Five Things the Oakland Raiders Can Do to Turn Things Around

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August 15, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver (second from right) instructs defensive end Antonio Smith (94) and defensive end Justin Tuck (91) during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Lions 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2. Jason Tarver Needs to get Back to Basics

Jason Tarver is fond of showing a variety of fronts, from traditional 4-3 and 3-4 sets to creative nickel and dime packages like his 2-4-5. Some of this is done out of necessity due to injuries and lack of depth, some of it done to try to create confusing looks and blitz opportunities. None of it is really working. Opposing quarterbacks are completing over 70% of their passes against the Raider defense (only Tampa Bay is worse in that category) for a 106.9 passer rating (behind only the Jets and Bucs) and 7.9 yards per attempt (sixth-worst in the league). The Raiders rank in the top half of the league in passing yards allowed per game, only because teams can also run the ball on the Raider defense: the Raiders are allowing 145.3 yards rushing per game, fourth worst in the league. The Raiders are also next to last in the league in quarterback sacks with six (one per game!), and tied for fifth-worst in takeaways. Tarver’s complex schemes, unique looks, and everything else has done absolutely nothing for this team, which is giving up 26.3 points per game with an offense that averages 15.3.

The two most glaring problems the Raiders have are interior run defense and pass defense, especially on 3rd downs. With an active lineup that is filled with players who are in their first year in the system, or in their first year in the league, or simply aren’t particularly good, it is time for Tarver to dumb his defense down and get back to the basics.

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  • With a defense that is loaded with edge players but severely limited on the interior, especially at linebacker, Tarver needs to run more defensive formations that add size to the interior part of the defensive line, to try to eat up blocks and slow down releases to allow Burris and Moore to actually fill and make plays. While Burris has played poorly, neither he nor Moore can be expected to be effective when faced with offensive guards who aren’t even slowed down releasing off the line of scrimmage. Tarver needs to find alignments that allow his bigger bodies – his 300 pound defensive linemen – to line up around the interior and on the strong side of formations, allowing the linebackers more space to move to gaps and make plays. With Tyvon Branch out and Usama Young apparently hurt as well, it may also be time to think about Charles Woodson playing down in the box as a strong safety where he can be more effective in run support and cover tight ends or sit in “robber” coverage over the short middle of the field.

    Tarver also needs to do something to compensate for his lack of safeties and his limited cornerback talent as well. Despite T.J. Carrie’s exceptional growth at the cornerback position and some very sold play by Carlos Rogers, the Raiders are still giving up way too many completions. While in the modern NFL you have to expect that you will allow about 60% of passes to be completed, you can limit where and when those passes are completed with good coverage schemes, and they don’t have to be particularly complex. Tarver often sacrifices sound coverage schemes for complex blitzes, both from the linebackers and the safeties, and while it has created exactly 50% of the Raiders’ sacks this season (three of six), it has more often resulted in big completions that converted key 3rd downs. The answer is to simplify it. Stop trying to outsmart everyone and simply run some effective and simple schemes that allow the secondary to cover receivers long enough for truly talented pass rushers like Khalil Mack to get to the quarterback. Confusing quarterbacks is all well and good, but bringing a safety blitz at a quarterback doesn’t do you any good if all he has to do is flip it out to a running back who is by himself or a wide receiver who is open over the middle where the safety used to be.

    Once the team has shored up the run defense and created a few more incomplete passes or short outlet passes in the early downs, they will find themselves in more 3rd and long situations and then Tarver can open up the playbook and run his exotic blitzes out of his exotic formations. But until then, what this defense really needs is to keep it simple, stupid.