Originally written on Thoughts from the Dark Side  |  Last updated 11/5/14

TFDS has been discussing the many changes in both personnel and coaching this offseason in an effort to prime Raiders fans for what to expect with the new team, both positive and negative.

Recently, we discussed the West Coast offense and how the Quarterback and Wide Receivers are likely to be used in the new scheme brought by Offensive Coordinator Dennis Allen.

Allen is not the only new coordinator, however. The Raiders Defensive unit will also be gettin a make-over with the addition of Jason Tarver.

If Al Davis loomed large over the decisions of the offensive coaches every Sunday - and he certainly did - his presence was much more noticable on the defensive side. Woe to the coordinator who strayed too far from Davis' preferred 4 man rush with man coverage on the outside.

Davis didn't outlaw blitzing or anything like that but he wasn't a big believer in them. If they worked, he would allow them but if they were not working the defensive coordinator had to understand Davis' displeasure with his choices.

With Mr. Davis' passing, so too passed the Raiders reliance on one single scheme. Tarver is likely to bring a much more varied approach to defense that will attempt to confuse and confound their opponents with disguised schemes and fronts.


With today's offenses getting more complicated and more multiple, confusion and misdirection is one of the best weapons for defensive coordinators. The goal is to make the quarterback think that the defense is lined up in one particular scheme, initially, and then, at the snap, do something else with the hope that the QB will make a poor decision when forced to make one so quickly.

One of the tricks I expect to see from the Raiders this season is the zone blitz. The zone blitz has, in pricipal, been around since the 1970's but it hasn't been prevalent in the NFL until the 1990's. Dick LeBeau, the long-time Steelers defensive coordinator is credited with being one of the key innovators of the zone blitz.

There are a variety of ways that a team can zone blitz but they all have the same basic components: a pre-snap formation that shows one scheme but relies, at the snap, on unexpected pressure from linebackers and/or safeties with one ore more of the linemen moving into coverage instead of rushing the passer.

The basic idea of these tactics is to confuse linemen as to who their assigned player will be and hope that one or more rushers get past the line quickly to get to either the quarterback or runningback.


Breaking down a play

To illustrate, here we will look at a Fire Zone blitz, which is deferentiated from other types of zone blitzes based on the coverages that are run by the players that drop into coverage. In this play, the zone will be 3 short and 3 deep - this 3-3 coverage is what makes this a Fire Zone.

Take a look at the picture. The defense is playing a 4-3 defense with two cornerbacks and two safeties. The offense is running a two wide receiver set plus a tight end with a fullback and a runningback in the backfield.

The defensive line has shifted to the weak side (the weakside is the side away from the tight end) and has rolled linebackers to the strong side.

The two safeties are playing deep with the free safety slightly deeper than strong safety.

From the way the defense is aligned, the quarterback's pre-snap read likely will be cover-two man defense. Cover two means that there will be two safeties over top and both safeties are deep enough here that it seems likely they will be playing deep, trying to keep the play in front of them to either make an interception or to make sure that no player gets past them for a long pass. They are also there to tackle any receiver or running back that gets through the first two levels of the defense.

The cornerbacks and linebackers aligned across from the eligible receivers may mean man coverage but the quarterback may put the tight end in motion to see the defenses response, which will help him tell if the defense has man responsibilities or are in a zone coverage.

However, the defense is in a Fire Zone call, here.

Working from left to right along the line of scrimmage on the diagram, the players, at the snap do as follows:

-The right CB (right from the point of view of the defense, left on the diagram) will follow the X receiver out as deep as that receiver goes and then, if the receiver cuts in towards center, will let the receiver go and focus on being one of three deep players on the play.

-The right DE fakes a rush and then drops out to cover the right flat to make sure the WR cannot run an open slant or the RB doesn't move to the flat uncovered.

-The right DT moves into a contain maneuver going around the weak end of the formation to cut off a running play or bootleg to that side.

-The left DT attacks the weakside A gap (gaps are lettered starting from A on both sides of the Center so the weakside A gap is the gap between the center and the guard on the side opposite of the TE) and tries to penetrate into the backfield.

-The right DE stunts to the strongside A gap.

-The strongside LB, across from the TE runs a contain route into the backfield to make sure he gets on the running back or fullback if it's a running play.

-The last player on the line of scrimmage, the left cornerback, mirrors the right cornerback and follows the wide receiver downfield. His area of coverage is also 1/3 of the field, deep.

The middle and weakside linebackers, the second line of defense in this alignment, do as follows:

-The weakside linebacker moves to the center of the field. His zone responsibility is to cover the center 1/3, short.

-The middle linebacker will blitz the strongside B gap with the hope that the offensive line will not expect him coming and be unable to block him when he arrives.

The last line of defense, the safeties, will move as follows:

-The free safety, on the diagram's left, will move to cover the center 1/3 of the field deep.

-The strong safety will rush to his left (the diagram's right) and cover the left 1/3 of the field, short.

So, if all players execute correctly the field has been broken into 6 quadrants with each player having responsibility for 1/3 of the field either short or long.


Applying the zone blitz to the Raiders

The strength of the zone blitz is it's confusion. If the players are able to execute as designed, this play can be devastating to the offensive line's play calls and create much disruption in the backfield.

It's a shame that Rolando McClain is looking at a likely suspension due to his arrest and charges stemming from an altercation in Alabama last year because, as dissapointing as he's been for much of his career, he's actually shown himself to be an above average blitzer and this blitz calls for the Mike Linebacker to do just that.

In this alignment, Matt Shaughnessy would likely be the RDE that would peel off into coverage. Shaughnessy should excel in this role as he's not so large that he can't also move in space and he has great athletic ability to be able to cover an area, if need be.

Michael Huff or Matt Giordano, at free safety, should be fine in the role as the deep center zone player. Tyvon Branch certainly has the skills to be able to cover the left flat, too. It's unclear if Mike Mitchell has the ability to cover a wider area as backup SS.

There is no question the Raiders will miss Kamerion Wimbley's blitzing ability. New Sam Linebacker Philip Wheeler is an unknown in this role but his tape review indicates that he has some speed and ability to burst so he should be and able blitzer as well.

There will be many changes to the Raiders defense this season which, when looking at the Raiders defensive stats the last 10 years, can only be for the better. Introducing the zone blitz, among other new schemes, will help bring the teams philosophies in line with many new changes in both rules and athletic ability and should go a long way towards bringing respectability back to the silver and black.

For more Raiders news and analysis, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews

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