Why the Oakland Raiders Defense Will Thrive in 3-4 Alignment

The Oakland Raiders defense registered five sacks after two weeks of false alarms for opposing quarterbacks. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. unleashed his pass-rushers and positioned a variety of linebackers to tee off on Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown.

CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair made note of the transformation in base alignment via Twitter:

The entire AFC West division uses some form of the 3-4 alignment with premier defensive playmakers positioned on the edges. As an early proponent of the 3-4 alignment in Oakland, it's refreshing to see Norton blend in the design to spark his defense.

For the Raiders, the alternative alignment fits their personnel, allows the defense to reshuffle a full deck of talent and optimizes the versatility on the roster.


Personnel Fit

It’s never a good idea to fit a square peg into a round hole. Edge-rusher Aldon Smith played in a 3-4 alignment for four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive end Justin Smith occupied blocks at the line of scrimmage, which eased Smith's job in circumventing the line protection for a sack.

Khalil Mack played linebacker in college for four seasons in Buffalo. He graded as the best linebacker in 2014, per Pro Football Focus. The second-year linebacker made a breakthrough toward the end of his rookie year, recording three of his four sacks in the last four games of the season.

As a 4-3 strong-side linebacker, Mack took on lead blockers as a primary run defender on the edge. The 3-4 defensive end would consume the initial blocks, giving Mack a greater chance at taking down quarterbacks as an edge-rusher.

Theoretically, the Raiders only have one prototypical 4-3 defensive end in Justin Tuck. He’s played the position at a high level for 11 years, but he’s now on the downside of his career.


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