Raiders

Raiders impressed with receiver Tyrell Williams' speed, route-running

tyrellpracticeus.jpg
USATSI

Raiders impressed with receiver Tyrell Williams' speed, route-running

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders won’t play another color for months. The Los Angeles Rams are up first on the preseason slate, but that game isn’t coming until Aug. 10.

It’s all silver on black until then.

Raiders secondary coach Jim O’Neil is prepping his position groups to play well together in this scheme, with progress reports coming against a dynamic receiver corps featuring Antonio Brown.

Slowing the four-time All-Pro is a badge of honor, by far the toughest assignment in the pattern.

Gold stars should also go to those who stop Tyrell Williams, though few are being given out early in the Raiders offseason program. Williams was known commodity after quality time with the L.A. Chargers. He’s a big body at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds adept plucking receptions from the sky, but there are other facets of his game Raiders defensive backs are learning about the hard way during OTAs.

That was clear in a conversation between O’Neil and Williams, recorded by the team website and released on social media.

“All the DBs went, ‘Man. No. 16 can run,’” said O’Neil, who was mic’d up during Thursday’s OTA session. “I said, ‘yeah. You’d better get your hands on him.’”

“Yeah,” Williams said. “Everybody thinks I can’t run.”

Folks must have forgotten he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash during the 2015 pre-draft process, or that his downfield prowess comes from size over speed.

Early routes had dispelled that notion. Williams and Carr have already flashed a deep connection due to speed-created separation and some solid route running.

“That was a good route you ran the other day on my guy,” O’Neil told Williams. “You sold the ‘jet,’ he took his yes off you and he started hauling a— across field.”

That exact play’s tough to place, considering how little of the offseason program is open to the press. Media saw Williams torch coverage deep on Tuesday, and make some smart catches underneath as Williams continues to prove a trustworthy target working with more than just size and speed.

“It’s kind of nice having something like that, but he can run these routes and set people up,” Carr said. “He’s a technician also. He’s just not a big, raw body.”

Carr and Williams have developed an early rapport from private throwing sessions with Antonio Brown and officially-sanctioned offseason program work. They’re taking another step during OTAs, where they can finally work against coverage.

Williams knows that trust comes from repetition, something he’s trying to build with touch catches against teammates when nobody’s watching.

“It’s just catching everything and if it’s a 50-50 ball make sure that if you don’t catch it, that nobody catches it and it’s not an interception, and he can trust that throws into a tight coverage either you catch it or nobody catches it,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m a bigger guy and have a lot of room I can separate for and be able to catch a lot of those balls that may not be perfect, so I think that’s a big thing from me.”

[RELATED: Carr building chemistry with new receivers]

Williams knows he will be a secondary concern with Brown running routes, and that’s something he hopes to take advantage of with the traits many realize and others often overlooked to have a big season. He has exceeded 1,000 yards once, in 2016 when the Chargers had a rash of receiver injuries. Working opposite Brown could make him a feature target with winnable matchups that could lead to another big year working in a system that can play to his strengths.

“It’s vertical,” Williams said. “We like to go down the field and I feel like that’s one of my strong points, taking it and stretching the field. I think that will be big for me being able to get a lot of [focus] go to ‘AB,’ so I feel like I’ll get a lot of one-on-one coverage down the field. It’ll be big for me.”

Why surging Raiders pass rush believes recent success can be sustained

Why surging Raiders pass rush believes recent success can be sustained

The Raiders' pass rush is coming on strong.

Quarterbacks have felt heat in particular during the team’s perfect three-game homestand, with 12 sacks in that span and 10 in the past two contests. That has sent the Raiders soaring up the NFL sack list, now ranked 15th with 25 quarterback takedowns in 10 games.

Part of that is improved talent. Opportunities also are a crucial, oft-forgotten variable in this equation.

“[On Thursday] night against Phillip Rivers, we knew he had to throw it so you’re going to get a chance to rush," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "We knew they were going to throw it in Detroit, and we get a chance to rush. And at the end of the game yesterday we knew they had to throw it, so you get some opportunities to swing the bat. We’ve been better against the run and we’ve given ourselves more third-down opportunities than we did a year ago.

“But with that being said I think that has something to do with it. And we’re much improved. You know we’ve got better rushers and we’re getting better results.”

The 25 sacks through 10 games is nearly double last year’s total, a positive sign to be sure but no barometer of pass-rush success.

Gruden never misses a moment to say sacks aren’t the only way to measure an impactful pass rush. He prefers the factor grade, which remains internal but includes sacks, pressures, forced fumbles, run stops, edge setting and passes defensed, among other things. Here’s what we can quantify.

The Raiders are hands down better rushing the passer over last year. They have more sacks and quarterback hurries than they had all of 2018, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus.

Here’s what the Raiders totaled rushing the passer in 2018: 13 sacks, 36 quarterback hits, 97 individual hurries -- 146 total individual pressures.

The Raiders are going to generate much more pressure this time around if the season continues this way.

2019 project pass-rush stats: 40 sacks, 35 quarterback hits, 190 individual hurries -- 265 total individual pressures

As we’ve already said, 2018’s a bad gauge of competence in this effort. This year’s numbers project to be better than 2017, when the Raiders had Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin leading the charge. They would come in just under 2016, the team’s last playoff season, except in sacks.

2017 stats: 36 sacks, 49 hits, 164 individual hurries -- 249 total individual pressures
2016 stats: 27 sacks, 50 hits, 202 individual hurries -- 279 total individual pressures

The Raiders have surged into the backfield behind Clelin Ferrell’s improvement off the edge, Maxx Crosby’s tenacious energy and Benson Mayowa’s efficient efforts. Ferrell and Crosby are rookies and have made great strides in recent weeks. Maurice Hurst has been solid on the interior, and newcomer Dion Jordan brings athleticism and agility to the interior rush.

“We’re finally finding our groove and starting to rush well as a group,” Hurst said. “That’s more important that you think. We’ve had to switch spots and rotate guys around the line. We’ve lost some guys along the way, but we’ve gotten to a point where we’re comfortable with what we’re doing even with new guys coming in. That speaks volumes to how we have been prepared.

"It’s something we have to keep going if we want to keep winning.”

[RELATED: Raiders DE Crosby named AFC Defensive Player of the Week]

Hurst says part of that is individual improvement, but an underrated portion is the line working well together.

“It’s a timing thing and a communication thing, and that’s something we have really picked up over these past few games,” Hurst said. 

Raiders rookie Maxx Crosby named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

crosby4us.jpg
USATSI

Raiders rookie Maxx Crosby named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

The Raiders had three first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, but they might have found the steal of the three-day event in Round 4. 

Defensive end Maxx Crosby continues to impress, breaking out in a giant way to help the Raiders beat the Bengals 17-10 on Sunday. The rookie recorded four sacks and a forced fumble in the victory to keep Oakland right in the playoff hunt. 

On Wednesday, Crosby was named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week for his huge performance. 

Crosby became just the fourth rookie in NFL history to record four sacks in one game. He came through when needed most, too, with three of his four sacks coming in the fourth quarter.

The Eastern Michigan product joined only former Raider Greg Townsend to do so.

[RELATED: Raiders' entire 2019 NFL draft class making profound impact]

Crosby now has 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three passes defensed and 28 tackles this season. For comparison's sake, he has one more sack than Khalil Mack.

It's safe to say, the Raiders found a keeper in the fourth round.