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Three-hundred-and-sixty-three days have passed since the Raiders opened the 2011 season against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, and at the time many believed the Raiders were finally back on track. Penalties were going to be a thing of the past, bullies were being built, and the only injury known to man was a “nic.” Just one year ago the Raiders were about to usher in the Hue Jackson era, and fans were hyped to see this newly created “bully” in action. Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Silver and Black and the team was poised to make a serious run at the playoffs for the first time since 2002, except the season began unfolding as if it were being scripted by the writers of Lost.
After managing to stumble to a 2-2 record to start the season, shock waves rippled through the franchise as news broke that legend and Raiders owner Al Davis had passed away. With plenty of mixed emotions, the Raiders had a game to play the next day against the Houston Texans. They went on to win that game in the final seconds, honoring the man who had led them for the nearly 50 years.
As the dust began to settle the Raiders still had a season to finish and the hits didn’t quit coming. In the very next game, starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone leaving the Raiders with only Kyle Boller at quarterback. Without Davis to call the shots as he had done for so long, no one was quite sure what was going to happen. The answer came two days later, when Hue Jackson was given the authority to pull off a stunner of a trade that sent a first and second-round draft pick to the Bengals for retired quarterback Carson Palmer.
As everyone tried to digest what had just taken place, there were only a few days left to prepare before the Raiders faced the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Trying to forget what they had to give up to get him, the Raiders now had a quarterback who they thought could lead the team to the playoffs. It was just a matter of getting Carson Palmer up to speed with the offense while leaning heavily on one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, right?
While that plan seemed to make sense at the time, Kyle Boller was quickly proving to everyone why he has not been able to hold a job in the NFL and the Raiders were hit with even worse news: Darren McFadden suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Chiefs that would cause him to miss the rest of the season. Hue Jackson contended that McFadden was “close” to returning on a weekly basis, but he never did.
Carson Palmer was left trying to pick up the pieces of a season that started out with so much hope. Unable to stay true to his word, Jackson did not fix the penalty issue and his team set a record for the most penalties in a single season. Still, the Raiders managed to be in position to win a very weak AFC West, but failed to beat San Diego in their final game, and once again fell short of the playoffs for a ninth-straight season.
Fast forward to January 2012. Mark Davis took over for his dad as the team’s owner and he hired Reggie McKenzie to be the next general manager. The situation seems equal to that of Aaron Rodgers replacing Brett Favre. McKenzie is replacing a legend, but he is not trying to become the next Davis. He will have to make his own name and do things his own way. Change is a process and takes time and patience which is something Raiders fans are starting to run out of after nine-straight seasons without making playoffs.
Many moves made by McKenzie and some moves he will make in the near future will be met with skepticism. That is not uncommon according to Saul Alinsky, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
McKenzie’s road to success will not be easy, but that will not temper any existing expectations. At this point in time it’s anyone’s guess how much or how little success he will have in Oakland. However, in order to more clearly understand what is being judged, its important to be aware of the obstacles and decisions McKenzie faced upon becoming the new general manager of the Raiders.
Like most new general managers, the first order of business for McKenzie was deciding who he wanted to have coach his team. That is not a choice you want to take likely and could ultimately decide his success early on. He was well aware of the rotating door Oakland has had with their head coaches and he needed to find a guy he trusted to help bring the Raiders back to excellence, even if immediate success was impossible. Unfortunately for Hue Jackson, he was not that man. Could the argument be made that Jackson didn’t get a fair shot? Sure, but the NFL is a business and business is not about fair.
After 18 days of searching and countless interviews, McKenzie found his guy in Dennis Allen. “When I talk about the guy I was looking for, I’m looking for a guy that could lead these men, that was passionate about the game, that was passionate about teaching, passionate about the Oakland Raiders.” McKenzie said when introducing Allen at his press conference. “Guys, not only did coach Dennis Allen do that for me, he exceeded those expectations.”
One of the reasons this decision was so important was because McKenzie believes in giving his head coach full power over hiring his staff. That is something past head coaches in Oakland did not have, they may have had input, but it was Al Davis who made the final decisions on hiring or firing. McKenzie also noted that he and Allen will always have open communication, but it was up to the head coach what schemes would be run. That is certainly a change of pace in Oakland.
