This article is Part Two of a suggested renovation of the Oakland Raiders' defense.
With Rob Ryan gone and his desire to run a 3-4 blitz scheme gone with him, it is a golden opportunity for the Silver & Black to migrate to a defense more suited to the players on their roster.
If you missed Part One of this series, I am advocating for the Raiders to re-align their defense into a 4-3 base, Zone 2—a Cover-2 with man-zone combo coverages.
Here are my two reasons:
1. The Zone 2 is designed to minimize the need for high-end talent—necessary to make the system effective.
Each player and position is given a limited set of responsibilities, which creates a high level of accountability. This allows management and coaches to see exactly where weak spots are and make corrections.
2. This defense best fits the talent on the current Oakland roster.
Since it is pretty obvious, the players on the roster do not fit the 3-4 blitz scheme. Call me crazy, but it's time for something new.
In the previous edition, I wrote about the woeful condition of the Raiders' defensive tackles and made some suggestions about how to better use them within the Zone 2 scheme.
Now, it's time to address the defensive end position—one of the few bright spots on the Oakland roster.
The DE is one of the deeper positions on the roster, as the Raiders carry six of them on the current roster.
Other than Derrick Burgess, I dare you to name two more of them without looking it up.
Despite the lack of star-power, however, the Raiders have some talent stashed away here in the DE depth chart.
For obvious reasons, we'll start with the Raiders' top defensive lineman. Under normal circumstances, I would say that 38.5 sacks in four years was excellent, but Burgess has declined in every year since he joined the Raiders. Burgess starting with 16 in 2005, had 11 in '06, eight in '07, and a mere three and one half in '08.
A good part of that has been the misuse of the DE position in the Raiders' attempt to convert to a 3-4 set. Burgess is 6'2," 265 pounds, which makes him too small for a 3-4 blitz scheme.
Burgess is a good one-gap pass rusher. He doesn't get lost in the run game, as evidenced by two seasons of 50-plus tackles. Against the run, Burgess is more suited to containing the edge and pursuing around the corner than he is to crashing the edge.
If there is one weak spot in his game that strikes me the most, it's the lack of a real "power-move." His bull-rush is credible but nothing more and is only as a set-up for one of the "cute" moves that he relies on to beat his blocker.
Burgess is a very good rush end—playing better off of the right side against the left tackle than he does from the left. I have no idea why; he just does.
So, in the new Zone 2, he is going to play mostly off of the right side with the occasional shift when the matchup is better against the right tackle.
The next DE on the lineup is going to be our starter on the left side of the defensive line.
I know he is young and new to the league. But at 6'6" and 280 lbs., he is the most likely to remain a physical presence in the run defense. Richardson showed a lot of promise in the last three weeks of 2008.
Richardson offers a big body at the end of a line that will challenge right tackles in the run game and potentially force tight ends to double out on him on a regular basis.
Richardson isn't going to run up the sack total, but he can be stout against the run when he knows his reads and plays with a solid base, which comes from good hand technique.
He is a quality stack-and-shed end but here is where the problem comes in—he'll have to play next to Terdell "The Terd" Sands.
Anytime Sands rotates in, especially on second- or third-and-less than-5, Richardson will have to play further inside than normal, read two gaps to make up for Sands' one-gap alignment, and still force the RT and TE to commit to him to shield the OLB playing contain.
The likely scenario is to play an over shift any time that Sands rotates in on a rundown and play the SS up in the box.
Next, we come to the player with the most promise on the DE depth chart. Scott played well in his first campaign, showing very good speed around the corner and a few good moves in the pass rush.
The biggest issue in his game is going to be adding about 15 pounds to his frame during the offseason so that he can add an inside power move to his pass-rush. Scott, like Burgess, is more of a pursuit player in the run game, which is fine.
I intend for him to be used as a pass-rush RE coming in for passing downs and providing some rotation for Burgess on the right side.
On the upside, he is a sure tackler with a nose for the ball and for getting into the backfield. The downside is that he over runs plays and if he is forced inside, he can be controlled by larger tackles.
Edwards is a quality veteran who will factor into the rotation on both sides of the line.
Generally, the biggest value that I see here is being able to rotate in on the LE side. Edwards is a quality all-around end that can play two gaps and make the right read often enough to compensate for the times when Sands and Warren line up in 0-1 technique and are playing only on gap.
Going into his ninth season, Edwards' versatility and veteran presence is valuable.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have the legs—that he had in Detroit—to be an every-snap end. But, I think he will play well enough in a reserve role to add three and one half to five sacks, and 30 tackles next season.
While not a bad player, Gunheim doesn't fit in well enough to justify keeping him around. Simply put, Gunheim has to go in order to make room for another DT on the roster.
The only thing missing from the Raiders' collection of DEs is an elite pass rusher.
If Burgess can stay healthy and get back to his 2005 or 2006 form, and Scott can be the speed rusher that he showed flashes of last season, they might have two.
Overall, the DE rotation looks to be one of the brighter spots on this roster.
Since they already have several 4-3 ends on the roster, if the Raiders switch to a 4-3 alignment, they could resolve the issues of pressuring opposing quarterbacks and should allow less than the almost 160 fewer yards per game rushing than in 2008.
The Raiders should be set at the DE and should not have to chase any free agents or draft any DEs for the 2009 campaign.
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