One of the main focuses for the Oakland Raiders this offseason is the fine-tuning of a defensive unit that ranked 29th in the NFL in both total yards allowed and points allowed. The team was equally vulnerable to the run and the pass, ranking 27th in the league in defending both categories.
With so much blame to spread around the defensive side of the ball, it’s a bit hard for the coaching staff to pinpoint one area that needs special attention. Looking at last year’s film would give the 39-year-old rookie head coach Dennis Allen a bout of heartburn. The fact is that all three levels of the Raiders’ defense—the front line, the linebackers and the secondary—put up nauseating performances at some point last season. And each level was responsible for their fair share of poor play that contributed to devastating losses, which ultimately led to the team’s absence from the postseason for the ninth straight season.
With his defensive background, Allen will be expected to apply his experience and expertise to remodel the Raiders defense. The numbers are cringe-worthy in all areas. The defensive front line did not have the same success they had in 2010 in getting to the quarterback, producing 39 sacks last season. Worse was the league-high 5.1 yards-per-carry average they allowed.
The pass defense was singed time and time again, allowing a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes. The second-level defenders also had trouble tackling and keeping receivers in front of them, allowing 12.417 yards per completion—good for (bad for) 30th in the league.
All of the numbers will obviously make Allen, the new captain of the Raiders’ pirate ship, a little seasick. But that is all in the past. Allen heads a new regime hell-bent on revamping the culture of the dank franchise that had been so firmly commandeered by former owner Al Davis. This is a fresh new start, and Allen is determined to get the team back to its winning form.
Many analysts and fans point to the defense as the primary area of concern. And with that comes the question of whether the Raiders will switch from their stubborn 4-3 base defense to the more en vogue 3-4 for 2012.
It’s incredibly hard to truly ascertain if a 3-4 defense both a) would have made a difference last year, and b) is the best way to reconstruct the team moving forward. Yet all signs so far indicate that a change to the 3-4 defense is a definite possibility, one that the new defensive coaching staff is seriously considering for this upcoming season. Of course, the Raiders have made it clear that the only way for that to be determined is after evaluating the incoming personnel, both in the NFL draft and through the free-agency market.
“We’ll see,” Allen said at a press conference last weekend at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, “after we go through free agency, after we go through the draft, which grouping gives us the best chance to be successful.”
That the topic of a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense is that hot of an issue is somewhat surprising. After all, the format of the team—or unit—is only as good as the players within that system. It’s like implementing the West Coast offense on a team that does not have the quarterback or wide receivers that make sense for that scheme. Thus, maybe the Raiders just need to find better defensive players.
The Raiders have certainly decided that cornerback Stanford Routt did not fit into their 2012 plans, releasing him earlier this month; meanwhile, they kept Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour. These transactions will obviously not be the last in an effort to shore up the defensive side—the future of safety Tyvon Branch is yet to be determined.
Whether the Raiders decide to change their defensive structure or not, they will still spotlight quality players. It’s important that they find the personnel who improve the team defensively no matter what scheme—be it 3-4 or 4-3.
Matthew Fairburn of mockingthedraft.com points out the need to add depth at the cornerback and outside linebacker positions. Further, if the Raiders do adopt the 3-4 base defense, they’ll need to find themselves a nose tackle, something they currently lack on their roster.
With that said, it shouldn’t matter if the Raiders employ a 3-4 defense—especially given the fact that Allen formerly ran a 4-3 scheme as defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. What Oakland and its coaching staff need to worry about is which players will make the team better, no matter what. A good defender can play in any system, combination or package. What’s important is finding those who can perform at high levels in either the 3-4 or the 4-3 defense: players who can tackle, who can cover receivers, who can stop the run.
The most important thing is for the Raiders to have just flat-out better defensive players. Period.
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