“We will be doing something different this year.”
So said coach Tom Cable of the Oakland Raiders Defense in 2010. But at the end of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), we are still no clearer on precisely what will be different.
On the face of it, the Raiders are still a 4-3 defense, albeit one lacking size amongst interior lineman and boasting a plethora of linebackers.
O ne intriguing possibility is for the Raiders to dust off a hybrid version of the “46
Defense” made famous by the Chicago Bears in the 1980s under Buddy Ryan.
Oakland has players who are blessed with defensive speed and great man-to-man coverage skills, but the team has been poor at stopping the run. It also plays in a division where most teams have run-dominant offenses.
From a purely logical point of view, stacking the box and forcing teams to pass seems like a sound strategy.
Have the Raiders got the skill-set to pull it off?
A defensive front four of Seymour, Kelly, Henderson, and Shaughnessy/Houston would certainly give the Raiders a solid look. Shaughnessy (or Houston) and Henderson would be solid against the run, allowing Kelly and Seymour to penetrate.
We may see something more exotic amongst the linebackers. The 2009 season ended with Trevor Scott playing as a stand-up linebacker, moving around and looking for mismatches and opportunities to get to the quarterback.
This is likely to continue, which in effect would the give Raiders five linemen going man-to-man against the opponent's offensive line.
This will put all the pressure on a rookie middle linebacker, but Rolando McClain has clearly been brought in to “quarterback” the defense. He should look no further than Mike Singletary for a role model.
He needs to be everywhere on every down. This defense will fall apart without him.
The other linebacker will be Kamerion Wimbley, Quentin Groves or Thomas Howard, depending on down and distance. This will give Oakland great depth and versatility to win matchups with the opponent's personnel.
The finishing touches to this scheme will come from the secondary, where the strong-tackling Tyvon Branch would play “in the box” to provide run support. The ever-improving Michael Huff would then get to show off his coverage skills by playing as a deep safety.
There would be even more emphasis on Asomugha, Johnson and Routt playing man-to-man, but this is what the Raiders love and is why they are paying these guys so much money.
This hyper-aggressive defense will rely on McClain being every bit as good as his reputation. He must get everyone lined up correctly and understanding their roles. It is an almost completely man-for-man defense, with the linemen playing the o-line, the linebackers and Branch playing the running backs and tight-ends, and the cornerbacks (plus Huff) playing the receivers.
If it works we may be talking of John Marshall and his “55-defense” the way we do about Buddy Ryan and his “46 defense.”
It's going to be exciting, so buckle up!