Scouts Inc.: Raiders won't change much on the field

September, 30, 2008
9/30/08
3:05
PM ET
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd

Things are obviously a mess off the field in Oakland, but whether the new Raiders coach is Tom Cable or someone else, a coaching change won't alter things much between the lines. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp -- who has also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Lane Kiffin -- probably will continue to design and implement the game plan. The one tweak might be opening up the vertical passing game a bit more because Kiffin's approach revolved around running to set up the pass and placed a greater emphasis on ball control, ball security and field position.

The emergence of rookie RB Darren McFadden alongside the speedy Justin Fargas -- who is dealing with a groin injury -- and the power running of Michael Bush, means more eight-man fronts from opposing defenses and more pressure on second-year QB JaMarcus Russell, but the Raiders have found some packages that work in those situations.

Few teams in the NFL are as deep at running back as the Raiders, and they have done a nice job of packaging McFadden and Fargas in a three-wide grouping (2 RB, 3 WR) that spreads the field to create inside spacing in the run game. That grouping also creates intriguing mismatches on the outside by getting a linebacker or safety out in coverage and spreading the defense out. McFadden is a dynamic player with excellent versatility who can explode through creases in Oakland's zone-blocking scheme, and Fargas is a bigger back with speed and quickness. Both players are a threat to score every time they touch the ball and that places a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. Throw in Bush's size and power in short-yardage and goal-line situations and you have a nice trio to work with.

But even with that versatile ground attack the Raiders need their passing game to evolve over the course of the season and take advantage of those linebacker and safety matchups as teams load the box to stop the run. Russell is going to see a lot of high-low looks with a safety in the box creating eight-man fronts, man-to-man coverage on the outside and a single safety in the hole. In those situations he has to make the defense pay by hitting tight end Zach Miller down the seam against the safety or getting the ball over the top to wide receivers Javon Walker, Ronald Curry and Ashley Lelie. Russell has the bazooka arm to make those throws so it's just a matter of getting him comfortable within the offense.

The West Coast offense the Raiders run is predicated on short and intermediate routes that are used as an extension of the running game to get skill players into space, and if Russell can get into the flow early with those kinds of throws he will not only gain confidence but will also loosen up the defense, taking that eighth man out of the box and creating even more space inside for the running game. That could be especially important against defenses that like to attack the pocket and play physical coverage with their corners on an island.

As for the Oakland defense, don't expect the change in head coaches to have much of an effect on that side of the ball, either. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has remained focused during the chaos and held his group together after it was dominated by the Broncos in Week 1.

Ryan simplified his schemes by designing more quarters concepts on the back end that had his safeties responsible for a smaller area and allowed them to make quicker reads against the run. The secondary as a whole has done a better job in recent weeks of understanding route concepts, using better body position and getting their eyes back and attacking the ball in the air. Ryan has also mixed zone and pressure schemes that have resulted in more heat on opposing quarterbacks and more efficient performance on third down. Expect more of the same no matter who takes over as the head coach of the Raiders.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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