It comes as a bit of a surprise that the Raiders will start Aaron Curry after just one practice with his new team. What was almost as surprising was that the Raiders will move Curry to the weak side. Curry replaces Quentin Groves as the starter.
The Raiders obviously believe Curry was miscast as a strong-side linebacker in the 4-3 and flipped him over the weak side. What’s the difference between the two positions in the Raiders 4-3? The weak-side linebacker in the Raiders defensive scheme is responsible for basically three things.
Clog running lanes. The weak-side linebacker needs to keep the opposing running back from turning the corner on running plays and he needs to make tackles in the running lane. Curry has shown he is solid against the run and should be effective in this role. Groves has been inconsistent diagnosing the correct running lanes and has been unable to turn the run inside when a lineman engages him. This is undoubtedly Curry’s strength.
Cover the flat. In the passing game the weak-side linebacker has the role of covering the flat. In man coverage this would typically be a back coming out of the backfield, but it could also be a wide receiver screen or a tight end short out in zone coverage. As a strong-side linebacker Curry struggled in coverage on the strong side, mainly in zone coverage where he was required to back-peddle into a middle zone and in man coverage against the opposing tight end. Curry will now play with everything in front of him and his only coverage responsibility will be a back in the flat in man coverage alignments. If the Raiders go into zone alignments Curry would gain more coverage responsibility in the flat, but would not have to sink into a zone as flat plays develop quickly. Curry has the quickness to get to the flat consistently and in the Raiders scheme and as a weak-side linebacker Curry will not have to do the things he does poorly.
Backside pursuit/cutback protection. The last responsibility of the weak-side linebacker is chasing down running plays and short pass plays on the opposite side of the field. This requires the linebacker to be the fastest of the three linebackers in a 4-3 defense. He’ll need to fight through blockers occasionally and protect against a cutback. The strong-side linebacker tries to seal the edge and the middle linebacker tries to shoot the running lane to bring down the runner, so the weak-side linebacker needs to protect against a cutback when Rolando McClain “chooses” the wrong running lane.
I’ve gone back and watched some of Curry’s best games as a professional. He’s had success against the 2010 49ers, Bears, Broncos and Cardinals and the 2009 Bears, Jaguars and 49ers. These teams were are all passing deficient teams with running backs that lack elite speed, but thrive on cutback runs. Curry wasn’t required to cover much in the best games. If the Raiders can keep him out of coverage, particularly middle zones and in one-on-one situations they might have themselves a pretty good linebacker.