The Oakland Raiders are entering a new era of football under the leadership of Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen. That new era means departing from the ways of Al Davis, and the assumption is that it will take a few years for McKenzie and Allen to get the Raiders on the right track.
While the Raiders lost their second preseason game, they actually proved they will be just as competitive as last year's team which came within a win of making the playoffs. The defense looks rejuvenated and the offense looks like it can be explosive with a little tweaking.
Gone are offensive-minded head coaches that call plays, the man-to-man defense and defensive coordinators that must bend to the will of the team's owner and the organizational paranoia.
In their place is a young, defensive-minded head coach with an offensive and defensive coordinator that call their own plays, a modern defensive scheme and a friendly approach to the outside world.
If what we have seen from the defense in Oakland is vanilla for preseason, there will be some very exotic wrinkles to the 2012 defense.
The offense looks different too. For the first time in a long time, the head coach is merely an adviser to his offensive coordinator.
There were more plays that could be dissected than I have space, so I've selected the most interesting and characteristic plays from the game that might provide insight into what kind of team the Raiders will be in 2012.
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB
Defensive Personnel: 3-4
Play: This is an outside run off the left tackle.
Left guard Mike Brisiel pulls and kicks out Sam Acho (94). The tight end David Ausberry blocks the first linebacker and gives McFadden a small running lane.
Once McFadden (20) is through the hole, he's going to see a lot of open space to run. This is exactly how offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has designed this play to work.
The linebacker has little to no chance to catch or tackle McFadden, and he will score unless a safety or cornerback can drag him down.
Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (24) takes McFadden down with a diving ankle tackle. Wilson probably saved a touchdown. If Knapp's offense can get McFadden into the secondary regularly, the offense and McFadden will have a lot of big plays.
Red-Zone Passing Offense
Play No. 1
One of the weaknesses of the zone-blocking scheme for rushing in the NFL is rushing in the red zone. There are a few obvious solutions to that problem: switch to a traditional man-blocking scheme, pass or both.
The Raiders opt to pass in the red zone.
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB
Defensive Personnel: 3-4 Nickel
It's zone coverage, so Carson Palmer's primary read is Darrius Heyward-Bey who will run a post route. Once Heyward-Bey slips past the first defender, he should be able to split the safeties and get in for the touchdown.
The play works as designed, but Palmer should have already delivered the ball to Heyward-Bey. The slight delay means that the safety Wilson will be able to get a jump on the pass and make a play.
Wilson gets a jump, but if Palmer's throw is low and away from him, Heyward-Bey will still be able to make the catch for the score.
Palmer's throw is deep and draws Heyward-Bey closer to Wilson. Now, Wilson is closer to Heyward-Bey than the ball.
Wilson arrives as the ball arrives and knocks the pass away from Heyward-Bey. Palmer's late throw and poor placement turned a sure touchdown into an incomplete pass.
This was mostly a timing issue that can be corrected in practice. If the pass is thrown on time, the accuracy of the throw is less important because Wilson would not have been able to make a play on the ball.
Play No. 2
Offensive Personnel: 1 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB, 1 FB
Defensive Personnel: 3-4 Regular
After a pass interference penalty on the Cardinals and two unsuccessful runs from the 1-yard line, Greg Knapp decides to run a pass play that consists of a fake to McFadden out of a jumbo set.
The problem: A poorly executed fake by McFadden (20) and a very poor chip block by Ausberry (top of the play). Plus, just about every defender is watching McFadden and not Palmer (five Cardinals at the top of the screen).
Palmer is going to roll out with pressure coming in his face.
By the time Palmer gets to his spot, there are five defenders covering three receivers and he's got a defensive end in his face. Palmer wisely chooses to throw the ball away.
It's poor execution by the Raiders and was hardly a surprise to the defense after two unsuccessful runs up the middle. With better execution from McFadden and more appropriately called plays on first down, the play may have been successful.
The New Defense
Play No. 1
After an offseason of talk about the new defensive scheme, we are finally seeing it in action. At least a vanilla and chocolate version of the new defense.
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB, 1 FB
Defensive Personnel: 4-3
Philip Wheeler (52) is going to blitz straight into the middle and try to force the quarterback or running back to the outside. Rolando McClain (55) is going to come on a blitz around the right end.
Wheeler's blitz works perfectly, and combined with Richard Seymour (92) beating the right guard, Kevin Kolb is forced to roll to his left.
McClain uses his hands to keep the offensive lineman from blocking him and closes in for the sack.
McClain and Seymour arrive, but Kolb flicks it away out of desperation. A beautifully executed stunt combination by Tommy Kelly and Dave Tollefson on the next play leads to a safety.
Play No. 2
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR, 1 RB, 1 FB
Defensive Personnel: 4-3 Nickel (3 DE, 1 DT, 2 LB, 3 CB, 2 S)
Wheeler (52) and Tyvon Branch (33) are going to blitz virtually the same gap and force the Cardinals to pick up both defenders. Matt Shaughnessy (77) is going to stunt around Kelly (93), and Lamarr Houston (99) is going to stunt under Tollefson (58).
You can clearly see Shaughnessy's stunt in this shot with Kelly eating up both blockers in front of him.
Houston's stunt has allowed him to slip past the right tackle (1). Wheeler easily disposes of the fullback with a swim move (2). Branch also has a clear lane to the quarterback (3). Shaughnessy is about to come free through the middle (4). The cornerbacks do a great job in man coverage.
Four defenders and one poor quarterback. Didn't mention McClain (55) here who tied the blocker that enabled Shaughnessy to knife through the center of the offensive line.
It would be easy to be disappointed with the preseason the Raiders have had so far, but with a few tweaks on offense and the new defensive scheme, the Raiders are in position to maximize the talent they have on both sides of the ball.
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