Raiders DC Graham talks defensive philosophy and ‘the illusion of complexity’

On the day Josh McDaniels took over as head coach, he had yet to officially name a defensive coordinator. Still, he was asked if the Raiders would go for a 4-3 or a 3-4. To which, he said, those base defenses don’t really exist in today’s NFL.

At the scouting combine, Josh McDaniels took to the podium for his second press conference, by which time he had hired Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator. And, of course, he was asked if the Raiders were thinking about a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. His response was the same.

On Friday, Patrick Graham took to the podium for his first press conference since being officially announced as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. Any guesses as to the first question he received? Yes, he was asked the old 4-3 vs. 3-4 question. His answer was not surprising.

“The game is under-defensive. Period, close range,” Graham said, referring to the lack of a defined 4-3 or 3-4 base defense. “Whether it’s 11 staff we see off teams or 12 staff playing like 11 staff and the way we fight that a lot of the time is playing under defense. So when I say under defense, now you enter the 4-2-5 world Whatever the spacing – four down, five down, three down – whatever the spacing you really have dealing with a world of five DBs in the field at a time, and four bigger bodies with two linebackers.

“So to me, 4-3/3-4 talks are almost like they are antiquated, to be honest with you. What are you talking about under defense, do you have guys who can rush the passer? Yes. Got any guys who can stop the run? Yes. Do you have guys who can cover, who have shown they can cover in the past? Yes. So those are the three main things I’m looking for besides attacking myself, so, yeah, I’m good with that.

For those unfamiliar, 11 staff means one running back and one tight end. 12 staff means one running back and two tight ends.

Either way, the offense essentially lines up with three and even four receivers. Whether it’s two wide receivers and two tight ends or three wide receivers and one tight end receiver.

These instances being so common require defenses to line up in a 4-2-5, which means four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs – usually two outside cornerbacks, two safeties and a nickel corner. .

Hopefully this answer will finally eliminate the question of whether the Raiders run a 4-3 or 3-4 once and for all.

As for the three things Graham said he needs to make this defense work, he’s got a few pieces less at the moment. In particular, he is a shy DB (cornerback) and at least two big inside run stoppers. The pass rushers are the only thing he has.

Other than that, Graham discussed his philosophy, which if I may take from Raiders recent past basically suggests that it will look like something Paul Guenther might craft, but actually something closer to what Gus Bradley would elaborate.

“We are all teachers. What we do is come up with lesson plans and try to implement what we want to see in the field,” Graham said, noting that he won’t be doing anything particularly unique. “The complexity… it’s probably more of an *illusion* of complexity because honestly. . . if you think we’re close to doing so many covers and being good at it, it’s going to be very difficult. So it’s the illusion of being complex. What we’re trying to do with our lesson plans is teach guys concept football, teach them situational football, everything else Josh [McDaniels] talked about being smart, tough football, just making sure we get that stuff and from there it grows. It evolves more over time than creation. So we try to evolve the defense instead of trying to create new things every week. It’s a big part of what we do and it starts with conceptual learning early on.

When you hear players talk about their favorite defenses, they talk about how easy it is to play fast. Guenther’s defense was complex and confusing, causing players to second guess each other and take too long to think about where they needed to be instead of reacting quickly.

Complexity matters in the NFL, if only because so many good quarterbacks have the autonomy to cross the line, read the defense and call the audibles based on what they see.

If a team can cause confusion through disguises, while behind that is something easy for players to deal with, you get the best of both worlds.

Sharon D. Cole