Raiders’ defensive scheme on game-winning touchdown pass deserves scrutiny

Sandwiched around three straight Las Vegas wins, the Raiders lost to Jeff Saturday five days after he arrived in Indianapolis and to Baker Mayfield two days after he landed in L.A. It’s as embarrassing and confounding as it gets.

Compounding the embarrassment is the way it happened last night. The game-winning touchdown pass from Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield to receiver Van Jefferson came against a defense that seemed less than ideal for the circumstances.

The Rams had the ball on the Raiders’ 23 yard line, with 14 seconds to play and no timeouts. The Raiders needed to primarily defend the end zone, and secondarily the sideline.

They didn’t. They played man-to-man, press coverage, daring one of the receivers on the outside to get open — and daring Mayfield to make the throw.

He did, with Jefferson getting just enough daylight to grab the ball as it fell into his hands.

“Seeing the coverage and I was truly shocked they pressed him up for 15 seconds left knowing that we didn’t have any timeouts left,” Mayfield told reporters after the game. “He did a great job winning off the line of scrimmage and going and making a play. That was just a — put it up for him to make a play.”

Jefferson was the first, and only, read for Mayfield. He saw the coverage, he knew Jefferson would have a chance, and the quarterback went for it.

Look at the Next Gen Stats illustration of the play. The Rams had four of eleven players protecting the middle of the field. But with any play that ended in bounds and short of the goal line, it would have been nearly impossible to get the players to the line of scrimmage, snap the ball, and spike it.

Also, safety Tre’Von Moehrig was wasted on the play, roving the middle of the end zone when no one was running into that area of the field. As a result, he couldn’t get over to help cornerback Sam Webb.

And safety Duron Harmon bit to the inside, covering receiver Tutu Atwell and ignoring Jefferson.

Although coach Josh McDaniels is an offensive expert, it’s on him to be sure that, in key moments, the defense is using the right approach. Press coverage with so many bodies wasted in the middle of the field was not the right approach — and it allowed the Rams to complete an amazing come-from-behind victory.