Much has been made about the new defensive scheme that the Oakland Raiders will be employing this year, courtesy of Head Coach Dennis Allen, and Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver. They are expected to be multiple, and more importantly, much less predictable. In recent years, and likely due to the evolvement of NFL offenses, the Raiders defensive system has seemed almost archaic. The old adage has long been that it is the players who make the plays. While that is no less true, it is extremely apparent that a good defensive scheme, and a current one at that, makes a significant difference in the performance of a team. The new defensive scheme in Oakland should do wonders for the team’s prospects moving forward.
Raiders fans will overwhelmingly attest to the fact that the defensive schemes that the team ran were past their days, and all too often could not compete with the complexities of today’s NFL offenses. The issue came to its height in 2011, where opposing teams went the length of the field to score on far too many occasions. Defensive meltdowns against Detroit and San Diego during the stretch run of the season were prime examples of the issues. These featured Detroit’s game winning 99-yard drive with less than 2 minutes to go, and San Diego’s game changing and deflating 99-yard drive in a “win and you’re in” regular season finale.
Despite the often talked about talent level and potential on defense, it has yet to pay dividends. Enter Dennis Allen. Now, for the first time since John Madden, the Raiders have a defensive minded head coach. One that is considered one of the brilliant young minds in the game, by many people throughout league circles. Dennis Allen and new Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver will team together to put all of the talent that the Raiders have on defense to good use. But the question is, how much can a new defensive scheme really help a defense? For that, we turn to history.
While this is not intended to predict the future, there are many examples of just how much a new defensive scheme, and coaching system, can have a positive effect on a defense. In 2008, the Denver Broncos fielded the 28th ranked defense overall. One year later, under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defensive system that he brought in, featuring a switch to a 3-4 base, the Broncos defense made a huge jump to 7th overall. Yes, this was the year that the Broncos also signed future Hall of Fame safety, Brian Dawkins, but he was just one player on a unit that was vastly improved. The very next year, after Mike Nolan had left for Miami, Denver’s defense ranked 32nd overall.
Another prime example of a defensive improvement like this was seen just this past year in Houston, where Wade Phillips took over as defensive coordinator. In 2010, the Houston defense held the team back from making the much anticipated leap to the playoffs. They ranked 30th overall, and infamously gave away several 4th quarter leads. One year later, under the defensive leadership of Wade Phillips, a switch to a 3-4 front, and despite losing star pass rusher Mario Williams, the Texans ranked 2nd overall in total defense. Their defense carried the team to a playoff berth, and first round victory, despite the volume of injuries that the offense was hit with. When both starting QB Matt Schaub, and backup QB Matt Leinart were lost for the season in consecutive games, many would have written the team off. As we know, that was not how it worked out, as the defense continued to set the tone, and dominate.
Other examples of instant success upon defensive system changes:
New York Jets – 16th to 1st after hiring HC Rex Ryan in 2009
Green Bay Packers – 20th to 2nd after hiring DC Dom Capers in 2009
Pittsburgh Steelers – 9th to 1st after hiring DC Dick Lebeau in 2004
Kansas City Chiefs – 30th to 14th to 11th after hiring DC Romeo Crennel in 2010 (now HC)
Again, this is not to predict dominance from the Raiders defense in 2012. However, with the defensive genius that Dennis Allen has been made out to be, especially considering his success in Denver last season, he will certainly do his part in bringing a modern, multiple, and disciplined system to an already extremely talented Raiders defense. Allen’s defensive input will be teamed with young DC Jason Tarver, who previously coached in San Francisco, and last year led a very successful Stanford Cardinal defense.
In a comparison of sorts, Raiders safety Michael Huff labeled last year’s defense as predictable, saying “everybody knew” what it was that the defense was doing. His comments saying, “We’re looking forward to playing for a defensive minded head coach, getting to play a real defense” were much publicized throughout the Raider Nation. While it may have been a slight at the defensive system of old, there is no denying that he and the rest of the defense are excited for the sophistication of the new scheme being implemented. Al Davis was a legend, and a football and defensive genius in his day. There is no denying that, as his systems and schemes led this organization to three Super Bowls, and years upon years of greatness. Having said that, with the evolution of NFL offenses, its athletes, and the passing game in particular today, defenses need to keep up. That is exactly what Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver will help this team to do.
Fans will see a very different Raiders defense this season. At the end of the day, it will be up to the players to make plays, but the hope is that they will now be in much better position to do so. Historically, clearly there have been instances where a change in defensive coaching and scheme had instant and sometimes dominant success, while there no doubt would have been those who failed as well. We will not know for certain how the defensive overhaul will play out for the Raiders until teams get on the field, but the prospects of the defense for 2012 and beyond look much brighter in comparison to the seasons of late. Effective defensive schemes make a huge difference in a team’s production, and we will see just that when the Raiders take the field this fall.
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