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Oakland Raiders

Pagano’s emphasis with Raiders defense is communication and disguise

The Oakland Raiders defense featuring Sean Smith (21), Malcolm Smith (53) and Khalil Mack (21) 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

Former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano was brought to the Oakland Raiders by coach Jack Del Rio to “help in all facets” of the defense, but his main focal point will be with the secondary.

In his first press conference, he stressed the importance of communication and disguising coverages, two things the Raiders defense lacked last season. There were too many breakdowns in communication, with players expecting help and not getting it, which led to big plays.

Although the Chargers secondary was ravished by injuries last season, the secondary was beat because of a lack of talent rather than mental breakdowns, which is a testament to Pagano’s coaching. His players were often in good positions to make plays, knew their responsibilities, and trusted each other to do their own jobs.

The Atlanta Falcons were one the best play-action teams last year. The Raiders saw that in Week 2, when quarterback Matt Ryan found guys completely wide open after his run fakes.

Even after a hard outside zone fake, Pagano’s secondary does a good job of staying disciplined with its reads and its zones, particularly on the backside of the play (top of the screen). The backside corner and safety resists the urge to chase the play. Instead they squeeze the play, but still are in position to defend the backside route combination.

Also, notice that the defenders drop into where the routes will be, instead of just blindly into a spot. The distribution in their zones made it difficult for Ryan to make a decision, and he ends up throwing the ball away. Each member of the secondary knew exactly where their help was, and moved accordingly. That’s what great communication could do for the back end of the defense.

The Raiders defense did not do enough disguising last year, and against elite quarterbacks it’s just too easy to declare the coverage. Even if they figure out the disguise, you want to get them thinking. Pagano will design and emphasize disguises.

The defense starts out giving a Cover-0 (man to man with no deep help) heavy blitz look. The Raiders think they a have a good play called with a rub concept for Michael Crabtree to the left of the formation. However, before the ball is snapped, the defense drops into a Cover-2 and easily handles the rub concept that’s designed to beat man, not zone. Derek Carr has to force the ball in a tight window, and the pass is incomplete.

This is another well-disguised coverage that got the defense off the field on a third down. Initially, the defense is giving Marcus Mariota a zone blitz, Cover-6 look. Mariota thinks he might space in to hit a drag route in the short middle of the field because of the coverage, but right before the snap, the defense switches into a Cover-1 robber and essentially double-teams the drag. Mariota tries to moves into his next progression, but the pressure is able to force an errant throw.

With the addition of some young talent into the secondary, Pagano will have some tools to work with. If he can help the defense cut down on coverage breakdowns, trust each other, and add some confusing disguises, the defense will already be improved. The Raiders offense is expected to be even more explosive than last season, which will lead opposing teams to pass more. The secondary has to be ready for the challenge.

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