Allen proceeded to hire Jason Tarver to run the defense, who comes with a very aggressive and multiple look defensive style which is very different from the base 4-3 man defense that had been a Raiders staple for as long as anyone can remember. Greg Knapp is back to run the offense under Allen, which means Jackson’s power blocking scheme and trickery are out and the West Coast Offense and zone-blocking scheme are in. Learning completely different schemes on both sides of the ball in one offseason is much harder than most people realize.
The hard part for McKenzie was just beginning . Now that he had a head coach, he next had to figure out a way to get the roster under control, which would be no easy task. Starring him in the face was $145 million dollars in salary for 2012 ($25 million over the salary cap) and $16 million more than the Carolina Panthers who had the next highest salary total. It was no secret that in the latter years of Al Davis’ life he was operating in a “win now” mode, which often times meant the only thing that mattered was getting who he felt was the best players he could at whatever cost was necessary. That meant a lot of traded draft picks and back-loaded contracts, many of which were well over market value.
McKenzie was left to sort it all out, trying to find a way to cut at least $25 million in salary for 2012 as well as give himself a little breathing room for free agency and signing draft picks. McKenzie had to do this while trying to maintain a competitive roster and preventing the same situation from happening next offseason. Easier said than done, especially when you are without your first, second and third-round draft picks due to roster moves made before you took over.
During that process, McKenzie was faced with difficult roster decisions on some of his core players. He wasted no time in weeding out the “out of whack” contracts and cut ties with Stanford Routt on February 9th, just over a month after he was hired. This sent a message to everyone inside and outside the organization, nothing would be handed to anyone anymore.
The year before Routt was released he was given a five-year, $54.5 million contract. No matter his opinion of Routt’s skill as a player, McKenzie knew he was not worth $10 million per year. Another major decision was how to proceed with Kamerion Wimbley, who was the Raiders best outside pass rusher. WImbley carried a contract of five years, $48 million. If Wimbley was on the roster by the start of the new league year (March 17th), he would have been owed $17.5 million in guaranteed money (including $11 million in 2012). If cut, the Raiders were only on the hook for $6.5 million, but would also lose their best edge rusher and would be in a tough spot to try to replace him.
After refusing to take a pay cut, Wimbley would eventually be released. This left the Raiders having to pay $6.5 million in dead money for 2012, but relieved them of Wimbley’s remaining contract. Kevin Boss and Cooper Carlisle were also later released, but McKenzie was able to re-work the contracts of Carson Palmer, Michael Huff, Richard Seymour and Aaron Curry to keep them on the roster. Carlisle later resigned with the Raiders at a much lower rate.
McKenzie mentioned shortly after he was hired that each position would be evaluated from front office personnel to players on the field. He said that at the right time, the appropriate changes would be made. Holding true to his word, on February 16th it was announced that long-time Senior Executive John Herrera would no longer work for the new Raiders front office. Known in many circles as Al Davis’ “yes man”, John Herrera—mostly known for denying every media report regardless of truth—represented the exact image that McKenzie wanted to change. Zak Gilbert was later hired as director of Media Relations and Mike Taylor was hired as Director of Pubic Affairs going forward. As many have noted, the Raiders have since become much more open and media friendly.
McKenzie’s next major moves came in the form of re-vamping the football operations personnel. Shaun Herock (son on Ken Herock) who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay was hired as the director of college scouting and Reggie’s twin brother Raleigh was also hired to help in the scouting department. McKenzie also brought Joey Clinkscales from the New York Jets to work as director of personnel. Clinkscales served as the V.P. of college scouting with the Jets and was a college teammate and childhood friend of McKenzie.
Tonight, the Raiders will open the 2013 season against the San Diego Chargers with a new general manager, new front office personnel, new media relations, new scouting department, new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and 23 new players on the 53-man roster. The Raiders are truly starting fresh is 2012. It’s almost mind-blowing how much change has taken place in such a short amount of time.
Only time will tell how successful year one will be for the new-era Raiders. Most fans seem to agree that this team is just as good, if not better than a year ago which is a pretty incredible feat considering the circumstances.
Training Camp. The time year when players have the chance to showcase their off-season hard work, coaches get the chance to put their visions into motion, and speculation begins flying around at an unprecedented rate. Some teams choose to stay the course from the previous season hoping to build on what they have accomplished while other teams turn to change and a fresh start to be their saving grace. Regardless of the route each team chooses to take, the target destination of Super Bowl XLVII remains the same.
