If there was a reward for bad run defenses, the Raiders would have received a silver medal with their 31st ranked run defense last season.
But as runner up to the worst run defense in the league, have the Raiders done anything to improve their shortcoming? At first glance, it would seem little or nothing has been done to stop teams from running with ease, but some would argue otherwise.
In interviews, Tom Cable basically said that the Raiders have good defensive tackles, they just need to play like it. He also has said the run D will be addressed through scheme and added depth to the D-line and linebackers.
So first off, let's investigate this so-called "improved" scheme and defensive system to help the defense. Is John Marshall really better than Rob Ryan? Didn't Rob Ryan have great coaching credentials and help create some of the most dominate defenses?
Oh wait a second, no.
That was his brother, Rex Ryan, and really Rob Ryan hasn't proven anything yet. And good defensive coaching doesn't necessarily run in the family. All of a sudden, I'm starting to feel sorry for the Browns.
So what has John Marshall done?
Well, he has 30+ years of coaching experience, his defense has been consistently ranked towards the top of the league, and his teams are always known for dominant D-lines. His teams often led the league in sacks, averaging 39.1 a year. In 1997 with the 49ers, he coached the top-ranked defense in the league and in 2007, his Seahawks led the league in sacks.
So the simple answer is yes, a better scheme and system can improve the defense.
Next onto depth. How have the Raiders added depth to the D-line and linebacker position to improve run defense?
First, let's take a look at the D-line, starting with the interior line compared to last year's. Last year we started the season with three D-tackles on the active roster: Tommy Kelly, Gerrard Warren, and Terdell Sands. Sounds decent. Tommy Kelly is a good starter, Gerrard Warren makes a good backup, and a lot of top defenses start the season with only a few D-tackles.
But this is where you'd be wrong and the majority of the run defense problems start. The difference between our defense and some of those top defenses (namely Steelers and Ravens) are simple: they run a 3-4 and the Raiders run a 4-3.
In a defense that constantly has two D-tackles on the field, starting the season with just three active players is insane, and it makes me wonder whether this was Rob Ryan's or Lane Kiffin's doing.
On to this year, the Raiders have already added depth at DT. This year, they have Tommy Kelly, Gerrard Warren, Terdell Sands, William Joseph (who was added a few games into the season; funny, wasn't Kiffin fired a few games into the season?) and Ryan Boschetti, who was added this offseason. With this, although it's not spectacular, the interior D-line is already improved over last year. With these players, the depth chart should look like this: Tommy Kelly backed up by Ryan Boschetti at the three-technique, while the other three man the one-technique.
Now onto the D-end position. Last year, we had Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson starting, while backups included Trevor Scott, Kalimba Edwards, and Greyson Gunheim, two of whom, Scott and Edwards, were situational pass rushers.
This year, it's basically the same, minus Edwards but instead the 6'5'', 270 pound Matt Shaughnessey, and Trevor Scott has reportedly added some bulk to his frame to be more effective against the run.
At linebacker, the Raiders look about the same starter-wise, with a weakness on the strong side with the likes of Ricky Brown, Sam Williams, and Jon Alston or whoever ends up starting. The Raiders have added depth: Frantz Joseph is a likely candidate to back up Morrison and Slade Norris, with his exceptional speed and athletic ability, is best-suited to play the weak side and back up Thomas Howard (though I guess its possible he can compete for the strong side).
So in conclusion, our run defense looks much improved over last year on paper. Let's just hope it's not full of empty promises, like how Terdell Sands promised us he'd improve. But whatever, go Raiders.