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How Matt Shaughnessy Reshapes Oakland's Defense

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How Matt Shaughnessy Reshapes Oakland's Defense
Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

When the Raiders lost Darren McFadden for the season, it derailed an offense and a team that was hoping to pair him with Carson Palmer for a playoff run.

The run fell short, Hue Jackson was fired and we all know the story from there.

Despite losing McFadden, the offense was still potent, albeit less than it would have been with McFadden in the backfield. In contrast, the defense never recovered from losing Matt Shaughnessy for the season in Week 3.

Shaughnessy was a trendy preseason pick to be a breakout player after making a lot of noise during training camp last year. Shaughnessy was more than good enough to be that player before he was injured.

A healthy Shaughnessy completely reshapes the defense in Oakland, both in alignment and production. Shaughnessy's injury had a negative ripple effect on the 2011 Oakland defense and will have a corresponding positive ripple effect on the 2012 Oakland defense.

Shaughnessy's made so much progress during training camp in 2011 that he was singled out as the most improved player by his offensive-minded head coach Hue Jackson (via Raiders.com). All signs pointed to Shaughnessy having a great season in 2011.

When Shaughnessy was injured, the Raiders were scrambling to replace him and it took several weeks before the team settled on a semi-permanent solution. The Raiders tried Jarvis Moss and Trevor Scott and neither could hold up against the run or provide much of a pass rush.

During those few weeks, starting outside linebacker Quentin Groves wasn't playing very well. Groves was playing without Shaughnessy in front of him and the Raiders traded for Aaron Curry and immediately inserted him as the starter to help against the run.

Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
Desmond Bryant filled in admirably for Shaughnessy in 2011, but is better suited to play tackle.

The week prior to trading for Curry, the Raiders settled on Desmond Bryant as the starter at Shaughnessy's defensive end spot. Bryant is a more natural fit to play defensive tackle. While Bryant held up against the run, he didn't provide much of a pass rush. Added pass rush from Shaughnessy would certainly have helped the terrible Oakland secondary in 2011. With a healthy Shaughnessy headed into training camp into 2012, the Raiders defense can rebound from a disastrous 2011.

Having Shaughnessy enables Desmond Bryant to move back to defensive tackle and backup Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. In that role, Bryant was a good run defender and above average pass-rusher in 2010. Bryant is still versatile enough to play a few snaps at defensive end, but primarily rotating with Kelly and Seymour will keep the 300-pounders fresh all season.

Shaughnessy's presence seems to help those around him. When he was in the lineup in 2010, Kelly pressured the quarterback 9.8 percent of the time he rushed and Seymour pressured the quarterback 10.4 percent of the time he rushed, according to data pulled from ProFootballFocus.

In 2011, those numbers dipped to 6.6 percent of the time for Kelly and 7.3 percent of the time for Seymour. In total, the drop in production cost the Raiders about 32 quarterback pressures in 2011.

Pressure and snap data courtesy ProFootballFocus.com

The return of Shaughnessy himself should also offset a lot of the lost pass rush from the departure of Kamerion Wimbley. Shaughnessy had eight sacks, three QB hits and 16 QB hurries in 2010 while playing in just 60 percent of the teams snaps, according to ProFootballFocus. Wimbley played in 91.3 percent of the teams snaps in 2011, with six sacks, 16 QB Hits and 40 QB hurries.

Assuming Shaughnessy can play in the same number of snaps in 2012 as Wimbley did in 2011 and produce at his 2010 level, he'll replace 36 total pressures. That's more than half of the pass rush the Raiders lost by releasing Wimbley.

Combined with a rebound year from Kelly and Seymour, they should be able to more than make up what Wimbley took with him out of town and at a fraction of the price.

This assumes only 2010-level production from the starters and not Shaughnessy's potential to progress even further, production from Bryant back at defensive tackle, the additions of Jack Crawford and Dave Tollefson or the the benefits of having a strong-side linebacker that can do more than rush the quarterback on third downs.

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It's not that Wimbley was a bad player, but he should have been playing defensive end and the Raiders never used him that way. It will take the entire front seven to replace what Wimbley brought to the table as a pass-rusher, but collectively they should be able to equal their 2011 production and simultaneously be stronger in other areas.

In a way, Shaughnessy's absence even shaped the roster.

Reggie McKenzie realized there was a drop off in production from his defensive line after Shaughnessy was hurt. It was a depth issue that McKenzie had to do something about, so he drafted Crawford and signed veteran free agent Tollefson. Both should be good additions to the rotation playing behind Shaughnessy.

The linebackers should also be better with Shaughnessy playing in front of them. Shaughnessy was probably the best run defender on the defensive line not named John Henderson in 2010. In 2012, Shaughnessy will have to compete with Lamarr Houston for that distinction.

It makes the linebackers' job easier when the defensive lineman can keep the offensive lineman from getting to the second level and should create freedom for Aaron Curry and Rolando McClain to do a better job in run support.

Shaughnessy has the chance to be one of the few very unique defensive ends in the NFL that can rush the passer and stop the run. Shaughnessy can be a player that changes how offenses attack the defense. Shaughnessy can be the guy that elevates the Oakland defense out of the basement. He just need to stay healthy.

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