The Raiders are no doubt introducing change across the board this season as they usher in the “New Era” of Raiders football under General Manager Reggie McKenzie. As part of this new era, much has been made of the obvious changes in philosophy on the field as the Raiders look to get away from their strict man to man base 4-3 defense of the past and look to be spontaneous and more “multiple” on defense in 2012. The change doesn’t stop there though as the Raiders also look to switch things up on the offensive side of the ball bringing back former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his strong belief in the Zone Blocking scheme and West Coast Offense.
While many are excited to see the end result of all the changes, few people actually understand the difficulty in changing so much in such a short amount of time. To the fans, what seems like an eternity of waiting for the next NFL season to arrive, is all but a blur to the coaches and players trying to figure out how they will ever cover everything in the little time they have together before the season starts. 10 days of organized team activities, 26 training camp practices, and 4 preseason games. Under the new CBA, that is all the time an NFL team has to implement their strategy and prepare for the upcoming NFL season.
In what seems like an impossible task to change almost every part of a teams philosophy in one off-season, the Raiders actually have a big asset working in their favor. That asset happens to come in the form of player versatility. The Raiders are unmatched when it comes to the ability of their players to play multiple roles on the field. It’s a weapon that has arguably been under utilized by previous coaching staffs, and its a weapon that coach Dennis Allen and the rest of his staff must take full advantage of if they plan to maximize their level of success while implementing their new schemes.
While the Raiders have had a good amount of versatility on their defense in recent years, their scheme has restricted how far it could take them. This year the restraints are gone and the versatility of these players will be very important to the multiple looks the Raiders want to use this season.
Tyvon Branch will play a key role in how successful the Raiders defense will be in 2012, and the amount of things this guy can do on the football field are almost endless. Branch came out of the University of Connecticut where he focused mostly on playing corner back and returning kicks. After joining the Raiders he began his transition from corner back to strong safety, a transition not many guys can claim to have effectively made. Tyvon was not only effective in his new role, but he is now a top five player in the league at that position. With the Raiders short on corner back depth, Branch was also asked to fill in there at times last season. Being able to make that switch mid game is impressive on many levels but his ability doesn’t stop there. Branch also has the range and instincts to play the free safety position, meaning he can be effective at any one of the 4 main defensive back positions. Having a player with that ability adds a tremendous amount flexibility to a defensive game plan, and the fact that he has 4.3 speed means he is never far from the ball regardless of where he begins the play.
Philip Wheeler played his college ball at Georgia Tech where he thrived as an inside linebacker in an aggressive blitzing defense. As a matter of fact, Wheeler was considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers. That is a skill Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver plan to take full advantage of as the transition to a more aggressive defense has been no secret to this point. Wheeler also possesses rare coverage abilities in the open field, not something a lot of linebackers can say. Having a linebacker who can both attack and cover is a tremendous asset.
Rolando McClain brings his versatility to the table in a different form. McClain was the center piece in Nick Saban’s famous 3-4 defense at Alabama. He excelled there and it’s a role that McClain began to really become comfortable in. However, when he was picked by the Raiders in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, they felt he had what it took to make a the transition to a 4-3 middle linebacker. While he has not had instant success there, he has improved as a 2-gap linebacker and seems to be looking a lot better in training camp this year. That is very important as the Raiders want to use both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts this season. They will need their leader in the middle to be able to call the plays in the huddle and play as both a one and two gap linebacker depending on the formation.
Lamarr Houston played defensive tackle at the University of Texas, but was brought to Oakland to fill a hole at defensive end. Houston is a physical specimen who has proven he can play either position in the NFL with his rare combination of quickness and power. Maybe one of the most intriguing things about him though is where he fits into the 3-4 packages. He certainly has the power to hold his own as a 3-4 end, and does a great job at getting leverage on offensive lineman to be able to drive them back. It has also been noticed that Houston is looking like he’s in good shape this season and might trimmed down some weight to be closer to 280-290 instead of 300-310. Could we see him play some elephant backer (a combination 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB) this season?
Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant have also both played inside and outside on the defensive line in the 4-3, and Seymour has experience as a 3-4 defensive end from his time in New England where he won two super bowls. Those two being able to move around on the defensive line will help out tremendously as well.
Of course there are others players on the defense capable of doing multiple things, but i believe the six guys listed above bring a lot of value to what Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver are trying to accomplish on defense. Switching gears to the other side of the ball, the offense is not short on dynamic players either and most seem very excited about the system Greg Knapp is using this season.
