When you look at the Raiders current 4-3 defense, it appears the problem is very easy to solve. The Raiders have run a strict man-to-man defense for years. At certain times and with the right personnel it was successful. However, when creative offensive minds are scheming against it, the holes in it become clear.
Another big problem is the linebackers are trying to cover slot receivers, tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. A lot of the big plays that Oakland surrenders are the result of players playing outside of their “comfort zone” or natural ability. Using the last game against the Chargers as an example, when the Raiders needed a key stop San Diego would run a “rub” route or get Gates matched up with Kamerion Wimbley, Aaron Curry, or even LaMarr Houston (on at least one occasion) and make a big play. Those guys have little to no shot at covering Gates. Using a 3-4 defense would allow Oakland to disguise their defense more, integrate more zone coverage, and keep players in roles that are a better fit for their natural ability. Most quarterbacks will tell you that the 3-4 defense is harder to diagnose pre-snap. The argument can be made that some of Oakland’s troubles on defense could stem from players playing out of their natural positions.
Kamerion Wimbley played DE in a 4-3 at Florida State. He flourished at rushing the passer, but was considered too small to play 4-3 DE at the NFL level so scouts had him tagged as a 3-4 OLB. He was drafted by the Browns in 2006 and played DE his rookie season and tallied 11 sacks. The Browns switched him to a 3-4 OLB in that scheme for three years before trading him to the Raiders. He racked up 15.5 sacks in three seasons as a 3-4 OLB. He’s been effective as a third down pass rushing end for the Raiders, but he has never had the skills to cover as a linebacker. Wimbley is built and has the skill set to be a 3-4 rush LB, but is more effective putting his hand in the dirt.
Rolando McClain played and excelled in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense at Alabama, yet he was drafted by the Raiders to play 4-3 MLB. McClain has proved time and time again that he is not a good player in space, but can get downhill, tackle, and fill gaps like he did in the 3-4 at Alabama. 3-4 ILB is his ideal position because he would no longer have multiple gap responsibilities as a 4-3 MLB does. That coupled with less coverage responsibilities on the outside could salvage what appears to be a career headed for a quick end.
Aaron Curry who was acquired from Seattle is currently the Will LB in the Raiders 4-3 scheme where he also often times get caught in man-to-man coverage. The scouting report on Curry is no secret. He gets lost in coverage, but when it comes to instincts, filling gaps in run support and tackling he is one of the best. That is exactly why he would make a smooth transition to 3-4 ILB, where filling gaps in run support and solid tackling is the name of the game.
Travis Goethel has been praised by coaches for 2 years now for being relentless to the ball and tackling well. We have yet to see much from him because of his injury woes, but he could fill in as a reserve ILB. This was the scouting report on CBS when he was coming out of college “Goethel’s average speed and overall athleticism might not allow him to stay outside in the NFL, but his hustle, instincts in coverage and secure tackling could earn him a spot on the strong side or even inside in a 3-4 defense”
Richard Seymour played six seasons at defensive end in a 3-4 system with the Patriots before coming to Oakland. He had two seasons that resulted in 8 sacks, help the Patriots win three Super Bowls and went to the Pro Bowl in four straight years at that position.
Tommy Kelly’s rookie season with the Raiders was the last year the Raiders ran a 3-4 defense. Kelly played DE in that system and with limited playing time his rookie year he still was able to amass 4 sacks and played very well. Kelly has experience and has proven he can play the role of a 3-4 DE.
LaMarr Houston played DT at the University of Texas before being drafted by the Raiders. At 6’3” 305 lbs he has the size to fill the role of a DE in a 3-4 as well. Houston’s style of play also mirrors that of a 3-4 DE. He is a power guy who often wins at the point of attack, and is great at setting the edge, however he lacks the pass rushing skills to be really effective in a 4-3.
John Henderson is a massive mountain of a man. That lead some people to believe he could be a good NT. His height may make him best suited to play outside in the 3-4 as an end. Henderson has very little 3-4 experience in his career.
Matt Shaughnessy is perhaps the most interesting fit or non-fit on the a Raiders defensive line. He came into the NFL at 260 pounds and promptly added 10 to 15 pounds of muscle to his frame to play at a high level as a 4-3 defensive end. Shaughnessy has the length to play 3-4 end but may need to add even more bulk to effectively set the edge at the position. Shaughnessy could also find a home as a 3-4 OLB, but he might have to drop weight gain a little quickness. Mario Williams transitioned to 3-4 OLB at 280+ pounds and was effective for the games he played before being lost for the season.
There will need to be some personnel changes and the Raiders new GM Reggie McKenzie helped the Packers switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2009 so he is no stranger to the conversion process.
A move to a 3-4 defense would immediately create a need for a NT and more 3-4 OLB’sand the Raiders may have excess ends for the 3-4. With Oakland’s lack of draft picks, that does create a challenge for the Raiders.