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Breaking down NaVorro Bowman’s Raiders debut

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Going beyond the stats of Bowman’s performance

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Last Monday the Raiders signed former San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to a one year $3 million dollar deal. Of course as a new addition to the team, he would see limited action in the teams Thursday night game just three days later, right? Or he could just play 60 snaps (97%), lead the team in tackles (11), and be in charge of making the defensive play calls.

“That’s a pretty cool story for NaVorro to come in and the work that [linebackers coach] Sal Sunseri (put in),” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. “The extra time they spent getting him up to speed as best they could. Focusing on the things that we would have him do in the game plan. It helped, obviously with his veteran experience and his overall knowledge of the game to begin with, to put it our terminology.

“Then green dot, the whole bit, called it. In some respects I think it’s a little better to have the green dot because Kenny [defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.] is able to talk to him the whole time. That’s an added benefit really. But pretty remarkable for him to come in and three days turn around and have that kind of performance.”

Of course as an inside linebacker, making tackles is expected. There is much more that goes into grading a players performance so lets dive into the tape and see how Bowman looked in his first game in silver and black.

Run defense

This is the real strength of Bowman’s game. As we noted NaVorro lead the team with 11 tackles, 6 of them solo, and one for a loss. Bowman is going to make his presence felt in the run game as the Kansas City Chiefs discovered on this play.

Here Bowman reads the double team and shoots the ‘A’ gap making the tackle for loss. A big part of the Raiders 31-30 victory over the hated Chiefs was the defense’s ability to prevent Kareem Hunt and Kansas City’s run game from controling the game.

Had the Chiefs been able to establish the run, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr would not have gotten the opportunity to notch his 13th game winning 4th quarter drive. This was the first game this season that the Raiders held a team under the 100-yard mark only surrendering 94 yards on the ground.

Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt put up 87 yards on 18 carries for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. While they certainly didn’t shut the Chiefs offense down, they did keep them from scoring in the 4th quarter.

Zone coverage

The knock on Bowman is that he lost a step and is now a liability in coverage. That is not entirely true.

The Raiders have run much more zone as of late and with positive results. This third down play is a great example that may surprise those casual fans who only hear the negative reports on the Raiders secondary.

While this is man coverage for the cornerbacks, the coaching staff has Bowman playing the ‘robber’ and double teaming the slot. Using him in these types of zone coverage should eliminate any loss of athleticism he has experienced for his previous injuries.

This was also the Raiders defensive game plan for the Chiefs offense. They wanted to take away the intermediate passing routes, force the check down, then rally to the ball.

Here the Raiders ran Cover-3 forcing quarterback Alex Smith to throw the check down which the defense stops after a 5-yard gain. This scheme versatility is going to pay off later in the season giving the coaches the ability to game plan against individual opponents.

Man coverage

This is where it gets a little more complicated. It is not entirely fair to grade a linebacker solely on his covering of an All Pro tight end like Travis Kelce. Safeties and cornerbacks have gotten beaten by Kelce and expecting a linebacker to cover him is unrealistic.

Kelce was able to beat Bowman off the line pretty easy here. Minimizing Bowman’s one-on-one match-ups against the elite physical talents at tight end would be in the defense’s best interest.

In fact Kelce’s touchdown in this game came against Bowman in man coverage.

Kelce gets open on this corner route and scores pretty easy. The Raiders need to address the coverage linebacker position this offseason. Getting safety Obi Melifonwu will help address this in the short term.

Having Bowman simply go forward and disregard coverage responsibilities can end in some big plays for the defense. Watching Alex Smith hit the ground is always a welcomed sight.

With just three practices under his belt, NaVarro Bowman had an impressive debut in the Raiders win over their division rival. With familiarity with both the scheme and his teammates, his performances will only get better.