Darren McFadden is a one of a kind running back. He has the speed and agility to score every time he touches the ball, but unlike most backs with those attributes, he can also use his power to effectively run between the tackles as well. He is not limited to his running ability though. McFadden has shown many times that he can line up in the slot, run routes, and catch like a wide receiver too. There is not another running back in the NFL that can do all of those things at a high level, and he shares a back field with none other than Marcel Reece. A converted wide receiver from the University of Washington, Reece has played wide receiver, tight end, fullback, and has even carried the ball a few times. He is an X-Factor for the offense, and is incredibly hard to game plan for because he can do so many things from the fullback position. How many times does a defense have to game plan for the fullback? McFadden and Reece are without a doubt the most dynamic backfield duo in the NFL and it’s not even close.
The offensive line is not normally thought about as being versatile, but in the Raiders case they are. Jared Veldheer, a 6’8″ left tackle also spent time playing center his rookie season. Stefan Wisneiwski played center at Penn State, but spent almost his entire rookie season at left guard and played very well there for the Raiders last season. He has now moved back to center. Cooper Carlisle has spent the majority of his career at right guard, but when the team brought Mike Brisel aboard via free agency Carlisle was moved to left guard where he will play this season. Khalif Barnes has started at left tackle and right tackle at certain points in his NFL career. He was also used a lot as an extra lineman in jumbo packages that Hue Jackson liked to use, one of which had Barnes running a route into the end zone where he caught a touchdown pass. Aside from all of that though, they are also making the switch from the power blocking scheme to the zone blocking scheme while returning all starters from last season with the exception of one. In most cases, there are major personnel changes a long the offensive line when you make that kind of switch. At face value it might not seem like a tall task, but any lineman who has played in both will tell you it’s a very tough thing to grasp.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is really starting to develop into a solid wide receiver, who possesses great speed and a big frame capable of breaking tackles. He is getting much better as route running which creates separation from the defensive back and timing with the quarterback. He also excels at running blocking as well though which does not get near enough credit. It is the job of the offensive line to get the running back to the second level, but it is often times a block by a wide receiver that springs the running back for a long gain or a touchdown. DHB’s hard work has made him into a dynamic player in the Raiders offense, and he should only continue to get better.
If the Raiders are able to successfully change so many parts in one season, the one thing that will allow them to do it is the flexibility that have with their roster. As you can see there is not another team in the league that matches the Raiders versatility in all facets of the game, and it will be up to the coaches to use that to their advantage to gain a competitive edge.
The Oakland Raiders may not do much shuffling on the offensive side of the ball, but the 29th ranked defense will be altered.
Stanford Routt has already been released and Reggie McKenzie promises even more change. Of the 11 positions on defense, only two have unquestioned starters.
Had the Raiders been healthy, the starters at the end of the season would have been nearly identical to the starters in Week 1. The lone exception would be Aaron Curry starting over Quentin Groves.
Since the Raiders will use both three-man and four-man fronts, we’ll have to predict the starters for both schemes.
RDE Matt Shaughnessy (4-3 only)
Last season, Shaughnessy was among the favorites during training camp to have a breakout, but hurt his shoulder and missed 13 games. He’ll return in 2012 and hope to revive the buzz he generated last offseason. Shaughnessy managed to record just one sack in three games in 2011 and will be ready to add to that total.
The introduction of the 3-4 will be very interesting for Shaughnessy and his only scheme fit appears to be as an end in the 4-3.
LDE Lamarr Houston
Houston registered one sack in 13 games after registering five in his rookie campaign in 2010. He’s stout against the run, but he can be neutralized when forced to rush the passer.
Houston’s best opportunity to rush the passer comes from the defensive tackle position in the 4-3, but Richard Seymour will remain with the Raiders for at least another season.
Houston is scheme diverse and should be able to translate into a nice 3-4 defensive end. Instead of coming off the field on passing downs like he has the past two seasons, Houston will stay on field.
DT Tommy Kelly
Kelly has been rumored to be on the chopping block, but he’s a decent bet to return and should restructure the mega deal he signed in 2008. Kelly quietly put up a career year in 2011 with 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 5 passes defended and 1 interception.
