Natural front-four pressure and allowing the other seven defenders to drop back in coverage — that is the way. As our Matt Holder laid out succinctly in his Q&A previewing the Raiders-Dolphins matchup, that’s going to be one of the ways the Silver & Black can stymie Mike McDaniel’s potent offense.
“Fast. Explosive. Smart. Mike [McDaniel], he went to a great school. But just in terms of what those guys do offensively, the bind they put you in, the run-pass conflict, the way they’re able to move guys around,” Graham said during his media availability earlier this week. “And just in terms of an offensive mind who loves to run the football — as a defensive coach, you can respect that, and you understand the challenges with that. And they got a lot of very skilled athletes over there on the offensive side of the ball. So, it’s a great challenge.”
A great challenge and equally great opportunity to see if the Raiders under Pierce’s watchful eye are ready to compete and beat upper echelon teams or just good enough to drop the middling squads. But back to the defensive conundrum facing Graham.
The best way to disrupt any offense — high-powered or not — is to make life miserable for the primary distributor of the football: The quarterback. Legendary Raiders owner Al Davis said it best:
“I think this, that somewhere, within the first five to 10 plays of the game, the other teams quarterback must go down. And he must go down hard,” he famously said.
Las Vegas has a premiere edge rusher in Maxx Crosby who can wreak havoc all by his lonesome. The defensive end is fourth overall in sacks at 9.5 and second in tackles for loss with 13.
Miami has done a solid job protecting Tua Tagovailoa and getting the ball out of his hands as he’s only been sacked 14 times this season — which is third lowest amongst quarterbacks to have started nine games this season. But with the Dolphins having a variety of speedy weapons all over the place, the Raiders will need pressure from a variety of places to make life difficult for Tagovailoa.
That’ll mean interior pressure from the likes of John Jenkins, Adam Butler, and Jerry Tillery, with opposite edge pressure from Malcolm Koonce and Tyree Wilson.
“ In terms of Jenkins, he does his job. He knows his role and he does his job really well. He eats up the middle of the defense, he gets off of blocks, he pushes the middle of the pocket,” Graham said of his veteran defensive tackle. “And then in terms of AB (Adam Butler), he does a good job of communicating with the pass rush, winning his one-on-one battle and then also coordinating the rush.”
Getting the front four generating pressure will allow Graham to deploy the other seven defenders in coverage and be selective on blitz calls.
Eye violations have ruined many defenses. Especially against a team like the Dolphins.
Miami does as good job not only moving players across the formation, but also also using pre-snap motion. Moving players before the snap serves a variety of purposes, mainly it allows Miami to both take advantage of the defense’s alignment, but also create confusion and have defenders looking at the wrong thing. Putting players in motion also serves as a tell for the offense if the defense is in man or zone coverage and allows Miami’s speed demons to generate momentum early.
Graham knows this and isn’t overly concerned — as long as his defenders don’t fall into the eye violation trap.
“Well, most teams on early downs right now in the NFL, they’re doing a lot of the same motions. So, we’re getting used to seeing that more often,” Graham said. “Our offense gave it to us all spring, all training camp in preparation for the season. So, we just got to abide by our rules and get our eyes in the right place and play football.”
Fight Fire with Fire
Las Vegas is not without speed on defense. Linebackers Divine Deablo, Robert Spillane, and Amari Burney aren’t the plodding types of yester yore. Each boast short area quickness and the ability to run in coverage — Deablo and Burney are collegiate safeties turned pro linebackers.
“It’s always good to have Deablo back, just in terms of, one, his leadership, his ability to tackle his physicality in the run game, and then the space he covers in the passing game,” Graham noted. “You heard Spillane talk about it, in terms of what Deablo did on the play to hold the curl to buy Spill (Spillane) time to get there for the interception. It’s all tying together, two linebackers that are getting comfortable working together and playing off of each other.”
On the back end, the fastest cornerback on the Raiders roster is rookie Jakorian Bennett with the slowest arguably being veteran Marcus Peters.
But in terms of matching up with directly with Miami’s track team of speed — running back’s Raheem Mostert, De’Von Achane, and wide receivers Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle -— Las Vegas is likely to be out-manned.
Dolphins rookie RB De’Von Achane (knee) practiced again looking fast and fluid. Optimism on Achane being activated to play Sunday vs. Raiders.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) November 15, 2023
Fantasy football users, my attempt to gather info on Achane’s expected workload was sniped by HC Mike McDaniel today. Take a look pic.twitter.com/RqfVChCJpj