Going into the 2007 season it was felt that the defense could carry the team until the offense was ready, a lot of things didn't work out as planned. The Oakland Raiders like several other teams with similar records have needs to fill and changes that need to be made to achieve a better win-loss record. The fastest path to a turnaround for any team is to improve the defense. This article will focus on the defense and the changes that need to be made on that side of the ball for a quick turnaround.
Having the ability to quickly figure out what your opponent is trying to do offensively and put a halt to it. Going back a few years the 3-4 scheme-- once nearly extinct-has been revived, mostly as part of multiple-look schemes. That process has already started in Oakland when the team re-signed some of their own free agents at CB, DT, and OLB and acquired sought after free agent SS Gibril Wilson.
Raider Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, son of infamously feisty defensive guru Buddy Ryan much maligned in 2007, and this off-season, came to the team from the New England Patriots and probably knew more X’s and O’s as a teen than some assistant coaches. Working for three years as an Outside Linebackers coach under Head Coach Bill Belichick and Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel Ryan knows the 3-4 and attempted to employ a multiple front defense in Oakland and failed miserably. This was partly due to the lack of the proper personnel to run the scheme & several players not knowing the defensive philosophy. Some people might think that I’m out of my mind suggesting that the Raiders try this again but I think it is time for the Oakland Raiders to change their defensive philosophy & revisit the hybrid 3-4 & 4-3 multiple front scheme.
My reasoning for saying this is that the Raiders need to stop being predicable on defense. As an example the corners play tight man-to-man coverage 99% of the time. There is that rare occasion that the Raiders will play a little cover 2 or cover 4 zone but every team in the league knows what the team does and plans accordingly which is why a change is necessary because it will be unexpected. The Raiders were in several games last year and had leads in the 4th quarter of several games before being defeated for several reasons. Not being able to score or more importantly stopping the opponent from scoring. The Raiders lost 3 games by a total of 7 points better play by both the offense and defense & the Raiders would’ve been 7-9 which is respectable for a team that’s re-building. There are several reasons to like the 3-4, such as having and extra linebacker means an additional defender who is on his feet with a clear line of vision. It also gives the defense more options for zone blitzing, with four wild-card rushers as opposed to three, and better ability to drop eight players in coverage against multi-receiver sets.
Some might not know but the Raiders played a 3-4 defense in 1977. Today’s NFL has an abundance of young, athletic pass rushers in the 240 – 260 lb range that excelled as defensive ends in college. Steelers’ Defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and longtime proponent of the 3-4 once said “It’s easier to find a 250-pound gifted athlete than a 350-pound gifted athlete.” The Raiders have the personnel now to make both the fronts work. The 3-4 begins with an immovable NT, the Raiders in my opinion don’t necessarily have that guy but it would be a perfect position for Terdell Sands to play after being taught to use better technique and leverage. Positioned directly over the center, with two gap responsibilities he will be double teamed on practically every play, his job will be to force running plays outside. LE can be manned by Tommy Kelly having a responsibility of the gaps to his left and right.
RE a key position, can be manned by Gerard Warren, Jay Richardson who’ll have two gap responsibilities but will frequently get a one-on-one matchup against a left tackle. OLB the vital “crash” or “jack” Rush linebacker spot can be manned by Derrick Burgess (or Vernon Gholston if he is selected at #4).
The SLB can be manned by Thomas Howard still positioned over the TE where he can cover, rush the passer, contain the run. The two ILB positions can be manned by Kirk Morrison & Robert Thomas. If the Raiders could implement a multiple front that will show both a 3-4 and 4-3 front with offenses not knowing which one they’ll run and being able to switch on any given down.
I think a switch is necessary for the corners as well having them play zone as well as man-to-man would be a good change and have the play in front of them so if it is a run the corners are in better position to support the run. The Raider defense needs to improve dramatically at stopping the run and the element of surprise would be a new twist for the Raiders but the above mentioned changes would make the defense un-predictable and in better position to slow the opponents running game and limit the long runs which are the big killers.
The secondary for both fronts will remain the same Nnamdi Asomugha & Stanford Routt starting at the corners while Michael Huff and Gibril Wilson man the safeties free and strong respectively. The backups in the secondary are Fabian Washington, Jon Bowie, and Chris Johnson at the CB position. Hiram Eugene & Rashad Baker at the Safety positions. CB/S Chris Carr is a Restricted Free Agent and the Raiders have the right to match any offer hopefully he'll be re-signed and return for 2008.
The drafts defensively will more than likely add a DT, DE, and LB. Morrison led the Raiders in tackles for the third straight year and is one of the best pass defenders at his position. Howard ended 2007 with 6 interceptions. Some may question the drafting of a linebacker, one reason is even with the fact that Morrison & Howard are 240lbs. there is the occasional inability to get off blocks one of the reasons the Raiders gave up more than 100 yards to 10 different runners.