When the Raiders hired former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano, I thought he would take over the defense. I thought Ken Norton Jr., who hasn’t done too well for the Raiders in that role, would be demoted. I didn’t think they would change the title but I did think Pagano would lead the way.
How many more times can a team miscommunicate over a coverage? How many more times can a team allow a player to run down the field by himself? They fired Marcus Robertson this offseason so the scapegoat thing is over. What are they going to do now, fire new secondary coach Rod Woodson?
Didn’t think so.
Norton is responsible for more than the communication problems, he just doesn’t put players in position to win. Putting a player in position to win is having them do the things that they’re good at on Sundays. He may have done some of that with the front-seven lately but he surely has not done that with the secondary.
And you wonder why the Raiders gave up more pass plays of over 20 and 40 yards last year.
The problem is Norton doesn’t try to adjust his scheme to fit the players he as. He’s trying to get bump-and-run cornerbacks to play off-man and zone. Norton is trying to duplicate what the Seattle Seahawks did with a different type of cast. The NFL doesn’t call Richard Sherman a shutdown corner anymore because they realize he’s a zone corner.
Meanwhile, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie was trained to scout CB’s that excel in bump-and-run coverage. That’s what he did as the director of player personnel with the Green Bay Packers and what he knows the Raiders to traditionally be. He took one shot at an off-man and zone CB when he drafted D.J. Hayden and look where that got him.
That’s why David Amerson had an immediate impact when the Raiders picked him up on waivers in 2015. The reason why Washington cut him is because they changed the defense. The former 2nd round pick was a budding star in his first two years (2013-2014) but just couldn’t adapt when Jay Gruden brought the zone.
Amerson broke out in bump-and-run coverage in 2015 and fell off last year in more zone and off-man. You can even tell the difference in the two games he played in this preseason. He gave up a touchdown in the first one in more zone and off-man. Then he played much better manning up on Sammy Watkins Saturday.
Sean Smith was a star CB for the Kansas City Chiefs mainly in bump and run coverage. The last year, he goes to the Raiders and is asked to play outside of his skill set.
Don’t get me wrong, Smith had his problems with eye-discipline at the line of scrimmage in bump and run. But he has no chance with fast, shifty receivers in off-man and can’t break on the ball in zone.
I studied Gareon Conley way before the Raiders drafted him and he’s good in bump-and-run coverage. The good thing about him is he has the fluidity and speed to play off-man coverage too. But while he’s not horrible in zone coverage, he’s nowhere near as good as he is in man.
Norton definitely needs to solve the problems the Raiders have in communication quick. But running coverages players aren’t that good at will hurt you just as bad. I understand switching it up at times but you have to stick with the strength of your players at most of the time.
The Raiders have more talent in that secondary than most people realize. And it just might show if Norton utilized them properly.