I'm going to start right with it. After going over my expectations of the Raider's Offense its time to look at the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately I am not (nor is anyone in Raider Nation) anticipating incredible defensive performances this upcoming season. However this doesn't necessarily point to defensive disaster, and there are some compelling facts to prove it.
First year Head Coach Dennis Allen spent this past season as the defensive coordinator for the Broncos. His defense (NOT Tim Tebow!) was the predominant reason the Broncos won the division and made it to the playoffs. Holding half their schedule to less than 20 points last season is no small feat in todays NFL--especially with literally no help from the offense. Our defense looks to be in good hands.
Tyvon Branch is the bright spot in the defensive lineup. He single-handedly erased Rob Gronkowski from the field in last years contest, doing what no other defender much less defense was able to do last season. Branch is fast, strong, a powerful hitter, great tackler, etc (I could go on but I don't want to give the impression that I have a Tyvon Branch man-crush). In short, the guy has been as close to amazing as it gets at the position. But when we've seen him at his best was primarily in man coverage situations. Now that the defensive scheme is going to involve more zones I have my reservations on whether this schematic switch will expose Branch's weaknesses or further unleash his potential. I have seen Branch struggle in zone type coverages but I chalked it up to a lack of practice time in that coverage. I expect HC Allen will figure out exactly what works for Tyvon and all Raiders defenders before we see the defense really start to click.
Other veterans I expect to perform well this season are Richard Seymoure and Tommy Kelly. Both these guys are proven interior rushers in the NFL, and if Dennis Allen lives up to his promise as coordinator, he can put Seymoure into more 3-4 end positions to get even more production. Lamarr Houston is another player I expect to get the benefit from a switch to more multiple defensive fronts. Houston is a tweener End-Tackle type and I really anticipate great things out of him in 3-4/two gap looks.
At linebacker McClain and Curry are the only returners who had significant playing time last season. I expect them to perform at a pretty average baseline with occasional amazing plays and occasional bad moments. The addition of Phillip Wheeler is in my opinion a great pickup that serves to fill holes in the linebacking corps while still delivering a player who can run and hit. Wheeler is a "move" linebacker who has made his career out of playing in the Colts cover 2 defense. While this gives us a limited scope of his abilities what I saw out of him while in Indy was a guy with a great motor who was always around the football. This is exactly the type of energy needed at linebacker. Groves and Wimbley didn't have the speed to get to the sideline, and that is often how the Raiders defense made average running backs look amazing on stretch plays. With Wheeler the Raiders have an eager tackler who has enough versatility to be used in multiple ways.
The newly assembled secondary carries a lot of question marks. Ron Bartell, Shawntae Spencer, Brandon Underwood, and Pat Lee are all new Raiders corners. Bartell and Spencer are slated to start while 2nd year corners Chimdi Chekwa and Demarcus van Dyke back them up. This means the Raiders have 6 corners without success wearing Silver and Black. Hopefully the coaching staff has been reviewing practice film often to really see where these guys excel and how they can contribute. I see either Chekwa or van Dyke pushing hard to eventually start in place of Spencer. I also see Underwood and Lee as viable Nickel options. Underwood was brought in very early by GM McKenzie so he has a clear plan on how he'd like Underwood to be used. I see him filling Hiram Eugene's spot as a special teams ace but perhaps with better coverage skills.
There is a fair amount of uncertainty when it comes to projecting the 2012 Raiders defense. There are many new players, a new coaching staff, and supposedly a new scheme. As fans we used to know exactly how a new Raider would be used on defense, but now there are too many variables to predict a players theoretical performance. I can hope however that the coaching staff calls coverages and fronts in accordance to the players abilities. I also hope that younger veterans McClain and Houston really turn the corner and establish themselves as among the best at their position. Its a new season and chances are the offense won't be able to drag the defense out of every game.
14th in defense 350pts allowed, 320 yds per game, 1700yds total rushing, 3400yds total passing.