Houston gets the starting nod over Kelly at 3-4 end, but Kelly could be just as effective playing the 5-technique. The question with Kelly is if he is the right guy to defend the run or if he would be better suited for the 3-technique a position locked down by Richard Seymour.
DT/RDE Richard Seymour
McKenzie made a commitment to Seymour when the deadline came and went that made half of Seymour’s $15 million base salary in 2012 guaranteed. That means McKenzie will need to work out an extension with Seymour that reduces his cap number.
Seymour has experience running the 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and would start in both fronts. He’d continue to have good success as a 4-3 defensive tackle from the 3-technique and would start at LDE as a 5-technique defensive end. He’s one of the few locks on the defense.
OLB Manny Lawson
Aaron Curry played well after coming over from Seattle, but there was a reason he was traded and he’s due $5.7 million in 2012. It’s hard to imagine the Raiders wanting to pay Curry anything close to what his contract has paid him to this point and that will force the Raiders to go in a different direction.
The Raiders will look for a more affordable option in free agency and hopefully they will find an OLB who is equally effective in the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. There aren’t many OLB options in free agency so this will be one of the more interesting positions to watch.
Lawson has experience in both schemes and with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
Lawson isn’t great at rushing the passer, but uses his natural athleticism. He’s underrated in coverage and a good defender against the run. He’s a well-rounded linebacker that is being undervalued by the rest of the league.
MLB/ILB Rolando McClain
It’s a make or break year for McClain. Playing more of the 3-4 defense will take some of the pressure off McClain and he should be able to play faster. However, effort has also been an issue with McClain and that’s something Dennis Allen and his staff needs to address right away.
Despite lackluster play to this point in his career the Raiders will give McClain his chance at redemption. It’s up to McClain to take advantage of his second chance and shut-up his critics.
ILB Joe Mays
The Raiders don’t have a lot of cap space and will find it difficult to add a ILB in free agency. Travis Goethel is a huge unknown, but he’d be a consideration for this position as well.
Dennis Allen was calling in the plays to Mays in Denver and the familiarity will help the Raiders defense get up to speed in Allen’s defense. Mays shouldn’t break the bank, he’ll play in 3-4 alignments and provide competition for McClain as at MLB.
OLB Kamerion Wimbley
There has been a lot of talk about Wimbley and how he’ll be released if he doesn’t restructure his contract. The fact that this has all come out in the media suggests the Raiders are having issues negotiating with Wimbley’s agent.
Wimbley has a ton of leverage and the Raiders need to restore fiscal responsibility. The Raiders can release Wimbley and suggest it’s part of the regime change in Oakland, but the truth is they want Wimbley back.
Something will get done at the last minute that keeps Wimbley in Oakland.
CB Terrell Thomas
He’s coming off an injury, but was a solid cornerback for the Giants for the past few seasons. He’s more of a number two cornerback, but the Raiders can’t afford a top option.
When you think about which players can be signed to a reasonable contract and fit the new defensive scheme, Thomas comes to mind. He’s a poor man’s Cortland Finnegan.
FS Brandon Underwood
The Raiders picked up ex-Packer Underwood as one of McKenzie’s first signings. It would be easy to look at Underwood as a potential starter at cornerback considering he was signed shortly after the release of Stanford Routt, but that’s a mistake.
The Packers were trying to convert Underwood into a free safety, something the Raiders should try to continue. If Underwood can stay focused, he’s got enough talent to start. The Raiders need options in the secondary and with a limited budget the Raiders will be forced to find a starter or two with minimum salaries.
SS Tyvon Branch
The Raiders put the franchise tag on Branch and will continue to work on a long-term contract. Branch hasn’t been featured in the Raiders defensive scheme to this point, but that should be changing.
Branch is an extremely underrated player in the secondary and the fans will finally get a chance to see it in 2012.
CB Michael Huff
Huff has a huge cap number, but recently tweeted how excited he was about Dennis Allen’s defense. That would be an awkward conversation if McKenzie planned on releasing Huff.
Huff likely will or has restructured his contract to be more favorable for the Raiders, and the Raiders may have a hard time finding solid cornerbacks in free agency.
Safeties aren’t easy to find in free agency either, but McKenzie won’t be able to justify the cost on two safeties so Huff will shift to cornerback.
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.
When the Raiders exit the field Sunday, there are three possible scenarios for the Raiders: Division Champs, Wildcard winners, or out of the playoffs.
