also the nearest CB on that infamous no-look pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick that put the Miami Dolphins in field goal range to eventually win the game. Arnette ended the year receiving a 41.7 PFF grade.

Mullen may have been the best on-the-ball defender in the secondary with his two INT’s and 14 PBU’s. But he too surrendered multiple TD’s (four from my count) and ended 2020 with a PFF grade of 55.3. Mullen was tested the most by QB’s with 85 targets, allowing 54 total receptions.

Lawson, though, gave up the most TD receptions – five through 12 games. Included in that dozen is the 374 yards WR’s ate up against him.

Outside of the trio, Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon earned 181 and 154 plays, respectively. Johnson broke up four passes in 14 games, but surrendered three aerial scores against Buffalo, K.C and the New York Jets. Nixon saw action in 15 games, notching 14 total tackles while rotating in the lineup.


Trust Gus


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Photo Credit: Fresno Bee

Honestly, I was on board with the Raiders pursuing either Wade Phillips or Raheem Morris to turn around the defense – not even thinking about Gus Bradley.

His hire was met with mixed emotions. But my message to Raider Nation: Give him a chance and trust Gus. And it’s the CB unit who could benefit the most under him.

Bradley’s proposal is to run a simpler defense featuring cover 3 zone. But don’t be shocked if you see lots of press bail techniques from Mullen, Arnette and the other Raiders corners. Bradley’s CB’s in L.A, Jacksonville and Seattle (during the Legion of Boom era) executed a lot of press bail. How it works: Corners will show press coverage at the line of scrimmage, largely to disrupt bubble screens or any swing pass. But CB’s will swing their hips after the snap and bail into the deep third of the field, fooling receivers from thinking they would get jammed at the line of scrimmage.

Bradley’s cover 3 look is designed to eliminate big plays and force QB’s to play the short game through the air. He’s clearly trusting his secondary to blanket the deep end of the field and get defensive linemen and linebackers to rally to the football after the short reception. When executed to perfection in the secondary, cover 3 is effective in taking away the “go” route, the “fade” and force QB’s to check down to the running back or fullback.

Bradley thrived with one tall cover corner named Richard Sherman in Seattle. Mullen already has the length to be a Sherman-type for Bradley and has played multiple coverages using different techniques dating back to his Clemson days.

Arnette could be another who thrives in this scheme. Even with the press bail, Bradley will likely allow the former Ohio State Buckeye to press wideouts at the line and disrupt their routes. Arnette currently is better as a press corner than zone defender. He’ll need to get zone coverages down pat, but a potential idea is during plays when Arnette presses at the line, the Raiders could bracket their most aggressive safety Jonathan Abram over the top of Arnette to showcase the Silver and Black’s most physical side of the secondary.

Lastly, figuring out who can man the slot CB (or nickel CB) will complete the defense. Bradley utilized Jeremy Lane in that role in Seattle. Nixon will enter the final year of a three-year contract he signed back in 2019. With his height, his reported 40-yard dash time of 4.42 and past background as a free safety, he’s an ideal fit as the possible Jeremy Lane in Bradley’s cover 3. Johnson may be another who gets a look on nickel packages. He is set to make $850,000 in 2021 and is entering year No. 3 of the four-year contract he signed back in 2019.


Who needs to come on board/who is likely out


So, Sherman’s name was blurted out by the Zo Huddle.

It leads me to say this…I’m on board with the Raiders making a run at him in free agency.

Yes, he’s aging and there are questions if he has plenty of meat on the cornerback bone of his, or if it’s time to go the Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson route by moving to free safety in the twilight years. Either way, the Raiders need a man who knows Bradley and how this D will work. Plus, I felt L.V. never had a strong locker room/on field leadership presence in the secondary in 2020. Sherman is the guy.

Lawson was up-and-down throughout the year and since his contract is up, he’s likely gone. Because the Raiders drafted a CB in the first-round last draft and in the second round the previous year, there is no pressing need to draft a CB. My inclination is any new CB faces will likely come from free agency.


Post Huddle


Truthfully, these guys struggled the most under Guenther. Now, a DC with a history of slowing up aerial assaults is coming on board with the chance to unlock these guys’ true potential.

It’s a simplistic book of coverages Bradley has. But who knows, simple could mean super stardom for the CB unit.



Next up: Part six – we finish off the Raider defense by examining the safeties of 2020.


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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna


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