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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Oakland Raiders must fix run defense ASAP

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When I learned the Oakland Raiders hired John Marshall to be the defensive coordinator, I held out hope that he would repair the Silver and Black run defense, which was 24th in the 32-team league against the run in 2008.

In preseason so far, the Raiders have given up 5.1 yards per rush, and made 49ers rookie runner Glen Coffee look better than he may really be. That's too much already. The objective is to be at or below 3 yards per rush average per game. (If you say, "Well, it's preseason", that's doesn't make a difference. Formation structure and technique remains robust through preseason and regular season. What may change is what's done out of the formation.)

In the past three years, the defense has been gouged by several elite NFL runners, most notably LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers.

And who's up first on the Raiders' 2009 schedule? The same Chargers.

The problem with the Raiders defense is not with personnel. They have two capable defensive tackles in Tommy Kelly and Terdell Sands. Their linebackers are swift to the ball, led by Kirk Morrison and Ricky Brown, who had an interception in the 49ers game yesterday. No, it's not people; it's scheme.

The NFL's best defenses were all known for a special approach. 1985 The Chicago Bears used the then-new "46" defense. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens employed a hybrid of that system to keep offensive lineman off Ray Lewis, their talented middle backer. The Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry used the "Flex Defense", a kind of zone defense against the run. The Tampa Bay Bucaneers under Tony Dungy as their head coach used a variation of the Steelers Defense under Head Coach Chuck Noll and Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson.

Defensive experimentation wins even in high schools. This is the 46 "Gambler Defense" by Coach Steve Calende at Conrad Weiser HS, Robesonia, PA.

I think you get the idea. The best defenses have innovative design approaches to accomplish the objective of stopping the run. Not so the Oakland Raiders defense. The 2009 Raiders' four-man-front defense spreads the linemen out leaving giant bubbles that can be exploited by a smash mouth offensive team. That's what the 49ers did on Saturday and even what the Cowboys did in their loss against the Raiders a week ago when they averaged 4.4 yards per rush.

Fixing the Raiders Defense

To stop this problem, the Raiders need to go back to the basic 4-3 "over" and "under" alignments but with a twist. This is where one defensive tackle is over the center, and the other is over either the strong or weakside guard. But the "twist" is that the other defensive tackle would angle toward the center rather than the guard thus double-teaming the center with the other defensive tackle. The defensive end would fill the guard-tackle gap on that side; the opposite defensive end would maintain a position outside the offensive tackle.

The objective is to stop the strong or weakside off-tackle run and force it to the outside. Of course, getting the right defensive call requires homework on opposing offensive tendencies, but with this, even if the running play is to the opposite direction, the placement of the defensive tackles will allow the middle linebacker to flow to the ball and make the play and the defensive end stationed outside the offensive tackle will place him in a position to get the runner or funnel the runner inside to the middle backer. The outside linebackers remain in their positions to stop the runner from going around the end.

Another adjustment here would be to bring the strong safety up to a place on the opposite side of the defensive tackle double-team and essentially give the defense a "four-four" (four linemen and four linebacker) look. We would blitz the safety from that set.

This defensive design would immediately solve the Raiders run defense problems. Right now, the Silver and Black don't seem to be concerned with defensive design and it shows up in the terrible post game statistics we've seen over the years.

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