It's a passing league and much of the success of the Raiders' defense will be determined by how good the Raiders' pass defense is. But if the run defense is terrible, it will have long ranging ramifications and there's little hope for consistent defensive success. In years past, the Raiders' run defense has been inconsistent and problematic; while there have been times when the unit looks dominant, there are all those examples where they surrender HUGE chunks of yardage on the ground, plays that just suck the life out of both team and fans. Remember Fred Jackson's big TD run following the DMC fumble? Remember Green Bay's second play where Ryan Grant ran free for a 47 yard TD?
The problem is not talent. It's not skill. It's not athleticism or even football IQ. It's preparation, defensive scheme, and overall team-oriented defense. Discipline is taught and responsibilities and a dynamic team attack are brought to the fore when the DC teaches it and drills it. When we see individuals running at ballcarriers full tilt without any regard for their teammates, we know that there's something wrong in the coordination of the defense. We know we're not seeing a good unit. And if there's no teamwork, it doesn't matter how skilled and talented the individuals are.
This, more than anything else, is what we are going to be asking of new Head Coach Dennis Allen and Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver. Get the team's DEFENSE to start working together like a TEAM defense. We want to see players in the right position, we want to see people taking on the blockers to free up teammates, we want to see defenders playing to correct leverage, and we want to see gang tackling. (And we want to see those penalties go down, but that's another post for another day).
I looked at the 1st team running plays against Detroit (1st half only) to see if there were any indications of the ongoing defensive evolution. How did they do?
I am glad to report that at this time, the run defense was doing some very nice things.
First of all, the Lions are clearly a much more effective passing team than running team. Mr 5000 and Megatron are proof positive of that. The Lions' Mikel Leshoure was a 2nd round pick two years ago and was to be their featured workhorse back to balance out that air attack, but an achilles injury erased his 2011 season. He's been troubled in the offseason as well, but the 6' 230 lb back has quite a bit of talent.
The Lions ran the ball 8 times in the first half, 2 of which were negated due to penalty. Many of these run plays were from pass formations against Raiders' Big Nickel personnel and so is perhaps not indicative of how the base run defense may play.
The results were fantastic. of those 8 rush attempts, 3 went for negative yardage, 3 went for no gain, and only 1 rush went for more than 1 yard (4 yards). In total, 8 rushes for 0 yards.
But more than the performance, the focus is on what the players were doing and how they were doing it.
We saw the line and backers running some games up front. For instance, having the DE crash down low while the LB loops around to take the containment responsibility. The Raiders did this multiple times and is a really interesting approach. The concept is to switch responsibilities by directional attacks. This causes the offense to adjust on the fly and not really know where the defenders are going to be. It gives the runner false keys and may have him run INTO a defender.
And it's dynamic. It allows the defenders to attack HARD and FAST and to have very simple assignments and yet the defensive design is complex because of the various attack vectors. Isn't this exactly what Tarver et al have been saying? Complicated defense that is simple for the players to execute.
It's not perfect. There is potential for breakdowns and maintaining that discipline is key. If a player doesn't play the correct leverage, then it's problematic. But if everyone is playing as they are supposed to, then there should be multiple players around the ball. If players are using correct leverage, then it lets defenders attack knowing where the help is. This means that missed tackles are actually OK, because it forces the ballcarrier into another defender. But it also means that mistackles are likely to decrease. If defenders are forcing and funneling a runner into a known direction, it's a much easier tackle to make than otherwise. That's a far cry from those awful WHIFFS in the middle of the field that we saw last year.
Rolando and Wheeler look like they are going to be big beneficiaries of this. Watch for McClain, in particular, to have a fantastic year in tackles against the run game.
A couple of other notes. Lamar Houston is a monster. We notice the guy playing well, but when you slow it down, break it down, and watch carefully, in the run defense, this guy is a brute. He's being used inside and outside, 5 technique, 3 technique, 0 technique, and he's abusing Lions wherever he goes. In particular, he has this nasty spin move he uses on the inside that frees himself up. The Lions' interior linemen can't get a hand on him. That quickness combined with his otherworldly strength makes him a beast on the inside.
No Richard Seymour. Keep in mind that Seymour had the game off and so we were seeing Tollefson and Bryant joining the normal crew of Shaughnessy, Houston, and Kelly. These guys all acquitted themselves well, but the exciting lineup was Tollefson DE, Kelly NT, Houston DT, and Shaughnessy DE.
Ron Bartell is a great run support CB. Spencer is good, but in his lone play, he breaks his assignment and loses contain. But if the Raiders defense can count on 2 other real run defenders on the edge, it's going to make it very difficult on opposing runners.
This comes on the heels of the Arizona game where Ryan Williams had quite a bit of success. The pass rush against Kolb was fantastic, but the defense was giving up some nice big chunks (including that TD run) to Arizona. Whether this game says more about the Lions' running attack or the Raiders' improving defense is yet to be known, but it certainly appears like the players are growing more comfortable with what they are doing.
And this is just preseason. It's going to be really exciting when we see what they are going to do in the regular season!
Here are the breakdown, in case you want to see them all :