The Raiders could be division champions with a win and the Chiefs can beat the Broncos, the Raiders could be wild card winner with a win, Bengals loss and either a Jets win or Titans loss. The last scenario is one no Raider fan wants to think about, the Raiders lose or the Broncos and Bengals both win.
It’s been a very up and down season and the Raiders must win and get a little help to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Perhaps it is fitting that the Raiders would let the possibility of a playoff berth come down to the final game. The Raiders have seemingly given opponent after opponent the opportunity to win the game, if only a few took advantage of the opportunity. The primary issue has been a porous defense, but the Raiders defense played one of their best games of the season in San Diego a few short weeks ago and San Diego is the opponent in week 17.
What does it all mean for Sunday? Not much. It’s a one game season for the Raiders and we’ll find out how deep the Raiders can dig to get a win and if the defense can put together a complete game. If they can it may boost the Raiders should they make the playoffs.
When the Raiders have the ball:
The last time the Raiders faced the Chargers Michael Bush had a day to remember with 157 rushing yards, 85 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. In the Raiders week 10 win Denarius Moore came up big with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Ford added a 41-yard catch and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the team’s leading receiver, didn’t catch a single pass.
Ford was injured in the game against San Diego and has missed the last six weeks with a foot injury. Ford is ready to go and Carson Palmer has his top three receiving options healthy for the first time since the last game in San Diego six week ago. Palmer almost tossed 300 in San Diego without Ford and with Heyward-Bey as a no-show and should be even better with more options.
Bush’s effectiveness can open up the passing game for the Raiders by keeping the pass rush from coming hard after Carson Palmer. Palmer is a different quarterback when pressured and it is vital to keep the pass rush from getting to Palmer if he is to make good decisions with the football.
The Raiders will attempt to pound the football once again and hope that it opens up the deep passing game. If the Raiders can’t get the run going early expect them to turn to the short passing game with Heyward-Bey and screens and reverses to Moore or Ford.
Hue Jackson needs this win and he will empty the playbook. Expect the Raiders to showcase their speed and continue to be aggressive even when the situation calls for conservatism.
As with any game, it all starts in the trenches. The Raiders offensive line opens holes for Bush or gives Palmer time to throw. Failure on these objectives will prove fatal for the Raiders playoff chances.
Jacoby Ford vs. Dante Hughes
The Raiders get on of the Ferrari’s back and will immediately try to exploit the Chargers sub-standard group of cornerbacks. If the Raiders put Ford in the slot he’ll likely draw Chargers third corner Dante Hughes. Hughes has just three passes defended on the year and this should be a matchup the Raiders try to exploit. If Ford goes outside, expect Hughes to draw Moore instead.
Denarius Moore vs. Quentin Jammer
In their first match-up of the season Moore get the best of the veteran corner Jammer. Raiders will continue to pick on Jammer as along as Moore is getting deep releases. If the Chargers give Jammer help over the top with the strong safety Steve Gregory the Raiders will run Kevin Boss down the seam. With the Raiders offensive weapons expanding the Chargers will have to pick a poison and Moore killed them in week 10.
Darrius Heyward-Bey vs Antoine Cason
It’s a bit abnormal for three of these match-ups to be receivers versus cornerbacks, but with a full air arsenal at his disposal expect Hue Jackson to make good use of his options. With Ford’s return and Moore’s big game against the Chargers it would be easy to forget about the Raiders most productive receiver and consistent receiver this season. Heyward-Bey is a move the chains receiver that has enough speed to turn mistakes into scores. Cason is the Chargers best cornerback and has really played well the second half of this season. Over the top help is also good with Eric Weddle patrolling. If the Raiders want to get Heyward-Bey involved they may put him in the slot and have Ford run off the coverage to the outside.
Jared Veldheer vs Antwan Barnes
In the first meeting between these two teams Antwan Barnes was the only player applying consistent pressure of Palmer on only 15 pass rushing snaps. It’s up to Veldheer to keep Barnes away from the Palmer. The Chargers have only recently discovered Barnes talent as a pass rush specialist and he’ll now rush the passer 20-25 times a game.
Michael Bush vs. Shaun Phillips
There is occasionally a linebacker that does it all. That’s Shaun Phillips. He can fill the run, rush the passer and, when needed, drop back into coverage with almost equal effectiveness. Although he’s not fantastic at anything he is good at everything. The Raiders might want to think twice before running screens to his side and getting a seal block on Phillips is a must if the Raiders intend to run in his direction. If Bush can slip past Phillips in the passing game that might be the best way to exploit Phillips. Either way, if Bush has a good day on the ground or through the air, he’ll need to go through Phillips at least half the time.
