Last offseason the Raiders signed Reggie Nelson to a two year contract coming off a Pro Bowl season where he tied for the league lead in interceptions (8). The Raiders were in need of a proven veteran safety to replace the retired Charles Woodson in their secondary. Despite a return to the Pro Bowl, Nelson’s season was a mixed bag of takeaways and big plays surrendered.
The 33-year-old had several key takeaways by jumping underneath routes and many opposing teams took notice of this tendency. The Raiders utilized a single high safety look in many of their defensive formations and opposing offenses began utilizing ‘Post-Dig’ and ‘Corner-Dig’ combinations to take advantage of Nelson’s aggressiveness.
The Chargers did this with great success. Here is an example of a ‘Corner-Dig’ combination that lead to a touchdown. First here is a still of the route combination.
The outside receiver runs the ‘Dig’ getting Nelson to jump the route which frees Benjamin on his ‘Corner’ route. NFL offenses are designed to take advantage of one on one match ups. In this case getting the speedy Benjamin, in a foot race, to the end zone against Sean Smith. Smith has no chance against a much faster receiver who has half the field to work with.
Nelson ended the season with 5 interceptions and an occasional big play is the cost of the aggressive nature that a player needs to create turnovers. The trick is in minimizing the big plays. The Raiders coaching staff have not lost any confidence in the 11 year vet, however.
“Nelson is a ball hawk,” Ken Norton Jr. said Tuesday. “He’s always around the ball. He’s a veteran. He knows how to play this game, he’s been playing for a long time. Our team is so young, it’s important for a guy like that to continue to set an example for a lot of the younger players. He has a lot of respect in the room, a lot of respect on the field and he’s been playing for a long time for a reason. He’s a guy whose experience is very important to us.”
It is a natural instinct to look at a struggling group on a team and attempt to place blame on individual players. Though without taking in the totality of their contributions, the conclusions may be off base. It must be noted that Nelson sealed the win in this very same game by once again jumping a ‘Dig’ route with a very different outcome.
The Raiders have brought in John Pagano from these same Chargers as a defensive assistant to help fix the issues with secondary. If Nelson and company can maintain their aggressiveness while also limiting big plays, the defense could see the a big step forward.
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