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Raider Film Room: Vontaze Burfict isn’t playing ‘patty cake’

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Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Easily the most divisive addition to the Raiders this offseason is much maligned linebacker, Vontaze Burfict. Many will say he is a dirty player and point to the fines and suspensions he’s accumulated during a 6-year NFL career as reason enough to steer clear from the former Bengals defender. Burfict disagrees with that label, saying it’s just the position he plays, adding that he “can’t go out there and play patty cake.”

Adding an enforcer at linebacker, one who is familiar with Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme was a no-brainer for the front office. As soon as Burfict was released from the Bengals it became a near certainty he would sign on in Oakland.

Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, Burfict instantly upgrades the linebacker corps. Here’s a look at exactly how.

Defending inside run

Burfict lines up at middle linebacker on this play against the Browns. The way the play is designed, the fullback should block the approaching linebacker out and there will be a big hole up the middle. But Burfict just makes the blocking back miss and gets in for a tackle for no gain.

This time Burfict is lined up at strong-side linebacker near the two tight-end side of the formation. The 3rd tight end comes across after the snap to block the infamously nasty linebacker. Number 85 ends up hitting Burfict and then stumbling backwards several yards presumably so he can watch Burfict get in on the tackle.

The one-time Pro Bowl linebacker can move laterally as well. Burfict’s responsibility is the A-gap between the center and the right guard. But he sees the run play go toward the right and scrapes over several gaps to meet the ball carrier in the hole.

Defending the run is Burfict’s strongest suit. Blocking him proves to be very difficult which would be a breath of fresh air after watching Oakland’s linebackers get off very few blocks in 2018.

Blowing up screens

Not the usual category for highlighting a defenders play, but Burfict does not get fooled by screen passes. This type of play pops up in every game Burfict plays. Making this play isn’t all instincts and physical ability, credit goes to film study that helps him recognize these plays. Once again, a professional blocker can’t block him and he makes the tackle for minimal gain.

We heard all year how Kansas City was the best screen team in football. Burfict isn’t impressed and he sniffs this one out instantly. He avoids the center’s cut block and drops Spencer Ware in the backfield.

Going back to 2017 Burfict showed the same ability to recognize and attack the screen game. He drops into coverage and is able to break on the play before Blake Bortles even gets the ball out of his hands. Its safe to say this is a strength of his game.

Up and down pass coverage

This is a highlight for Burfict. He passes the seam route from the TE off to the safety and sits in the hook zone. When the quarterback breaks the pocket it’s Burfict’s job to mirror him and rush should Ben Roethlisberger attempt to extend the play. But sensing that the pass is about to come back where he vacated, Burfict turns his hips and is able to break up the pass.

It’s not all roses for Burfict in coverage however. He gets grabby here against Cleveland when the receiver changes directions and he’s not ready for it. Defensive holding can be worse than giving up a catch because it gives the offense an automatic first down. Burfict had a few of these on tape as well.

While he excels against the run, pass coverage isn’t beautiful. That being said he showed an ability to recognize route concepts and drive on underneath throws while in Cincinnati. He did a good enough job to stay on the field during sub-packages so he’s not the worst in coverage either.

Rushing the passer

After current defensive coordinator Paul Guenther left the Bengals, the defense ran pretty much the same system but one exception. They rarely blitzed. You have to go back to 2017 to see Burfict in situations like the one above. The Double A-Gap pressure became all the rage in 2018 after coaches like Guenther and his mentor Mike Zimmer had so much success with it in the previous few years. Burfict is able to once again defeat a block on his way towards the opponent.

Even if Guenther no longer runs this exact blitz in 2019, expect to see Burfict getting his fair share of pass rush opportunities.

Dirty plays

Burfict has earned the reputation of being a dirty player. Whether it’s hitting the head of a defenseless receiver or twisting the ankle of a player he just tackled, he deserves this label.

There is a popular belief among those in Raider Nation that when you wear the Silver and Black, the referees give you no benefit of the doubt. The Raiders uniform and his past reputation almost guarantees he will have a target on his back from officiating crews assigned to Raider games. Raiders fans must accept he will get in trouble for a few of these types of plays this season and it could effect his availability on Sundays.

Conclusion

Vontaze Burfict is a throwback linebacker in a modern NFL game where his position is turning up lighter and faster players. The former Bengal showed savvy instincts and the ability to consistently defeat blockers while he was healthy in 2018. If he can stay on the field by being healthy and/or avoiding suspension for dirty plays, his strengths will benefit the Raiders defense.