Did the Raiders fix the run defense with the revamping of the linebackers?
It is one of the biggest questions the Raiders will need to answer this offseason.
If so, can the linebackers Trevor Scott, Rolando McClain, and Kamerion Wimbley also cover running backs out of the backfield and tight ends on passing downs?
The Raiders started 2009 with Thomas Howard, Kirk Morrison, and Ricky Brown as the starters. By the end of the year Scott had supplanted Howard on the weak-side and Howard had moved to the strong-side for the injured Ricky Brown.
When Sam Williams and a rookie fifth-round draft pick get meaningful snaps, it is time for an overhaul.
So the Raiders started the overhaul, traded for Wimbley, drafted McClain, and finally traded for Quentin Groves and shipped out Kirk Morrison.
Scott developed into a nice linebacker last season, but wasn’t asked to drop into coverage very often. In five games as a linebacker, Scott dropped into pass coverage 65 times. This amounted to about 50 percent of the snaps in which a pass was thrown.
Scott fared pretty well in coverage and earned an overall neutral pass defense grade from profootballfocus.com , but he will need to continue to develop his pass coverage ability if asked to drop into coverage more often.
As a linebacker, Scott had two poor games defending the run, both against prolific rushing teams in Baltimore and Dallas. He will need to show improvement against the elite rushing teams to be anything more than a rush linebacker.
Most of the hope for Scott is pinned on his pass rushing ability. As a linebacker, he recorded four sacks, one quarterback hit, and three quarterback pressures in just five games.
Trying to breakdown Wimbley as a strong-side outside linebacker in the 4-3 defense is somewhat difficult. Wimbley played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense with the Browns.
One area of Wimbley’s game that is better than advertised is his pass coverage. Although Wimbley wasn’t asked to drop into coverage often, he did perform pretty well in coverage with one good game against Chicago and one bad game against Detroit. Wimbley received a neutral grade in the other 14 games.
Pass rush is probably Wimbley’s best attribute, but some statistical oddities popped up in 2009. Wimbley recorded four of his seven sacks on the road to go along with 18 of his 24 quarterback pressures. All of his good performances rushing the passer came on the road and all but one of his bad games came at home.
Wimbley must not like home cooking.
Wimbley will probably rush the passer less in the 4-3 defense and his run defense will be more closely scrutinized.
Examining his run defense grades will reveal five poor performances and three good performances. If this doesn’t get better, the Raiders’ run defense may not be much improved, if at all.
These stats were accumulated in the 3-4 defense so they may mean nothing, but at least it may reveal areas to watch. They come back into play if the Raiders experiment with the 3-4 scheme.
All indications point to Rolando McClain being the most premiere middle linebacker to come out of college since Patrick Willis. Willis may have been the slightly higher rated prospect because of his speed, but McClain is no slouch.
McClain’s instincts, leadership, tackling, and knowledge are at an elite level. The only question was his coverage ability.
He proved in college he could cover pretty well in the zone, but struggled at times with speedy man coverage match-ups.
The good news is that it isn’t likely the Raiders will ask McClain to cover man-to-man even on third downs, and his instincts and knowledge should help him to avoid getting beat badly.
A disappointment in Jacksonville not because he was horrible, but because he didn’t perform like the player the Jaguars expected after drafting him in the second round of 2008.
He played defensive end for all of 2008 and was moved to linebacker to start 2009, but he was moved back to defensive end halfway through the 2009 season. He may be raw in pass coverage as a linebacker because of his limited experience in that role.
His pass rush skills weren’t up to par in Jacksonville and he didn’t record a sack in 2009. He recorded three in 2008. He did have 13 quarterback pressures in 197 snaps.
Groves has shown potential, having a monster game in 2009 against the Texans at home as a defensive end.
He also isn’t prone to having horrible games, but he isn’t a guy that will make impact plays at this point.
Young enough to still develop; it will be interesting to see how the Raiders decide to use Groves.
The question with his game has been run defense, but he was surprisingly decent against the run in 2009 earning a neutral grade by profootballfocus.com . This aligns with most observations. Not good, but not horrible defending the run.
Howard will be used most likely in pass coverage in 2010. Expect Howard to be the primary third-down linebacker in passing situations.
His biggest weakness in 2009 was covering backs as receivers coming out of the backfield and it earned him poor grades in coverage. Darren Sproles, Marion Barber, and Larry Johnson victimized him in the receiving game.
Two of his three bad games against the pass came in the first two weeks, the other coming against Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Removing those three games and Howard had a neutral grade against the pass. He will need to maintain or improve his coverage ability in order to earn defensive snaps.
The Raiders obviously wanted to keep Howard around, having offered him a high tender and opting not to trade him like Morrison.
He will likely battle with Brown for snaps as a situational linebacker.
Started 2009 as the starting strong-side linebacker and competing for the middle linebacker position with Morrison in camp. Brown actually showed signs of being a decent linebacker early. An injury derailed his season in Week 5, but for four healthy weeks he had good games against both the run and pass.
He may find himself as the odd man out of the rotation, but he is good enough to stick around and contribute on special teams if he can also stay healthy.