It has been said that the Raiders defense is too simple and can't be effective in modern football. Some have even suggested that Al Davis' meddling has kept the Raider defense in the stone age, essentially keeping the team from competing.
This offseason, with the firing of Rob Ryan and the addition of John Marshall, a lot of fans were hoping for a brand new defensive scheme.
Sorry to break it to you, but we're still running the exact same defense we ran last year, as well as the last six years under Rob Ryan.
Yes, it's the exact same defense we have all dreaded watching for years. Yes, the same sorry-ass defense.
But the problem with the defense was never the scheme. The problem was discipline, effort, execution, and attitude.
Not only is it the same defense of the last six years, but it is the same defense that dominated in the '70s, the same defense that brought us to the playoffs around the turn of the century, and the same defense that guided us to the 2002 Super Bowl.
Breaking Down the Raiders Defense
The Raiders defense is pretty simple on paper. Here's how I understand it from what I've seen.
Typically the Raiders run a basic cover-one man scheme with a deep free safety. They have pretty simple rules in pass coverage.
The FS is usually the last line of defense and is the only player who regularly has a zone-type assignment: He reads the QB's eyes, keeping the play in front of him, and breaks on the ball.
The strong safety is on one-on-one coverage with the tight end and often plays in-the-box for run support.
Corners are locked in man coverage with the receivers and are often very physical at the line of scrimmage with press coverage.
The middle linebacker is one-on-one with the fullback, while the outside linebackers are responsible for the halfback.
The last one may sound a little confusing, but it is very simple.
Take Thomas Howard, who plays the weak side. If the halfback comes his way, he locks up in man coverage. If the halfback goes away from Howard, he is free to roam the middle and spy the QB or defend crossing routes or even a delayed blitz.
The strong-side linebacker does the exact same thing.
With that being said, there is plenty of room for added wrinkles to make the defense less predictable: blitzes, two deep safeties, or switching up coverage responsibility.
Changes in coverage assignments can allow for the SS to cover over the top like an FS. Or simply put a safety on a running back, a linebacker on a tight-end, and much more.
So What Have the Raiders Done To Improve Defensively?
First, the most notable thing the Raiders did to improve on defense is add quality depth to the defensive line.
Last year, the Raiders started the season with three active defensive tackles: Tommy Kelly, Gerrard Warren, and Terdell Sands.
There was neither quality nor depth there.
This year, the Raiders added veterans DE Greg Ellis and DE/DT Richard Seymour, as well as rookie DT Desmond Bryant and DE Matt Shaughnessy.
One notable fact is that all eight of the Raiders' active defensive linemen have seen action in the Raiders' first two games. This is important because it shows quality depth and a strong rotation. A strong rotation keeps defenders fresh and consistent pressure on the QB.
It's especially important in games like the one the Raiders had against the Chiefs in which the opposing team's offense holds the ball for 40 minutes of the game.
Pressure by the D-line also tends to make the rest of the defense look better. A perfect example of that is Michael Huff, who seems to be resurrecting his career with three INTs and a fumble recovery over the first two games.
The next thing the Raiders did was make the game simpler and bring it back to the basics.
A lot of football fans and even Raider fans (cough David Xaviel, cough cough) tend to over-think things. But in reality, it is a very simple game and essentially is 11 one-on-one battles.
In order for a receiver to catch a pass against our defense, they first have to beat the man in front of them.
If the guys on the D-line beat the guy in front of them, runs will come up short and the opposing QB won't have time to make reads.
Marshall made the game simple by focusing on fundamentals and effort. The newly inspired defense and improved tackling shows that it worked.
The last thing the Raiders did to improve was change the team attitude. This started late last season under Tom Cable.
And they added to it by bringing in charismatic veterans like Seymour and Ellis.
"I'll be the guy on top off the QB," said Seymour in his first press conference and interview as a Raider.
Does that not scream Raider attitude?
He delivered with two sacks on Phillip Rivers.
If the whole team begins to buy into the new Raider attitude, it will mean big things for the team. Michael Huff seems to be buying into it and look what it did for him.