Oakland’s secret weapon nobody’s talking about

New exciting additions are helping shape the Raiders biggest asset on defense.

There have been many conversations about how explosive the Oakland Raiders offense is going to be this upcoming season and with good reason. However, one area of the roster that hasn’t been talked about and is shaping up to be a strength this upcoming season is the secondary defense.

Many fans have wondered why general manager Reggie McKenzie didn’t address the linebacker position during the offseason; it’s shrouded in uncertainty as rookie Marquel Lee and Tyrell Adams are projected to compete to start. He could have drafted linebacker Reuben Foster but instead loaded up on defensive backs as he drafted cornerbacks Gareon Conley with their first-round pick and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Shalom Luani in the second and seventh round respectively.

PFF Edge

Moreover, undrafted free-agents Breon Borders, Anthony Cioffi, Ahmad Thomas and Nicholas Morrow (who’s currently listed as a linebacker in the team’s web site) were signed. Even if some of them get cut during and after the preseason, the team would have solid starters and depth in the secondary.

All these additions would join a secondary filled with familiar names such as an ascending safety Karl Joseph, veteran Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith and David Amerson who underperformed last season but should have no problems bouncing back.

With the good-to-above-average talent in the back seven, the Raiders could deploy big nickel (3 safeties) and dime packages on a constant basis. Giving them the ability to blitz or drop back accordingly. These kinds of formations could be implemented because of the addition of Assistant Coach John Pagano, who was dismissed last season by the Los Angeles Chargers and is known for using exotic formations to attack opponent’s offenses.

Although he had mixed results as the Chargers defensive coordinator, it should be noted that the Chargers haven’t been healthy in a while and as recent as last year, there were seventeen players on injured reserve (eight of them played defense). Although not having a fully healthy roster needs to be accounted for, there are only so many injuries a team can take before it takes a toll on them.

Ken Norton Jr. will still be the defensive coordinator, but there is no doubt that Pagano could help him fine-tune a defense that didn’t always seem in synchrony last year.

Going back to formations the Raiders could use this season, the answer may lie in a big nickel as their base formation since it has become the standard in the NFL. Current Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has used it with success in his previous coaching stops.

Even though the Raiders have two quality pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irving, they’re rather thin when it comes to game-changing defensive tackles; with all due respect to Justin Ellis and Mario Edwards, offensive coordinators simply do not game plan around them. Pro Football Focus gave Edwards a 70.1 rating and 63.2 to Ellis; serviceable but mediocre.

This is another reason why the Pagano and Norton could mix their coverage and blitz from the corner or safety position while using, it could help them ease the stress of the middle of the defense while taking advantage of the personnel they count with. The 2017 Raiders defense will never be confused with the 85′ Chicago Bears, but it doesn’t have to be.

Ken Norton Jr. and  John Pagano have the tools to deploy an adequate defense and as long as they don’t ridicule themselves on their way to generating some turnovers every now and then and make some stops when the game is on the line. A bend-but-not-break approach might not be fancy, but it works as the New Orleans Saints can testify.

A bend-but-not-break approach might not be fancy, but it works as the New Orleans Saints can testify. During the 2009 season, they ranked 20 in point allowed and 25 in yards allowed respectively but generated 39 turnovers on their way to the Super Bowl.

The 2017 Raiders defense will probably not be remembered as one that transcends time and generations. However, taking advantage of their surplus of defensive backs will help them compliment an already potent offense and compete in what will likely be a tough AFC West.

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