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Oakland Raiders

Raiders should steal the Cardinals’ fire zone blitz package

Oakland linebackers Bruce Irvin (51) and Khalil Mack (52) lead the Raiders defense during action against the Carolina Panthers during an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Oakland, CA. The Raiders won 35-32. (Daniel Gluskoter/AP Images for Panini)
(Daniel Gluskoter/AP Images for Panini)

It’s no secret that the Raiders’ defense was bad last year. With an influx of talent from the previous offseason, the Raiders were expected to become a much improved unit but regressed, finishing 26th in total defense. Their problems stemmed from bad run defense, getting burned by play-action passes, and not generating consistent pressure.

Players constantly out of position and either didn’t know what their jobs were or weren’t disciplined enough to do them. When playing defense, it is imperative that defenders do their jobs and trust their teammates to do theirs. Defenses find themselves in sticky situations when teammates are trying to do each other’s jobs.

The Raiders’ defense was among the teams that blitzed the least. Blitzing could help get defenders into the backfield to stop the run more aggressively and create more pressure. However, the Raiders were too disorganized in the back end to blitz without a large risk of getting hit with a big play. Also, the secondary was not good enough in straight man-to-man to blitz more consistently.

Fortunately for the Raiders, the NFL is a copycat league and they could steal a page out of the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive playbook. The Cardinals’ fire zone blitz package is one of my favorite schemes in the league and I think it fits what the Raiders want to do and their personnel nicely.

The Raiders began playing more two-high safety looks towards the end of the year with Cover 2 and even quarters coverage. The Cardinals package includes both of these elements in it.

When the Raiders are in their 3-4, one of their outside linebackers (Khalil Mack or Bruce Irvin) typically has to drop back when the offense passes the ball. This fire zone would take away pass responsibility and allow them to get off the ball aggressively.

The defense gives the offense a two-high safety look and invites the offense to run. However, one of the safeties walks into the box and becomes an extra run defender.

Karl Joseph is a physical run defender and would thrive in this role. On the weak side of the formation, the defense is in an inverted Cover 2. In a typical Cover 2, the corner would have the flats and the safety would have the deep flats, but in an inverted Cover 2 they switch roles. This would allow Joseph, who is a much better run defender than any of the Raider corners, to play in the box. Also, both Sean Smith and David Amerson could play deep zones well because of their lengths and ball skills.

On the strong side of the formation or the two receiver side, the defense is playing a form of quarters called “palms” or “two-read.” The Raiders already installed the coverage last season and I believe it fits their personnel well. It allows the Raiders corners to play off man (they lack long speed to play bump and run) with a chance of a double team from the safety.

To the top of the screen, the defensive backs play an inside/out bracket on the outside receiver because the tight end did not release. Reggie Nelson would be able to handle playing this role, but there is also a chance the Raiders pursue the same safety in the clip, Tony Jefferson, this offseason.

The scheme allows the outside linebackers to fly off the ball and create almost instant pressure on the quarterback. Unfortunately, he had room to step up but hopefully with Mario Edwards Jr. rushing up the middle, this wouldn’t happen to the Raiders with Mack and Irvin possibly creating havoc off the edges in this scheme.

As you can see, this blitz package is very clearly defined. Everyone’s job is detailed but more importantly the Raiders personnel could execute this scheme and execute it well. If the Raiders want to blitz more, this scheme would put their players in the position to succeed.

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