Why did Davante Adams disappear from the Raiders passing game?

In wide receiver Davante Adams’ first regular season game with the Las Vegas Raiders, against the Los Angeles Chargers, quarterback Derek Carr’s distribution of the ball went according to plan. Carr threw to his former Fresno State teammate 15 times and Adams caught 10 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. That’s about what you’d want from an above-average quarterback throwing to the best receiver in the NFL, especially a receiver the Raiders have given up for as much as they have.

In March, the Raiders gave the Green Bay Packers their first- and second-round picks — the 22nd and 53rd selections in the 2022 draft — for Adams, and they then signed Adams for a five-year, $140 million deal with $65.67 million in guaranteed money. Adams chose his college teammate over Aaron Rodgers, and given how Adams can just burn through any passing defense, it was clear the Raiders saw Adams as the final key to unlocking their passing game under new head coach and offensive pitcher Josh. McDaniels.

In the Chargers game, it was. Since then, it hasn’t – and clearly it hasn’t. Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 and against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3, Adams caught a total of seven passes on 15 targets for 48 yards. Adams caught a touchdown pass in each of his games, but considering the Raiders are now 0-3 in games they’ve lost by a total of 13 points, one wonders how that could have be different if Adams had been more productive. in either of those last two games.

The most glaring and ugly statistic here? Carr has targeted Adams on six passes 20 or more yards in the air, and Adams has no hold on those targets. Zero, zip, nada. Last season with the Packers, Adams was one of the NFL’s top deep receivers, catching 13 passes of 20 or more yards on 27 targets for 453 yards and two touchdowns.

If that’s not the most glaring and ugly stat about this new partnership, it’s only because this one is.

In the Raiders’ 24-22 loss to the Titans on Sunday, receiver Mack Hollins had a career day, hitting on 10 targets for 158 yards and a touchdown on five on 10 targets for Adams for 36 yards and a score. Hollins excelled with deep holds, and it all landed him on this week’s Secret Superstars team.

It’s a great story, but Adams is now the one being treated like a secret to his own coaches and quarterback. And the problems go deeper than just the idea that the Raiders are using Adams as a decoy to open things up to other targets.

Let’s get forensic and get to the heart of this unexpected malfunction.

The Raiders don’t use Adams’ superpowers on the field.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

During the 2021 season as Aaron Rodgers’ best pal, Adams was the most consistently dominant receiver in the league when performing tilts whose name wasn’t Ja’Marr Chase. Adams ran a league-high 80 slant routes, catching 18 of 21 of those passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

This season, Adams ran just nine slant routes, catching three passes on four targets for 26 yards. There was that 22-yard play against the Chargers, where Adams used the road as he usually does to show his uncanny understanding of timing and leverage to let his defender (cornerback Michael Davis in this case) in the dust.


More often than not, the Raiders ask Adams to execute tilts “now” – lightning-fast concepts in which he wins by simply running into openings before his defender can get there. Great concept where Adams creates natural friction with Hollins in the off-motion slot, but is that the only way you want to deploy the NFL’s best runner on this road?

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Adams was also lethal in attacking Green Bay with the back dig – where the receiver shows a vertical route to start, then cuts sharply inside in the middle part of the game. Even on these relatively simple concepts, the timing is just… quirky. Adams has a digging hold at the back this season, in which he found an opening designed under Tennessee’s Cover-2.


Deep passes feel completely uncoordinated.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

I should change Carr’s horrible deep passing stats to Adams. A capture resulted from these deep targets. The problem is that the ball went to the wrong guy.

With 4:11 left in overtime against the Cardinals in Week 2, Adams ran from the outside right into a thin division at the heart of Arizona’s Cover-3 defense, and he was about as open. than any receiver could be. The problem was that Carr threw it late and safety Jalen Thompson was in a better position to catch the ball, which he nearly did. Which would have left Carr without receptions and of them interceptions when targeting Adams from deep.


So why the hell is it not working? Carr was an underrated deep passer before he had one of the best deep receivers in the game on his roster, so that doesn’t make much sense. But when you look at all the deep attempts, it’s clear that Carr and Adams aren’t on the same page.

Then there was that deep attempt against the Titans last Sunday with 2:24 left in the game. I wonder if it was a misunderstanding about an optional route, since it almost seems like Adams runs into Tennessee’s Quarters cover on purpose, and Adams usually doesn’t.


It’s also possible that Adams will readjust to Carr’s more deliberate release after years of benefiting from Aaron Rodgers’ quick delivery.

Which brings us to the larger problem. If you’ve ever been to a foreign country, armed with nothing but courage and a language dictionary, you’ll understand.

It will eventually work, but not without some ugliness.

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

There’s a language barrier in the Raiders’ offense, and she’s from three different countries, so to speak.

With McDaniels, Carr and Adams, you have three people speaking three entirely different offensive structures. Carr was used to Jon Gruden’s highly plotted passing game on the West Coast. McDaniels comes from a Patriots offense with roots in Erhardt–Perkins, and a high rate of pre-hooking movement and optional routes. Adams comes from a Packers offense that, under Matt LaFleur, had evolved into a structured, paced passing game that relies on running and draws heavily on RPO concepts.

Quarterback and receiver responsibilities. The calendar and route options. The verbiage of play calls. From system to system, these things are all different, and no matter how McDaniels is an offense creator, and Carr is a quarterback, and Adams is a receiver, there will be tough times until everyone is tough. speaking the same language.

While Adams praised the complexity of McDaniels’ offense before the start of the season, he may be feeling cramped right now. And he probably wouldn’t be the only one.

“Well, just the fact that everyone is a threat there,” Adams explained in July why this offense would work well for him. “Obviously pretty much every pass you have a number one read or whatever, but you can get the ball from anywhere. You can be a guy stomping on another guy, but coverage can dictate that you were getting the ball. So that kind of keeps the guys in mind and keeps you alive on every route.

“I’ve been a part of, whether it was in college or early in my career…where you know you went down a ‘dummy road’, as they say. But there really are no dummy paths. in this offense and the whole coaching staff they have a brilliant football spirit it keeps all the guys alive in offense but you know you can get and there’s so many different things that marry and keep the defense honest and make it pretty hard for the defense to know what’s going to happen.

So, without the “dummy” routes, this is not a situation where Adams is asked to be a decoy for the benefit of others. It’s not something that really shows up on tape, anyway. It’s more that, while the defense doesn’t know what’s coming, Adams and Carr and McDaniels are in a position where the offense doesn’t always know what’s coming either.

There are all kinds of cases where great players turn to new offenses and struggle at first. Tom Brady in Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich’s offenses with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 was a pretty epic example. That offense wasn’t great in the first half of the season, and it bottomed out in Week 9 when the Bucs lost 38-3 to the New Orleans Saints. From there, Arians and Leftwich tweaked their plan to better match what Brady was used to and preferred, and things got much better very quickly.

McDaniels’ ability to break through those barriers will decide if, when and how quickly his offense will look like we all thought. Until then, Davante Adams is in a receiving purgatory he never imagined.

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