Oakland Raiders: Del Rio And Norton Must Unleash The Beast


The Oakland Raiders lost their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals as much for their inability to move the ball as their inability to stop the ball from being moved. Andy Dalton carved up the Raiders defense and Cincinnati seemed able to move the ball at will. It wasn’t the best defensive showing ever and makes it imperative that Raiders DC Ken Norton unshackle his squad and unleash the beast against Baltimore.

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If you can sum up Oakland’s defensive showing against Cincinnati – at least in one word suitable for a family forum such as this – it would be tentative. The Raiders defense never seemed to be a fully cohesive unit against Cincinnati. They seemed hesitant, somewhat unsure of themselves, and got their backsides handed to them as a result.

The Bengals amassed 396 yards of total offense – Dalton’s 269 through the air and another 127 on the ground. Cincinnati was able to do that because they had the Raiders back on their heels all game long. Oakland was too busy playing not to lose rather than pinning their ears back and playing to win.

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The defensive letdown had much to do with players not executing. There is no question. But many believe that it had much more to do with the conservative, play it safe, completely vanilla, bland, boring, and overall ineffective defensive play calling of Ken Norton Jr.

If the Raiders are going to not just compete with, but beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Norton and HC Jack Del Rio are going to have to take off the handcuffs and let the beasts they have on defense do what it is they do best.

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It seems crazy to think that despite having some very solid pass rushing talent on the roster, monsters like Khalil Mack, Justin Tuck, Aldon Smith, and even Mario Edwards Jr., that Norton seldom, if ever, really put them in a position to be successful. Rather than turning the defense loose, Norton used a very conservative four man rush for most of the game against Cincinnati and called for a blitz two, maybe three times?

Running a vanilla defense and only rushing four guys most every single play, it’s no wonder that Oakland never got any sort of real or sustained pressure on Andy Dalton last week. And with no pressure, Dalton was able to sit back and pick the Raiders defense apart.

Oakland took a very big risk this offseason by not pursuing any veteran talent at the cornerback spot. McKenzie and Del Rio chose to roll the dice on their youngsters D.J. Hayden, Travis Carrie, and Keith McGill. Last week, the only corner who seriously came to play was Carrie, who did a fantastic job of shutting down A.J. Green. Neiko Thorpe stepped in and made a solid contribution, but it’s clear that Oakland has a very serious problem in the secondary.

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  • That problem is even further magnified this week by the injuries to starting safeties Nate Allen and Charles Woodson. Though Woodson has been campaigning to play, his dislocated shoulder may prevent him from suiting up. At least it should. A week of rest couldn’t hurt the veteran any.

    But those injuries leave Oakland with a huge problem in the defensive backfield. Travis Carrie aside, Oakland’s defensive backs have been terrible. They’re not playing with the authority or the confidence the position requires. They don’t seem capable of hanging with anybody at this point. And the Raiders are paying the price.

    The solution this week though, is simple. You put Carrie on Baltimore’s best – and possibly only – real receiving threat, Steve Smith. You then have either Thorpe, McGill, or Hayden – or some combination of the three – shadowing Baltimore’s other receivers, Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown with whoever starts at safety – be it Larry Asante, Taylor Mays, Tevin McDonald, or even Charles Woodson – providing support over the top.

    Sep 13, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Aldon Smith (99) tries to rush past Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth (77) in the third quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Bengals defeated the Raiders 33-13. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    And then you turn Oakland’s front seven loose to wreak havoc on Baltimore’s offense.

    The only way the Raiders are going to be able to mitigate their very serious deficiencies in the secondary is to create chaos and confusion in Baltimore’s backfield. If Flacco can’t get set because he’s been flushed out of the pocket or has somebody in his face, or even better, he’s on the ground with a big body on top of him, that favors Oakland. If he’s forced to move and run for his life, he’s not going to be able to sit back and pick apart the Raider defense a la Andy Dalton.

    But to create that chaos and confusion, Norton and Del Rio are going to need to unleash their beasts. They are going to need to be creative in sending blitzes, exploiting mismatches, and rushing more than four guys on a consistent basis. They are going to need to get the Baltimore offensive line back on their heels and force them to guess which way the pressure is going to come from.

    Baltimore is only going to have so many offensive linemen to protect Flacco. If they double up Mack, it should free up Tuck and Smith to make a run at Flacco. If they double up either Smith or Tuck, it should free up Mack to make a run at Flacco. Send Mack and Smith from the same side on one play. Line them up on the other side the next play.

    The point is, the Raiders must force the Ravens to play Russian Roulette from the opening snap to the final gun. They need to exploit the absence of Eugene Monroe, overload that line, get and stay in Flacco’s face, and put him down play after play after play. The defensive front needs to punch that Baltimore offense in the mouth again and again.

    If the Raiders can do that, if they can create a constant chaos and confusion in Baltimore’s backfield for sixty minutes, they can help mask their deficiencies in the secondary, and they stand a good chance of beating this Ravens squad.

    But Norton and Del Rio absolutely must trust in their defense. They can’t play tentative defense. They chose to ride or die with these young corners, so they must now provide them with the help they need. Oakland’s coaching staff has to put them all in positions to have success and then turn them loose to go balls out straight from the jump. It’s vital that Baltimore finishes this game wondering what hit them.

    But for that to happen, Del Rio and Norton have to take the shackles off and unleash the beast.

    Next: Keys to Victory Over Ravens