Samson Satele vs. Antonio Garay
It’s a story that’s been told over and over again over the past few seasons. Samson Satele can struggle a bit with nose tackles, but in normal Satele form, he’s gotten better and better as the season has progressed and has turned in solid performances over the last five weeks. It’s Garay who can eat up blockers and apply the most effective type of pressure, that is pressure right up the middle. Garay exploited Stefen Wisniewski in week 10 when pass rushing, but it was Wisniewski pushing Garay around in the running game. For the Raiders run game and pass game to be effective it starts in the middle with Satele. The more Satele can handle Garay on his own the more that frees up the guards get second-level blocks on the Chargers linebackers.
When the Chargers have the ball:
The Raiders blanketed Vincent Jackson in the first meeting and limited him. It was Vincent Brown who became the go-to receiver for Phillip Rivers. Ryan Mathews is questionable, and the Chargers haven’t fielded a good running game in many weeks. No, the Chargers will again attempt to sling the ball around. That’s good news for the Raiders pass rushing defensive line. If the Raiders can cover the Chargers receivers long enough to pressure Rivers they will win the game. If the pass rush doesn’t get to Rivers quick enough that could give the Chargers big receivers opportunities.
Expect the Raiders to pressure the Chargers receivers at the line of scrimmage and attempt to tie up the receivers long enough to get pressure on Rivers. None of the Chargers receivers have elite speed so there is little risk of the receivers running past the coverage. Should the pass rush fail to get to Rivers there will be a lot of pressure on the Raiders safeties to provide help over the top.
Stanford Routt vs. Vincent Jackson
Routt 1 vs Jackson 0. The re-match does not always go the same way. Routt limited Jackson for most of the game in week 10. Routt has been good in coverage, he’s playing just a bit too physical and has been on the bad end of a few pass interference and defensive holding calls. The Chargers may to exploit Routt’s aggressiveness, so it is vital Routt whips his head around to find the ball. He might have opportunities to get interceptions if he can read and react to the ball in flight. He’s been getting called for hand checks lately as a direct result of his inability to find the ball in the air. Jackson was limited in practice all week until Friday. He’s probable, but a late scratch wouldn’t be surprising with Jackson headed for free agency and facing a tough match-up.
Kamerion Wimbley vs. Jared Gaither
Wimbley terrorized the Chargers in week 10 with 4 sacks, 3 hits and 7 more pressures on Rivers. Wimbley is coming off one of his worst games of the season and he may draw a more difficult match-up this time around. Gaither was picked up off the scrap heap and is starting at left tackle for the Chargers. Gaither was not signed by the Raiders in training camp when all signs pointed to it. He caught on with KC, but was hardly playing. The Chargers in need of help on the offensive line picked him up and he’s started and played remarkably well the past four weeks. Wimbley has the talent to beat a tackle like Gaither, but it’s one of the most interesting match-ups of the day.
Richard Seymour vs. Louis Vasquez
He’s big mean and nasty and as long as he isn’t committing stupid penalties he’s one of the top defensive tackle in the game. He’s the defacto leader of the Raiders defense and the defense goes as Seymour goes. So Seymour must go against Vasquez. Vasquez was having a solid season, but he’s fallen off lately. Enter Seymour. If Seymour draws a double team the Raiders to his left and right, being Lamarr Houston and Tommy Kelly need to make the most of their one-on-ones. Seymour doesn’t need 3 sacks to be successful, but the defensive line goes as Seymour goes. It’s a big game.
Michael Huff vs. The Field
Huff is used in many ways and he’s coming back from injury. The Raiders can surely use him against all the Chargers receiving weapons. It will be Huff’s job to fill in as a slot corner and help over the top. He’ll have considerable pressure on him in this game and let’s hope he makes the best of it.
If the Raiders want to win and make the playoffs it is these three highly paid defensive players that need to shine. Routt, Wimbley, Seymour and Huff were handed sizable contracts in the offseason and this is where contracts and careers are made. Crunch time for these defensive players.
Chargers playing spoiler and Raiders with everything to lose. The Raiders are at home and the coliseum will be rocking like it hasn’t since 2002. Raiders win this one, somehow, someway, but will it be enough?
