Its time for the 3-4 to come back in Oakland
Four years ago Al Davis brought in Rob Ryan to install the 3-4 hybrid D that he had learned under Bellichick in New England. Then Davis and the front office saddled him with a roster filled with 4-3 players who were ill suited to run the 3-4. The Warren Sapp DE experiment was a complete failure. Tyler Brayton and Grant Irons at OLB, don't get me started. The experiment was jetisoned the next season to the delight of Sapp and the fans.
Last year it seemed that the Ryan and the Raiders had gotten the hang of the 4-3. The Raiders fielded a D that was ranked in the 3rd by the NFL. But observers who looked at more than the yardage numbers saw the holes. Nobody was passing on Oakland since they could just play keep away since the Raider offense was horible. The much maligned run D, was actually better than advertised as they kept the oposition to a low average per run, they just faced more runs than anyone else. But the most damning evidence, that most ignored last season, that the Raiders were not a top D was the lack of consistant pressure on the passer, despite their #1 ranking by the NFL.
Sure Burgess and Sapp each had double digit sack, but it was a complete boom or bust pass rush. Despite having two of the top sack getters, the Raiders were near the bottom of the league in hurries and knock downs and tied for 19th in the league for sacks. Burgess was tied for 39th in the league for knock downs, in start contrast to other top DE's who applied constant pressure, sack or no sack.
To further skew things, due to the fact that teams felt no need to pass against the Raiders, the run D actualy looked better than it actualy is, as the LB's were free to look run 1st on every play. Knowing that the other team felt no need to pass made their job easier.
This year Sapp is proving that last year was an aboration and that he is nothing better than a situational rusher at this point. Burgess has been reinfected by the injury bug. The lack of a pass rusher at the RE spot is glaring, and when Gerrard Warren is out of the lineup opposing offenses have all day to sit back and pick apart the Raiders secondary.
As for the run, Sands has regressed, Sapp is underweight and Warren is not disiplined. The LB's now have to support both run and pass. The Raiders aren't giving up the most yards per game...yet, but they are giving up the most yards per carry.
The result is that the Raider defense has regressed back to being a liability. The only thing saving it from being a complete joke has been the big play ability of its young linebackers. Fans have offered up various solutions ranging from firing Ryan to installing the cover 2 or running the 46 of Rob's father. I however don't agree with any of these options for the following reasons:
1 - Firing Ryan, Ryan proved his coaching skills last year by holding together 1 side of the ball while the rest of the team fell apart around them. Players have developed under Ryans tutulage, where in the past they seemed to stagnate once drafted by the Raiders. Look no further than Asomugha, Morrison, Howard and Route for players that have grown by leaps and bounds under Ryan. IMO, he has done the most he can with what he has to work with.
2 - The cover 2, The myth of the Cover 2 has been perpetrated by the media to no end. Every team in the league runs cover two schemes. The Tampa 2 which has been credited as being the biggest advancement in the game since the forward pass is actually a cover 3 with the MLB covering the deep middle.
Two things working against this. One since everyteam now has some version of this in their playbook, a good offense rips it apart. Teams know how to hit the seams in this D, and teams that are supposivly running the Tampa 2 (Indy, Tampa, Chicago) actually no longer use it as their base D, although it is still in their arsenal.
The other being that the Raiders are built for man coverage. The high draft picks spent on Asomugha, Washington and Routt would be wasted in this scheme as their coverage skills would not be used to their fullest. Through in that the Tampa 2 calls for pressure from the front 4, something the Raiders don't get, and this would require a complete personell overhaul.
3 - The 46, The Ravens were reportedly moving to the 46 last year. The Ravens, with their far suppior personell to the Raiders found that it worked as a different look only, not as a base D. Now fans want the Raiders to run it... I'll leave it at that.
The solution, in my mind anyway, is to allow Ryan to finally do what he was brought in to do. Install the Hybrid 3-4. And here is how I would do it, and why it will work. Note, I do not advocate moving to the 3-4 this year, the Raiders need to adjust the roster 1st and could not successfuly make the transition until next year.
1 - Draft DL in the 1st round
Lets face it, the Raiders have come a long way since last year, but they are still looking at a top 10 draft pick. As such they should be targeting one of the following 3 players:
Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
Chris Long, DE, Virginia
Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Dorsey and Ellis are both College DT's who projected to either 1 gap DT's or 3-4 ends in the progame. Either 1 of them would be an outstanding option to play at end on run downs and NT on pass downs. Both bring the type of versitility to also line up at DT when the 4 man front is desired in the hybrid 3-4.
