Most of my time this week had been spent looking at the Raiders' offensive line and run blocking issues, so I've only had a chance to do a cursory scan of the defense, but a few things I noticed :
(1) Huffy Time
Huff was really on his game. Not a case of just skills, but his film study, preparation, recognition were excellent. The Big 4th down play was almost entirely on him. Impressive. Play 1 : [link]. Play 2 : [link]. Also kudos to Allen and Tarver for getting him prepared.
(2) The Fat boys
The Raiders have 3 DTs of note: Seymour, Kelly, and Dez Bryant. What showed up is that these players (and mostly Seymour and Kelly) are playing 2 gap and are being very disciplined in the run defense. They establishing a hard center, not giving ground, and not losing gap discipline. This is as opposed to the 1 gap slanting attack defense employed in previous years. As such, there isn't near as much of the penetration and disruption, but there is are far more defenders in good positions and multiple players with good leverage.
This also sets up nice running lanes for the Linebackers to fill. The biggest reason that Wheeler, Burris, and McClain have been making plays is that the DTs have been clearing the way for them. Too often in the past, the DTs would attack and leave the LBs to fend for themselves; the DTs would get out of position and the OL would block the LBs and it would be a mess. Watch carefully on the running plays; teams get counts and assignments and so the Jaguars should have accounted for all (or 7 of 8) defenders in the box. Why were LBs running free so often? Seymour in particular stood out. He set a really strong center and the G or C could never get any sort of movement on him. Double teams were effective, but again, 2 on 1 means 1 defender free.
Kelly was also effective and trouble for one blocker. He commands double teams. His offsides call was borderline. It was called "Lining up in the Neutral Zone" but that was patently false. He had the play timed up very nearly perfectly! While he started moving before the ball snapped, he did not cross the neutral zone until jsut after the ball snapped. BUT, his head (and possibly his arm) did cross into the zone just prior. It's hard to fault him, though. This wasn't a "stupid" penalty; it was an aggressive one that really causes havoc on the o line. That get-off combined with timing just can't be stopped.
On a side note: it is interesting that the defensive intensity, aggressiveness, and effectiveness has increased in conjunction with the number of penalties being called. Recall that in the first couple of games, the Raiders defense seemed to get off the ball slowly and was not getting much real penetration, particularly on passing plays. One reason may be that the defenders were too concerned about penalties and were a count slow. There's a very fine line between the penalty/aggressiveness and non-penalty/passiveness. It should be noted that Demarcus Ware gets alot of offsides penalties.
Desmond Bryant looks like he put on 20+ lbs of muscle in the offseason and is getting the look of a full-time DT, instead of a hybrid player. He's also playing balls off and what is really interesting, if you look carefully, is that he is starting to play more like Richard Seymour. It would be interesting to know if he spent any time working on technique with Big Rich or if this is just the natural result of being teammates at the same positiion. Des' hand-fighting is getting MUCH better and this is possibly Seymour's biggest strength. Des did a two-handed shed-throw to totally free himself that was awesome. Also, Des was given more 1-gap calls and was allowed to slant and attack at times. He looked good doing that as well. Lock him up. This kid is only going to get better and has the look of a starting 3-tech in the near future.
Jaguars apparently saw some of this on tape as they committed multiple blockers to each of these guys, including Bryant, who previously would not.
Lamar Houston is a beast at the LDE position and is a physical matchup problem in the run game. He's just so physical and strong and "slippery." for normal RT to handle. And his biggest asset may be his 500 mph motor. He and Shaughnessy were very effective in setting strong corner and not allowing easy runs to the edge. Jags even chop blocked Houston and he still comes on strong. why wasn't this called? [link]
Unfortunately, neither have been very explosive off the edge and so have been limited in pressuring the passer. Andre Carter is smart as expected from a savvy veteran. On some running plays, he's left uncovered and he crashes down NOT to try to make the play, but to take out a blocker, freeing it up for a LB to clean up. It goes totally unnoticed but was the key to a TFL.
Jacksonville had 2 weeks and so Mel Tucker installed some brilliant blitzes.
On the Raiders side, it seems that the defensive players are growing more comfortable with the scheme and the calls; they are playing better. Now that they understand their responsibilities and are playing to them (for the most part, we'll ignore Tyvon's mixup for the TD), Tarver and Allen can start installing more complicated calls, including a great safety/cb blitz that had Huff running free and getting a nice hit.
On the video review, it's showing up more and more that the Raiders defenders are well prepared, have excellent recognition, and have spent significant time in film study. The mantra of "Attention to Detail" is showing up on the defensive side; the players are not getting fooled, they read their indicators and are seeing the true play design that is coming at them. This allows them to attack the play before even the offensive players have executed it. They are reacting to the play design and not strictly to the individual players. This makes them seems telepathic at times and just very fast at others. This is definitely the most impressive aspect of the defense and one that shows up mostly when you study the video. Here's one by McClain [link] and another by Huff [link] (the same as one of the ones in the Huff section above).
Expect the defense to continue to play faster and to have more exotic looks as the year progresses. And next year, this defense should be a handful for any team. As an example of what could be, look at the Arizona cardinals defense. last year, they got new DC Ray Horton and during the early part of the year the defense was so-so. But around Week 9, they started to emerge as a fast, potent defense and some legitimate superstars emerged, including no-name LB Daryl Washington. This year, they are a fearsome bunch and are carrying that team.
I'm really curious as to what we'll see against KC today; I think they are going to bring out some more interesting pressure packages that they haven't been able to use. Since it's not on tape, it should take the Chiefs' offense by surprise and may be a major advantage.