Oakland Raiders have improved in 2015, but still climbing

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Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack (52) forces a fumble by Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown (13) in a NFL game at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Browns 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3-4 defense thriving in Oakland

The defense improved partly ecause they are running more of a 3-4 base defense instead of the 4-3 under. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. brought the 4-3 elephant scheme he ran in Seattle, but then he and Del Rio looked at the personnel and saw that they’re built more for the 3-4 in a decision that was revitalized the defense.

Khalil Mack was a star 3-4 outside linebacker in college as was Aldon Smith with the San Francisco 49ers. But while Smith was trying to get in football shape, Mack was running into 330-pound tackles as an end and Ray-Ray Armstrong was losing contain against the run and couldn’t cover tight ends.

As soon as the 3-4 became a part of the game plan, Mack was jacking tight ends and setting a hard edge with more of an opportunity to create explosive plays as a pass rusher. Mack also did his share as the strongside OLB covering tight ends and started getting sacks. Smith has since gotten himself into playing shape to sack quarterbacks, pressure them and set a hard edge against the run.

That edge talent turns running backs inside where nose tackle Dan Williams is back at home in a 3-4 and able to control the middle of the line of scrimmage more. With inside linebackers like Malcolm Smith and Curtis Lofton behind him, there’s no room to run in the middle either. The 3-4 alignment has the Raiders stopping the run and putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Next: Stacy McGee