Originally written on Thoughts from the Dark Side  |  Last updated 11/4/14
This piece is the second in a few in which I attempt to predict what things will change and what will stay the same for Dennis Allen’s second year coaching the Silver & Black.  I hope that my predictions turn out to be more accurate than the Mayans’.  In a previous piece I went through the coaching staff and predicted that defensive coordinator Jason Tarver would be back coaching the defense in 2013 and I still think that’s likely.  In this piece I will attempt to delve into some of what I think that means for next year’s Raiders defense.  This piece will not address all of the many players headed to free agency or that the Raiders may draft, etc – I will do that in a following piece – but more on how the defensive philosophy will change. Prediction 1: Raiders convert to a 3-4 That is, the Raiders convert to a base 3-4 alignment.  They will still run 4-3 alignments but I’m guessing that the Raiders will convert to a 3-4 as their primary (or base) defensive alignment.  There are several reasons to believe this will occur. First, both Allen and Tarver are defensive minded coaches and both have a great deal of history running the 3-4.  Tarver, specifically, ran one at Stanford which is where he coached defense before being hired by the Raiders. More recently, the Raiders have started to experiment with 3-4 looks.  Here is a picture from the Raiders/Kansas City game in which the Raiders had 3 down lineman and 4 in the LB position.    In this instance the outside LB positions are actually filled by DE Lamarr Houston and FS Tyvon Branch, both who blitzed on the play. The two ILBs are Miles Burris and Philip Wheeler. The Raiders also had downs in where they played a 3-3-5 alignment versus both KC and Carolina.  A 3-3-5 is when the team has 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers and 5 defensive backs.  Usually when they went into this alignment, DE Houston would operate as a standup linebacker on the left side of the defensive line but would either rush or go into coverage – he dropped into coverage across the middle on a zone once, and had an assignment on Jamaal Charles on two downs.  On others, he rushed from a stand up position. Even with Houston’s time as a standup linebacker it’s not likely the team is seriously looking at him as an OLB – he projects much better to a 5 technique DE – that puts him on the outside shoulder of the tackle. But, it’s significant in that the team is looking at players in a 3 down lineman set to see if it’s something they want to do next year.  In terms of personnel, a transition will not get any easier than now.  The team has a huge number of free agents – almost half the roster – and will need to get a NT or two regardless of whether they play the 3-4 or the 4-3.  They can make the decision, now, as to which way they’d like to go and get a good start on their free agency wish list. Prediction 2: More blitzing Full disclosure – there aren’t any published blitzing stats I could find.  ESPN tracks but doesn’t share the information on what % of the time a team blitzes so no matter what, there’s little way to prove me wrong unless we get more data.  Now, having said that, I think the Raiders will blitz a much higher percentage next year. There are several reasons to believe this will occur – they are personnel, scheme and familiarity. First, personnel – the Raiders had almost no depth this year, especially in the secondary and in the middle part of their schedule they were simply trying to get through games without more DBs going out injured, it appeared.  They had to hold off on blitzing because that would put added stress on their 4th string CBs and they were already woefully outmatched.  So, with presumably better personnel next year, comes increased security that if a LB or two does blitz, the secondary can hold. Second, scheme – If I’m right about the Raiders converting to a 3-4, more blitzing is likely because the blitz is a big part of the scheme.  The 3-4 has larger linemen that are designed to eat up space and hold the point of attack in the center and outside the tackles.  The Nose Tackle is playing right over (in front of) the other team’s center and ideally he will get double teamed every play because he’s large enough that the center can’t take him on his own.  That will eat up the center and one of the guards. Ideally, you’d like at least one of your other defensive ends to be good enough to beat his tackle one on one which will make the opposing offense choose between doubling him or getting pressure on their QB.  If they choose to double the DE with the G on that side, the defensive line has accounted for the blocks of every OL and the linebackers are free to roam. And roam they do, in a 3-4.  Because they are off the line of scrimmage, they have an increased ability to work in space – usually one of your LBs will blitz but it could be any of the 4. Sometimes it will be more than one.  If the DL does it’s job, those LBs can come in unblocked, at times, which wreaks havoc on the opposing offense. DC Tarver, who has a degree in chemistry, is called the Mad Chemist because he loves the blitz.  He likes to draw up different and unusual blitzing assignments and get his defenders to buy in and execute to bring down the QB. Which brings us to the third point, familiarity – this first season was as much about finding out what his players do well as it was anything else.  Initially, Rolando McClain was the team’s starting MLB and the two outside linebackers, Wheeler and Burris, came off the field in passing downs.  As the season progressed and it became clear that was not the role he was best suited to fill, he instead came off the field on obvious passing downs. The same was true of other players like DE Dave Tollefson, who came in as a prized free agent signing but has lost almost all of his snaps due to being ineffective this season.  DE Matt Shaugnessy has also been fazed out in recent weeks in favor of younger prospects like rookie Jack Crawford. As Tarver and Allen determine what the strengths and weaknesses of their players are, they can game plan accordingly, around them.  If they know that some players are better at blitzing than others, they are more likely to call blitzes that will work with their personnel.  Likewise, if they get comfortable that the secondary does better in man, zone or a combination when, say, a linebacker blitzes, Tarver can make the right calls to best mask his team’s weaknesses and play to their strength.   Prediction 3: Approximately half of the team’s current defensive starters will be different. Here are your current starters on the defense, as listed on Raiders.com: DE: Matt Shaugnessy & Lamarr Houston DT: Tommy Kelly & Richard Seymour LB: Miles Burris, Omar Gaither, Philip Wheeler CB: Phillip Adams, Michael Huff S: Matt Giordano, Tyvon Branch Of those, I give 4 guys a lock to be back: Houston, Burris, Huff and Branch.  It seems likely to me that Wheeler will come back but he’s no lock because he’s a free agent and he may not be interested in coming back or may be looking for more money than GM Reggie McKenzie wants to pay. But let’s say he does come back.  That is still only 5 guys of 11 starters that I expect to come back. Shaugnessy, Seymour, Gaither, Wheeler, Adams & Giordano are all free agents and Tommy Kelly is going to have a large salary and has struggled to be effective.  Many people believe that Kelly is likely to be an offseason cut to free up some additional salary cap. All three of these predicitons highlight an organization that is in full-blown transition.  While the defense has been disappointing this year to say the least I expect these changes to occur and time will tell if they can help turn around the struggling Oakland franchise. For more Dark Side thoughts or if you have questions, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews
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