The good folks from Football Outsiders have taken the liberty of answering several questions from us here at Silver and Black Pride, and here is the second question. One will be posted every weekday this week.
While yesterday’s question dealt with head coach Jon Gruden, this one is about the new Raiders defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther.
S&BP: Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme looks to be a step up from what the Raiders have employed on defense for the last several seasons. What are the most important elements, skills or personnel wise, in Guenther’s scheme and do the Raiders currently have what he needs? What should the Raiders be looking for in players to fit the scheme?
FO: Guenther’s presence will be more noticeable in player development and in preparation than in style or play calls. The inability of the last regime to develop middle linebackers was shocking, and of course they’ve had a run of bad decisions and bad luck in the secondary. Guenther’s defenses are built around strong front fours, and I don’t need to tell you that you are still one very important guy short as I write this.
One only needs to look at the Curious Case of Marquel Lee to realize the truth of the Football Outsiders’ words here. Under Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio, Lee was mediocre and looked lost at times. He certainly wasn’t developing into what Reggie McKenzie envisioned when Lee was drafted, which was a complete middle linebacker. But after one training camp with Paul Guenther, Lee has been a mainstay on Levi Damien’s Baller list and has been a leader in the middle, doing exactly what we need him to do.
The incompetence of the previous regime when it came to developing young defensive players was appalling, and it’s a minor miracle that Khalil Mack became as good as he is. Under Paul Guenther, we should expect our young players to develop into studs and Pro Bowlers with regularity.
The front four that Guenther presided over in Cincinnati was quite the unit. At one point, Guenther had Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko and Geno Atkins on his line, and they helped the Bengals become a pretty good defense. All of those guys knew how to get to the quarterback, and Guenther’s double-A gap blitz system caused plenty of confusion for opposing offenses. When Khalil Mack signs, the Raiders could have a defensive line that is even better than that one.
In addition to a lack of player development, it’s also true that the Raiders often looked lost or like they are confused about their assignments under Norton Jr. In two games so far this preseason, the defense has looked prepared and in control. Players have rarely been out of position, and they have not given up many big plays due to blown assignments. That alone puts them in far better shape than last year, and that’s due to Guenther and his attention to detail.
A lot of football comes down to which team does the fewest stupid things. Everyone in the NFL has talent, everyone in the league excelled in college. At this level it’s about coaching and execution and avoiding mistakes, and above all, that is what Paul Guenther will bring to the Raiders.