After posting some dreadful defensive performances the past two seasons, Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is looking for anything to help him retain his job. This offseason he got some better talent to work with from the influx of salary cap space.
However, not all problems can be traced to the lack of talent on the roster. Some can be pointed to the scheme itself. Tarver, who has a long history working in a 3-4, runs a fairly simplified 4-3 front, occasionally mixing in different personnel groupings, such as putting strongside linebacker Sio Moore on the line as a defensive end in passing situations, or standing up his defensive ends. Last season saw many offenses slice their way through the Raiders defense, including times where only the athletic ability of players could save a touchdown.
This offseason has seen a lot of additions to the defensive side of the ball in Oakland. Lamarr Woodley, Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, CJ Wilson, David Carter, Torell Troup, and Tarell Brown were added. The odd part is that every one of them, except Tuck, has extensive experience in a 3-4 defense.
For those not familiar, a 3-4 defensive is set up like this.
It is built to give a defense better flexibility. The one difference from the diagram is that some modern 3-4’s allow their DEs to be responsible for one gap instead of two. Smith and Wilson were natural 3-4 DEs in Houston and Green Bay, respectively, and Tuck’s skillset from New York is almost exactly a 3-4 DE. Troup and Carter were heavy run-plugging 3-4 NTs in Buffalo and Arizona, respectively. Woodley spent his entire pro career in Pittsburgh as a 3-4 OLB.
While head coach Dennis Allen has said he will not completely abandon his familiar 4-3, he has said that the new players give the defense more opportunities to be flexible.
This is honestly the worst plan. Allen has to have seen how the run defense suffered last season. While Woodley will be used as a defensive end, the ability to have a base 3-4 look with him and Sio Moore as outside linebackers can drastically improve the defense.
The Raiders did experiment with 3-4 looks last season, like you see in the example photo from above, bringing Moore to the line of scrimmage opposite a standing Lamarr Houston, with Pat Sims, Vance Walker, and Jason Hunter/Daniel Muir/Stacy McGee in the middle.
Most of the personnel scream the Raiders will run a 3-4, except Allen will maintain its 4-3 base looks. However 4-3 and 3-4 aren’t married to being the same front over and over. Seattle runs a 4-3 front with 3-4 personnel, and they have built one of the best defenses in football.
This does not mean Oakland will suddenly start running the Seattle defense and cure everything. In the NFL, defense is about adapting. Oakland could suddenly switch to a 3-4 base three weeks into the season if its not working.
However, lets hope this does not become similar to Atlanta, where defensive coordinator and 3-4 specialist Mike Nolan accumulates 3-4 personnel, but head coach Mike Smith forces the 4-3 to stay.