When NFL spectators reminisce about the Oakland Raiders 2013 season, a handful of common topics arise. There seems to be a carousel of discussions revolving around Matt Schaub’s forgettable season, the Raiders own quarterback struggle, or the defense’s inability to stop the pass. So far, this offseason has been trampled by Khalil Mack and the numerous “outdated players” Reggie McKenzie brought to Oakland. Although Matt Schaub stereotypes have continued, fans and many members of the media seem to continue to forget about another impact Raider that is returning to action in 2014.
2013 was a year that Tyvon Branch would like to forget. He saw an opportunity to suit up next to one of the best defensive backs to ever play the game last season, (Charles Woodson) and ended up watching the “struggle” from the sidelines. Branch is one of the few Raider players that has lasted in Oakland while expanding his experience in Jason Tarver’s defense. He’s a huge piece of the Raiders defense and if you’re overlooking his absence last year then you’re in for a surprise.
Tyvon Branch has his own chip on his shoulder. He’s not only hungry for wins in Oakland, he’s determined to make a name for himself alongside other top NFL safeties. When you look at current players like Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, and T.J. Ward they all have a nose for the football. They are all very similar in stature and aren’t afraid to stick their nose into a tight end’s sternum. So where does Tyvon rank amongst these guys? Although he may not exuberate the coverage skills Jairus Byrd possesses, I think he matches up well with the aforementioned player’s skill set, ability, and tenacity. Not to mention an Al Davis eye opening 4.3 second 40-yard-dash time.
In 2008, Oakland drafted Branch in the 4th round and he went on to play in 8 games before ending his rookie season short via injury. In 2009, the 23 year old went off with 98 unassisted tackles, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 8 pass deflections. Although the Raiders only won 5 games that season, he was an immediate impact after starting all 16 games.
From 2009-2012, Tyvon Branch averaged 7 tackles a game. If you closely watch the Raiders like most members of The Only Nation do, you could see the impact Brandian Ross didn’t have on our defense in 2013. When you turn back the dial an additional year, Branch was the only player on our defense that could tackle Reggie Bush in Miami. Remember that highlight footage? The Raiders severely missed his tackling presence last season as no defensive back instilled fear into opposing wide receivers and tight ends. Crossing the middle against Oakland in 2013 was like skipping through Central Park while listening to your walkman and enjoying a lolli-pop.
Once of Tyvon Branch’s supposed weaknesses is his coverage skills. If you still question his overall impact when his cover skills are questioned in general, you must analyze the Oakland defense a step further.
Since Dennis Allen came to the Bay Area, he’s wanted his defense to be multiple, versatile, and aggressive. Meaning, he wants to dictate the line of scrimmage while confusing the offense on the backend.
Last season, he had two starting safeties with similar skill sets, and the free was a better tackler than the strong. Without Branch, Allen wasn’t able to convince opponents that our strong safety was a weapon, and rightfully so. Ross was a good “fill-in”, but he wasn’t “great” in any area of his game. In comparison, Branch had 98 solo tackles in his second year and Ross has 135 total in his career. This hurt our defense as a whole and we can’t overlook the benefit of having him active in the secondary.
Branch’s speed allows him to lineup in the box then exit into the middle of the field upon the snap. Ideally, Allen would like to keep Woodson deep to roam and read eyes while Branch lurks in the trenches and second level. What’s being overlooked the most is the fact that Branch has the ability to play role-reversal with Woodson as well. Charles isn’t afraid to tackle and his instincts allow him to effectively read plays if asked to press the line of scrimmage. Branch’s speed and knowledge of the system creates immense range and allows Oakland to blitz efficiently.
In 2012, Branch showed his ability to cover by holding Rob Gronkowski to 1 catch for 15 yards and no scores. The tight end went on to finish the season with 90 catches for 1,327 and 18 touchdowns. If you think Branch doesn’t have the ability, you need to give him a chance. In year 3 of Jason Tarver’s scheme, Tyvon Branch will be a chess piece that gives his defensive coordinator goose bumps and opposing offenses headaches. The Raider’s defense is all about mismatches and confusion and you can’t deny the impact that Branch will have in this area specifically. It’s evident by the way their defense played to open the 2013 season. (before his injury)
Like I always say, talk is only speculation but over the years Branch has been forced to make too many plays. Forcing him to own a specific role while his supporting cast has improved will increase his effectiveness. When you’re on a defense that has been so bad for so long, it’s hard to gain any type of respect. When a defense improves and a few players standout within, the acknowledgement rises, and I expect Tyvon to be one of these guys in 2014.
Keep your eye on 33 tonight as his newfound leadership role will be on display for a few series.
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