What to Expect from Revamped Raiders Defense

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Jun 10, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver (center) and cornerback Tarell Brown (23) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

More 3-4? 

We can expect the Raiders defense to present a number of different looks and personnel groupings in 2014.  With the amount of talent on the front 7, it’s doubtful that Allen and Tarver will go to the Nickel package on 1st and 2nd down very often, so expect to see a number of variations on the Raiders’ base 4-3 over look, with Khalil Mack as the Sam (strongside) linebacker near the line of scrimmage, with Kevin Burnett or Sio Moore at the Will and Nick Roach at the Mike.  Woodley will play as the weakside defensive end, on the outside shoulder of the weakside offensive tackle, while Tuck plays the strongside end, over the strongside offensive tackle or in the gap between him and the tight end.  Smith will likely play the 3-technique, in the gap between the weakside guard and tackle, with Pat Sims playing nose, over the center or on his strongside shoulder.

We can expect to see a healthy Tyvon Branch to play around the line of scrimmage as well.  Against 3-receiver sets, Branch will likely cover the slot receiver frequently.  In passing situations, we’ll likely see Sio Moore in the game and Burnett out, or Moore lining up in Mack’s spot, while Mack moves over to DE, Tuck slides inside, and Sims comes out.  Against the run, the Raiders may run a a variation on the 4-3 that includes Smith at the strongside end with Tuck on the weakside, and Stacy McGee, Torell Troup or CJ Wilson brought in to add more size to the defensive front.

But it’s likely we’ll frequently see the Raiders depart from the 4-3 scheme altogether.  Tarver has extensive experience running 3-4 defenses, and many of the personnel brought in this past offseason have played extensively in 3-4 schemes.  Dennis Allen, while in Denver, ran 3-4 fronts frequently as well.  With the versatility on the roster, especially with Woodley and Mack, we could see the Raiders run 3-4 base looks, maybe even for the majority of games, depending on what they expect to see from opposing offenses.  Tarver experimented with 3-4 looks last year, but didn’t have the versatile “tweener” players like Woodley and Mack that he has now.  In a 3-4 scheme, we’d likely see Antonio Smith move back out to the end, and perhaps CJ Wilson at the other end, with Sims or McGee at the nose, and Woodley and Mack playing as rushing outside linebackers and Burnett and Roach in the interior.   This is the best fit for Burnett, who spent most of his career in 3-4 systems in Dallas and Miami.   The Raiders may go with a 3-3 Nickel look with Sims or Smith at the nose and Mack and Woodley on the edge, or with a 4-2 Nickel look, with Mack and Woodley on the ends and Tuck and Smith inside.

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  • One thing we know we can expect is that every single member of the “back 7” (LB’s and secondary) for the Raiders has the potential to be “activated” on a blitz at any time.  Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch are both excellent blitzers from the secondary.  Nick Roach, last year’s leading tackler, also picked up 5.5 sacks blitzing from his middle linebacker spot and is a skilled cover linebacker who spent years in Chicago’s Tampa 2-style system.  If everyone can remain healthy, offenses may be outgunned in their blocking schemes, and quarterbacks will have to consider threats from every angle.  If the Raiders can create 3rd and long opportunities consistently with solid play against the run and good pursuit and tackling against screens and short passes, it will be very difficult for opposing offenses to remain on the field.

    The Raiders, on paper, have the most talented defense they’ve fielded in years.  If Woodley, Tuck and Smith can remain healthy, the Raiders front 7 could be one of the best in the league this year, and they will need to be.  While question marks still linger in the secondary – specifically with the cornerbacks, if Rogers, Brown and/or Hayden play near their ceiling – or if McGill’s athleticism and size can translate into on-field results – this group should be vastly improved as well.  Facing the toughest schedule in the league with an unsure quarterback situation and a lot of question marks on the offensive line, it is imperative that the defensive unit create turnovers, limit early scoring, and win the field position battle in order to give the team the best chance to win.