Two weeks ago headed into the game against Miami the Raiders were leading the AFC West and coming off three straight victories. Two weeks later the season is on the line. Thanks to Timothy Tebow in Denver and two horrible losses in a row, the Raiders are in must-win mode. Unfortunately for the Raiders the opponent this week needs a win just as badly. The Lions look and play like a playoff team. The Raiders haven’t played like a playoff team in many weeks. What do the Raiders need to do to win? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
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When the Raiders have the ball:
The Lions are nearly as suspect against the run as the Raiders surrendering 5.1 yards per carry this season to the Raiders 5.2 and 5 yards less per game than the Raiders atrocious run defense. The Raiders will attempt to run on the Lions and keep Carson Palmer from hurting the Raiders with costly turnovers. The Lions secondary have proven themselves to be ball hawks and they will force Carson Palmer into a turnover if the Raiders can’t keep the Lions honest by running the ball.
Raiders OL vs. Lions DL
The Lions defensive line is much like the Raiders defensive line. It looks great on paper, but the production hasn’t matched the reputation. Khalif Barnes versus the Lions 9-sack defensive end Cliff Avril. If Barnes continues his streak of below average play Avril will harass Carson Palmer. If the Raiders intend to keep Palmer from making mistakes they need to keep the pressure out of his face. Jared Veldheer draws a match up against veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch and his 7 sacks. Vanden Bosch is the type of end that Veldheer has been struggling with. Vanden Bosch will combine power and a quick first step that Veldheer has been struggling to deal with. In the middle Cooper Carlisle draws a well rested Ndamukong Suh who served a two game suspension for stomping a Packers offensive lineman. That leaves Stefen Wisniewski and Samson Satele to block Corey Williams.
If the Raiders fall behind and the Lions are able to turn their defensive line loose on the Raiders offensive line things could get ugly. The Raiders offensive line needs to push around the Lions defensive front in the run game and get Michael Bush through cleanly and let him do his work the Lions linebackers and secondary.
Carson Palmer vs. Carson Palmer
Palmer needs to get back to basics. The Raiders are good enough and Palmer is good enough to score points when they aren’t turning the ball over. Palmer has made several inexplicable decisions over the past few weeks and has been making fundamental errors. IF Palmer can clean up his game and avoid making mistakes the Raiders should at least be able to stay in the game. Palmer will hope the Raiders ride Bush hard this week and that should open up things for Palmer in the passing game.
When the Lions have the ball:
Richard Seymour has disappeared from games for several weeks and it prompted a meeting with Hue Jackson this week. Expect Seymour to respond. The Raiders must pressure Matthew Stafford and force him to make mistakes. The Lions are a passing team, but become infinitely more potent offensively when Kevin Smith is slashing through defenses. The Lions have weapons all over the field. Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew round out the group. The Raiders will need to pressure Stafford into mistakes, if he gets it into the hands of his playmakers the Raiders will be in trouble.
Richard Seymour vs. Stephen Peterman
The Raiders need big game from their defensive leader. Seymour ignites the rest of the defensive line and when he is getting pressure up the middle things up outside for Kamerion Wimbley. It’s a must for Seymour to physically dominate Peterman. The Lions offensive line is prone to giving up pressure and Peterman is the no exception.
Rolando McClain vs. Kevin Smith
Smith is a slasher that thrives on bouncing things outside and getting yards from draws and cutbacks. If Rolando McClain diagnoses plays quickly he can take the Lions rush out of the game. Stafford can catch fire if he has time and the rushing game will help his offensive line tremendously. The Raiders must limit Smith and McClain’s job is to make sure the Raiders have gap integrity, himself included.
Stanford Routt vs. Calvin Johnson
Routt has been playing relatively well. He’s limiting the opponents top receiving option and will need to do so again on Sunday. Forcing Stafford to consider his other option is a win for the Raiders defense and it will be on Routt to make sure Johnson isn’t getting into a groove with Stafford.
Raiders Win If…
1. Raiders give a total effort
2. Raiders protect the ball
3. Raiders force turnovers
4. Raiders stop the run
Raiders Lose If…
1. Raiders do not maintain gap integrity in the running game
2. Raiders turn the ball over more than once
3. Raiders fall behind early
4. Raiders commit more penalties than the Lions