Long not only is the best DE in the draft, but is also a legacy pick. His dad was some guy named Howie who may have had a good couple of games for the Raiders. Davis loves legacy picks. He has the size and speed to become the prototypical 3-4 DE.
Long is my 1st choice here, with Dorsey a close 2nd, but if both he and Dorsey are off the board by the time the Raiders pick (a very real possibility, Ellis is quite the consolation prize.
2 - Stand Burgess up
Burgess is not going to like this one bit. The last two years he was the among the NFL sack leaders. If the Raiders do not rework his deal he will be a FA following next season, and would (if not injured) be in line for a huge payday. The Raiders need to show him the tapes of Jason Taylor from last year, when Taylor made the switch from 4-3 DE to 3-4 hybrid DE/OLB. That is what Burgess could be in this scheme and would also save his body from the play in play out pounding of having his hand down.
Also standing up will be Chris Clemons.
3 - Renegotiate the good Warren, loose the bad
Ok, that a little unfair to Sapp to call him the bad. He still has his spots, but he is not a fit in the 3-4 and is unwilling/able to change. Due to his high salary he would most likely be asked to take a pay cut next year or be cut anyway.
Gerrard Warren however has proven to be a disruptive force in the Raiders D. In the hybrid 3-4 he could play the role of Richard Seymore (the role envisioned for Sapp when he was originaly signed by Oakland) in which he would line up at DE on run downs and NT on passing downs. Warren also has the size necessary to line up at NT on run downs should Sands not be up to the job.
So renegotiate Gerrard and add a few years to the deal. He is 6 years younger than Sapp, and should have 3-4 good years left in him.
This would give the Raiders alot of versitility on the DL by adding only 1 player through the draft.
RE - Warren, Kelly
NT - Sands, Warren, FA/late pick
LE - Rookie, Richardson
The only player here with only 1 viable position is also the biggest question mark in the scheme. Sands has shown flashes at DT, but does not seem to be able to change dirrection or fight through blocks should he not pick the right dirrection off the snap. Alot of this I blame on Sands' height. Opposing guards seem to be able to get under him and move him. In the hybrid scheme he would be asked to line up over Center and shoot either A gap in order to occupie both a guard and the center. He should be able to do this. The Raiders would be well served to find their own Kelly Greg later in the draft or via FA.
Now the Raiders LB core with the position changes listed above looks like:
OLB - Burgess, Clemons
ILB - Morrison, Brown
ILB - Ekejiuba, Thomas
OLB - Howard, Williams
The Key to this working is the versitility of Howard. With his speed and coverage ability he can be really let loose in this system much the way Thomas was in Baltimore last year and in New England this year. He can line up at any of the 4 LB positions and rush or cover. The Raiders current system is holding him back (that with 4 INTs & 2 TDs... scary).
Lined up across from Burgess he would be providing the complimentary pass rush that the Raiders have lacked since Long and Townsend were feeding off each other.
Morrison, already a good LB, will be freed up to flow quicker to the play as with a 2nd IBL, the backside responsibilitys are actualy decreased for LB's in the 3-4. Eke, Brown and Thomas all can fill the 2nd ILB spot, but an upgrade here via FA would not be out of the question.
Williams provides excellent depth at OLB here. Allowing Howard to line up inside if needed, or spelling either Howard or Burgess outside. Clemons would be a project, but is a cheaper faster option than the Brayton/Irons experiement of 4 seasons ago.
So now the base is set with 1 draft pick being spent on the front 7. (Opposed to the current front 7 need of DE, DT and OLB) Sure it could be further addressed with either 2 more picks or FA aquisitions, but I will take 1 glaring need over 3 any day.
Why it works
Key word here is veritility. As of right now the oposition knows what the Raiders are doing on every play. Burgess is rushing at RE, Howard and Morrison are in coverage and Warren is the only other player that needs to be acounted for.
Next year with the hybrid scheme the Raiders can rush from any of the 4 LB positions. Howard and Morrison can line up all over the place. Burgess can move over T and put his hand down.
Further complicating things for the oposition is that with the base personell on the field the Raiders can still show a 4 man front by having Burgess put his hand down and line up over tackle.
The scheme also plays up the strenghts of both Kelly and Richardson. Neither is big enough to be an everydown tackle, or quick enough to apply constant pressure as a 4-3 end. But as 3-4 ends they are more than capable of occuping the blockers and allowing the LB's to flow and rush.
Will the Raiders imidetly vault up to a top 5 D with this change, honestly I doubt it. But it should increase the number of mistakes forced by the Raider's D, which to me is more important that the Yardage numbers that the NFL uses to rank D's. More mistakes equals more time on the field for the Raiders offense, and if they can get their act together, it could mean a return to respectibility.