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Free Agent Film Room: What will D.J. Swearinger bring to the Raiders defense?

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Atlanta Falcons v Washington Redskins Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The secondary took another blow on Thursday night when Karl Joseph sealed the game with an interception. Unfortunately, Joseph hurt his foot jumping in the air and the prognosis is that the injury may sideline the four-year veteran for the rest of the season.

Mike Mayock invited D.J. Swearinger in for a workout Nov. 4 and decided to add the journeyman safety after news of Joseph’s injury. Swearinger has played good football in his career and proven capable of handling a variety of roles (deep safety, box safety, dime linebacker) in his six year career. Let’s take a look at how he fits in a Raiders defense that is just hitting stride:

Deep safety

Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther asks his safeties to play both free and strong safety. If the scheme stays intact with the addition of Swearinger, he will be asked to play deep safety often enough in a Cover 1 look that continues to be one of Guenther’s favorite calls.

Disclaimer alert: Swearinger does not have the range or speed to be effective as a deep middle safety in a Cover 1 scheme. He was asked to play deep middle only in Cover 3, which requires less range. Swearinger can be a heady player in the right scheme and cleans up this blown coverage when the linebacker misses the crosser coming his way. This is a decent play. An All-Pro would have driven on this much sooner and possibly broken up the pass.

Swearinger got exposed in Arizona’s scheme, which is why they chose to move on from him after 4 games. This play shows Swearinger make a technique mistake by turning and running with a 10-yard cushion on the receiver threatening his zone. If Swearinger pedals over the top of this route, he’s in a better position to break back inside. This is Swearinger’s game in a nutshell. He guesses. Sometimes he’s right and sometimes he’s wrong.

Man coverage

The Raiders scheme is heavily reliant on man coverage. Guenther gives defensive backs man responsibilities frequently in Cover 1 and in Cover 4 match, when a majority of blitzes turn assigned quarters into man coverage eventually.

Since Erik Harris seems to have the deep safety spot sewn up, Swearinger will likely play man coverage on TE’s more often. He’s not much better here. Basically the same size as Joseph, Swearinger has the same problems getting out-muscled by TE’s in man coverage. This technically gets logged as a pass break-up for the safety, but more for a poorly thrown ball than anything he did to stop it.

Here he gets beat in man coverage by a TE again, but this time the QB actually completes it. He isn’t explosive enough to make up for getting pushed off or leaned on by bigger receivers.

Quarters coverage

Guenther likes to have his defense in zone as well, which is a relief because this is where Swearinger has shined in his career. In the Raiders Cover 4 scheme, each safety has a half-field coverage. Usually, one side of the defense will be in quarters while the other side will be in Cover 2, 2 man, or Cover 4 MEG.

Back in 2018 when Swearinger was rated as one of the best safeties in the NFL by pro football focus, he was asked to execute this scheme often. The defense above is identical to what Guenther calls on most 1st and 10 situations and near the goal-line. The defenders at the top of the screen are in Cover 4 Meg, while the defenders on Swearinger’s side are in man-match quarters.

Swearinger has spoken publicly about how he prides himself on film study and this is a play where that shows up. He doesn’t even take a read-step, simply identifying the route concept, and breaking on the ball. Swearinger looks like a different player in Cover 4.

Another example of Swearinger making a film-study fueled break on the ball in Cover 4 came against Andrew Luck in 2018. In this Cover 4 call, Swearinger is reading the No. 3 and No. 2 receivers for which route will threaten his zone. When the inside most receiver runs his route underneath the linebackers, he keys the No. 2. You can see Swearinger time his break perfectly and notch an interception. He had four of them in 2018.

Run defense

Inarguably the biggest shoes to fill in Joseph’s absence will be the run stopping ability. Despite his other shortcomings, Joseph is one of the best run support safeties in all of football. Swearinger, thankfully isn’t far off in that department.

Swearinger has made a career off plays like this. He is known for being a brutal hitter and capable tackler. His play in the box against the run will provide a similar impact to Joseph. With this coaching staff’s emphasis on run-first players, it make sense why Swearinger was brought in despite his short-comings in the scheme. It’s easier to defend against the pass on third and long and you can only get there if you stop the run first.

Potential locker room cancer?

I usually like to keep my analysis strictly X’s and O’s, but I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up some alarming items about the Raiders new safety. He was released from Washington after having a fantastic season last year because, after being warned several times about not calling out the coaching staff through the media, he continued after a Week 16 loss to the Titans.

Swearinger is that one friend you used to have but just can’t hang-out with anymore because he starts fights wherever he goes. While Joseph was an assassin on the field, he was much quieter off of it. Swearinger seems to keeps his brash persona on at all times.