Raiders DC Ken Norton’s Innovative Thinking Yielding Positive Results

The Oakland Raiders brought in Ken Norton Jr.’s fresh mind to manage and develop a revamped defense, and he’s stirring the pot for positive results.

To an extent, thinking outside the box factors into good coaching. Norton has already placed his fingerprint on the Raiders defense with innovative thinking in his first six weeks as the defensive coordinator. 

Initially, Oakland’s lack of sacks, leaky pass defense and poor coverage on tight ends led to the idea that Norton came into this position way in over his head. Over the past three weeks, however, he’s flipped the narrative by breaking the mold, exploring player versatility and shuffling the personnel.


Breaking the Mold

It’s easy to follow in the footsteps of predecessors and slightly modify old ideas, but coordinators must use judgment to decide which schemes fit their roster. Within three weeks, Norton transitioned to a 3-4 base defense, an alignment Raider Nation isn’t used to seeing in recent memory. Some speculated the change as a 5-2 alignment, but reporter Scott Bair identifies the design as a 3-4:

Andy Benoit of MMQB further verifies the use of the 3-4 with splashes of a 4-2-5 alignment in nickel packages:

For those not so familiar with the Raiders' nickel package, here’s what the alignment looks like on film:

Keep in mind that a four-man rush doesn’t always indicate four defensive linemen with their hands in the dirt. Aldon Smith positions himself upright while Khalil Mack lines up in a three-point stance. 

The two defensive tackles position themselves over the shoulders of opposing guards, leaving a gap in the middle. Both linebackers stand on an island to defend the middle of the field.

These formations aren’t new to the NFL, but Norton’s deci...

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