I recently posted an article called 10 Preseason Predictions for Oakland on bleacherreport.com. Prediction number two was that Oakland’s Defense would rank in the top ten in the league this year. Today, I’m going to attempt to convince all the skeptics.
Let’s start with the basics. Almost all the great defenses are supported by a strong running game. What do the 2008 Patriots, Giants, Redskins, Ravens, Titans, and Vikings all have in common? Give up…the answer is that all six of these teams ranked in the top ten in both rushing offense and overall defense. They all also bolstered winning records with the exception of Washington which finished 8-8.
The next question that I just know you want to ask is, ‘Hey Bret, is a strong running game the only thing you need to have a good defense?’ Hate to burst your bubble, but no, it is not the only thing.
The Raiders had the tenth ranked rushing attack in the league last year, but were only twenty-seventh in overall defense. On the flip-side of that, the Steelers ranked first in overall defense, and were only twenty-third in rushing offense.
The math doesn’t always work out, but six out of ten isn’t bad. With a sixty percent chance of the two statistics overlapping, Oakland shouldget it right at some point. Only Al Davis would have such bad luck to have his team in that bottom percentage in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
In 2006, Oakland’s overall defense was ranked 3rd, the rushing offense was ranked 29th. In 2007, Oakland’s rushing offense was ranked 6th, the defense was 22nd. Last season the rushing offense was 10th, the defense was 27th. Despite all this, my gut says this is the year they get these two statistics to overlap, and my grandmother always said you should go with your gut.
So, let us leave the past behind us, and let’s talk about 2009. There is a new Defensive Coordinator in town by the name of John Marshall. The former Seattle/Carolina/San Francisco/Atlanta Defensive ring leader has an impressive résumé. Entering his 30th year as a coach, he has won two Super Bowl championships, and a national championship at the collegiate level.
In 2005, after being promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, Marshall’s Seattle defense led the NFL in sacks (50) and only allowed one 100 yard rusher. They only allowed 5 rushing touchdowns. They also finished second in the league in defensive red-zone scoring (40.4%).
From 2005 to 2007, Seattle’s defense ranked second in the league in sacks with 136. In 2007, they led the NFL in touchdown passes allowed (15) and ranked fourth in the NFL in interceptions (20).
Prior to Seattle, coach Marshall worked in Detroit as a defensive line coach in ’02. Before Detroit he held a defensive coordinator/assistant head coach job in Carolina. From 1999 to 2001, Carolina’s defense ranked fourth in the NFL with 105 takeaways.
In 1997, as the defensive coordinator for San Francisco, he headed the top rated defense in the NFL. They ranked second against the rush, second against the pass, and sent five players to the Pro Bowl.
Coming to Oakland, there may need to be a change in mentality. A different scheme is eminent. However, the players are very talented and well rounded. Through the draft over the past few years the Raiders have added a lot of depth. There will be some new faces, but hopefully, they can restore that old successful Raiders mentality.
You may be saying this defense was 27th last year, how are they supposed to crack the top ten with almost the same group of players as last year. To that I say you have to understand that there were a lot of changes throughout last year.
Coach Kiffen was fired during the bye week last year. The passing offense never really got started; this was not JaMarcus Russell’s fault, mind you. The Raiders had several wide receivers hurt last year including Drew Carter, Ashley Lelie, Javon Walker, and Arman Shields.
Also, Coach Cable took over play calling late in the year from former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. I don’t really want to remind anyone of all timely false start and holding penalties, but there is that in addition to all the above.
Bottom line, the defense bolsters a ton of talent. There is good depth here at every position except maybe linebacker. Like I talked about in the beginning of this article, they will need help from the offense. Expect injuries and staffing changes to be limited this year.
With possibly the best running game in the league, the D should get plenty of rest. The passing game will get going this year as Russell settles in as a full time starter. If the wide receivers stay healthy, more than one will get a good shot at cracking that horrid 22 number in receptions.
I fully expect John Marshall to right this ship and get it back close to the form of the 2006 team. That is why the Raiders will be a Top Ten defense this year.
That said; let’s break it down position by position. Keep in mind, this staring line-up is based on educated guessing, and is in no way a reflection of the coaching staff’s final decision.