Monday, November 17, 2008

Fixing the Defense...Again

Well we have passed the mid-way point of another season of NFL football, so as Raider fans its time to look to next year…

God that sucks.

But then again, so does this team. From top to bottom this team needs and enema. Or at least I know trying to digest the garbage on the field every week gives me the shits.

So where to start? It was about this time last season I advocated finally letting Rob Ryan do what he was brought here to do, and implement the 3-4/4-3 hybrid defense. Watching the Raiders futile attempts to stop the most basic of run games lets start with the defense, what is wrong, and how GM brick would start to fix it.

1st things 1st, this defense is such a huge mess, in order to fix the problem; we must try to figure out how we got to this point. During the three straight AFC West Championship years the defense was at least above average. Since then things have gone downhill, and while Ryan deserves his share of the blame, I don’t believe that it is entirely his fault.

Ryan was brought on board to run the 3-4/4-3 hybrid defense that N.E. was running with great success, as they utilized a great mix of young guns, over the hill vets and journeymen to dominate the AFC (sound familiar). Things were looking pretty good that off-season as 3-4 vets Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton were brought on board to shore up the line, along with a number of journeymen LB’s. Then Al Davis stepped in, and in a classic Davis move signed “premier” free agent in Warren Sapp.

Sapp was a horrible fit at DE in the 3-4, and that along with a multitude of injuries among the linebacker core resulted in a horrible season defensively for the Raiders. There were bright spots, including the emergence of an undrafted DE named Tommy Kelly.

The 3-4 was subsequently jettisoned the following season. However, to this day, the personnel remain a miss match to the scheme.

Since this is GM brick’s take, we will work from the inside out, since that is how GM brick thinks you build a defense.

At DT the line-up currently features:

Tommy Kelly, Gerald Warren, Terdell Sands and Fred Wakefield.

Kelly is not a true under (or 3 technique) tackle, his skill set is better suited to a 3-4 end.

Warren is an under tackle, but he is being asked to 2 gap.

Sands cannot seem to 2 gap, but when asked to simply push his guy back 2-3 yards he can be a force.

Wakefield, well this jack of all trades cannot master any.

This is a huge problem for the Raiders right there. Say what you will about the talent level of the defense. There is no depth to this rotation, and the only two players who should be starting are at the wrong position. There are huge holes for the running game as there are two players single gapping (and being handled one on one) and with no depth there are constant breakdowns by the 4th quarter.

Oh, and before I forget, William Joseph has been added back to the mix, once again with the same skill set as Warren and Kelly, just less of it, so maybe I was better to forget this.

Moving to defensive end, things get no better.

The line-up of Derrick Burgess, Jay Richardson, Kalimba Edwards and Trevor Scott strike fear into, well it should strike fear into the Raiders secondary.

Derrick Burgess should be a pass rush specialist, come in on 2nd and long and 3rd down, he should be nowhere near the field on run downs. This is not because of his heart, but physically he cannot handle the pounding of lining up against right tackles all day. His two healthy seasons are proving to be an aberration to his injury marked career. Throw in that I for one feel he is overrated as a pass rusher, as he is a complete hit or miss player, and well, time to move on.

Jay Richardson shows a lot of promise as a base defensive end, however with the Raiders desperate to find any sort of pass rush, he is being asked to fill the void from the injured Burgess, once again here is a player who’s skill set does not match what he is being asked to do.

Kalimba should also be a pass rush specialist, and prior to the Burgess injury, that looked like what the Raiders had planned, but he is a liability anytime the offense runs the ball, as he has no concept of backside contain, and cannot stand up to run blocking.

Trevor Scott…see Kalimba Edwards.

There it is, up and down the defensive line players are being asked to do things they just cannot do. Which leads us to the linebacker core.

The law firm of Howard and Morrison has many Raider fans thinking that greatness is just around the corner. Throw in solid play from the likes of Ricky Brown, Robert Thomas, Jon Alston and the occasional missed tackle from Sam Williams and this unit would seem to have a lot of potential.

Here is the thing, the way these guys are currently playing, that potential is being wasted.

Kirk Morrison is constantly overrated by Raiders fans, in my not so humble opinion, he cannot shed blocks, constantly runs himself out of position, and seems to have put on some weight this season, leaving him a step behind in pass coverage.

Thomas Howard is a beast, and could start for almost any team in the league, but with the limitations of the players around him, he is constantly getting lost in the wash.

The rest of the linebackers are serviceable vets, they all bring limited skill sets to the table, which in the right system could flourish.

The secondary isn’t broken, so I won’t say much, except that to expect anything more than what you are getting without any semblance of a pass rush, or any ability to slow the run is foolhardy.

So how do you fix the front seven? I’m not one to complain without offering a solution. That is why my posts tend to be so long. So lets get right into it.

1st things 1st, pick a scheme and stick to it, and get rid of the players who do not fit what you are trying to do.

If you want to stick with the 4-3, rotate Kelly and Warren at the under tackle. Find a big body to compliment Sands and rotate the two of them. Find a DE to compliment Edwards and rotate Scott, Edwards, Richardson and the DE to be named later.

The linebacker core should be improved just from the moves at the DT position. Howard and Morrison need room to move. And upgrade at SAM would be nice, but there are only so many moves you can make in one off-season. Sounds easy, but the Raiders have struggled to find a DT or DE worth a damn since Howie Long retired, let alone 2 starting quality players in one off-season. Then you throw in that chances are Burgess and Warren most likely will be gone next season, and it’s not so easy.

Or you can work to the majority of you current player’s strengths and move to a 3-4 base.

Kelly and Richardson would be your base ends. Which works out well as this plays to both players’ strengths. Sands would be your NT, lined up head on the center with the green light to try and penetrate and wreak havoc, he might even begin to earn his salary. You no longer need to find players who can win pass-rush match-ups one on one, so the rest of the depth chart can be filled with journeymen.

At LB, you have plenty of flexibility with the current players. Howard and Williams have the speed to rush or drop back. Putting both of these players on the ends at the same time could be a real match-up nightmare. Morrison has the look of a WMLB in the 3-4, free to flow to the play, with no backside responsibility he could look much like Ed Hartwell did in Baltimore. The question becomes can the Raiders find someone to man the SMBL, can Brown, or Thomas step up here? Or is this a position you find through free agency or the draft. Depth is also a problem, as you would need one or two journeymen to fill some voids.

In the end, there is more work to do to get a 3-4 up and running than a 4-3, however I feel the 3-4 is more attainable than the 4-3 given the limitations of the current personnel and what I feel is the pending departure of Warren and Burgess.

So there you go. GM brick would bring in 3-4 personnel and give Rob Ryan one season of free reign to work his magic. Lets see if the apple has fallen that far from the tree, or, if release of the shackles of the current scheme restrictions, Ryan can produce similar results to his father and brother.

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