Monday, April 05, 2010

Can Raiders defense hold the line in 2010?

Fourth in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Defensive Coordinator – John Marshall and assistant Mike Waufle

The numbers are so ugly it is impossible to simply assume the defense will be better if the Raiders offense plays better. The Raiders time of possession and the number of plays the defense faces are about average by NFL standards. The real problem is what happens on those plays.

The Raiders D faced 548 rushes against (most in the NFL), allowed six runs of 40+ (tied for most), and had 24 rushing TD allowed (tied for most). The run D was so bad teams only tried 438 pass attempts (fewest by 44 attempts). So the pass defense was good? No. With so few attempts the Raiders still gave up 16 pass plays of 40+ (tied for 3rd most) and 8.1 yards per pass (tied 2nd most).

The pressure is on second-year defensive coordinator John Marshall to stem the tide. Really, how many times do we have to see punter Shane Lechler pin an offense inside their own five just to watch the defense give up a 95-yard TD drive?

The Raider defensive scheme
It is common knowledge that owner Al Davis loves defense, particularly the Raiders defense. The Raiders run a Cover 0 Free or Cover 1 Man defense primarily. They are two terms describing the same defense. Whichever name you prefer it is all man-to-man coverage with one deep safety. The defense works best when it can pressure the QB so defenders only have to cover a short time. Since you have seven defenders in coverage it is an excellent defense to blitz out of.

The problems the Raiders are having in this defense are due to its all-or-nothing approach. Given the low number of pass attempts the fact they tied for 11th in the NFL with 37 sacks shows they can rush the passer. When they don’t get pressure though, things get ugly. Man coverage is susceptible to big yards after the catch, mismatches (like Vincent Jackson versus Kirk Morrison), draws, delays, screens and QB scrambles.

In 2010 Marshall needs to look at his strategy versus the Eagles and find ways to mix things up. Going into the game the Raiders 13.1% blitz ratio was the lowest in the NFL. The Raiders brought the pressure and allowed only nine points. “They did a lot of things that we weren’t really expecting,” Eagles tackle Winston Justice said after the game. Amen to that.

Contrast that to the ugly blowout on Thanksgiving Day when a humiliated Nnamdi Asomugha complained that the defense was too predictable. The cliché’ that Al Davis expects the Raiders to play man is trumped by the fact he expects to win even more. Marshall won’t be fired for mixing it up successfully. Remember The Tuck? Charles Woodson on the corner blitz. Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks crushed the QB on the blitz more than a few times. Marshall isn’t going to “get in trouble’ in 2010 if he mixes it up and stops somebody. Success has a way of improving job security.

Mike Waufle – Defensive line
Speaking of The Tuck, the Raiders brought back DL Coach Mike Waufle. Waufle coached the Raiders line from 1998-2003. He spent the last six seasons coaching a New York Giants defensive line that dashed the Patriots perfect season in the 2007 Super Bowl. Waufle will be charged with getting the most out of a unit that has struggled against the run and been inconsistent rushing the passer.

The Raiders offense needs to score points but if the defense doesn’t find a way to stop opponents the team will still be losing, just take the over instead of the under (not that we condone gambling or anything).

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