Oakland Raiders: Raiders Safeties vs AFC West Tight Ends
Jerry Rump – Jul 6, 2012
Well July 4th has come and gone. The dog days of summer are quickly approaching and that means only one thing if you are a member of Raider Nation... football is on the way!
As the Oakland Raiders prepare for their first training camp in the New Era, there are a lot of unanswered questions and speculation about how the team will perform in the NFL’s upcoming 2012 season.
One thing is certain, expectations are extremely high amongst all of Raider Nation!
Everyone, everywhere in the Raider Nation is amped on this being a turn-around season for Oakland as they look to turn around a decade of disappointing play and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
In preparation for all of this, Raider Nation Times fans have been getting a look at how the Raiders’ will matchup versus the rest of the West in our ongoing series entitled “Know Your Enemy.” This article examines the Raiders’ safeties and just how they will matchup versus the divisions’ tight ends.
Also, be sure to check-out Coach John "Jay Dee" Doublin’s article that will breakdown the entire AFC West division’s quarterbacks, as well as David Wilson's take on the other teams in the AFC West as a whole and what we can expect to see from them.
The Raiders safeties are a big position of interest this off-season as they must improve in 2012 and lead the defensive backfield. This is a must-happen scenario in order for the Raiders’ defense to turn things around after last season’s disappointing play which resulted in a mediocre 8-8 finish.
Things have certainly been different for Oakland since the end of last year and a new attitude is brewing as the Raiders prepare for training camp.
Gone are the over-priced, under-preforming scholarship players as the demeanor of the team takes on the vision first-year GM, Reggie McKenzie has established for the team.
Looking at the safeties on the team, the players here are all returning from last year, but now, everyone is expected to compete and earn their place on the team. At least there is finally some sense of accountability on the squad.
At least the good news for Raider fans in this department is that strong safety Tyvon Branch, signed his tender and the Raiders’ leading tackler from last year will be back to anchor the defense. It would have been extremely difficult to replace a player like Branch and all of Raider Nation can breathe a little easier knowing he is back where he belongs.
Free safety Michael Huff is in a make or break position this year as the seven-year veteran will need to stay injury-free and increase his production, or it may be time to look elsewhere for a PTP (prime-time player) to take his spot. It’s time for him to preform like the first round pick he was out of the University of Texas in 2006.
Strong safety Mike Mitchell and free safety Matt Giordano have the backup roles on lockdown and both are expected to up their game from last year. That’s going to be quite a feat considering Giordano led the team with 7 interceptions, but he must improve his tackling skills in order to be a solid replacement should one of the starters go down.
Mitchell must avoid the injuries as well and stay on track as the fourth-year man out of Ohio State will look to continue his development and improve from last year.
All in all, the Raiders really have one very athletically gifted group at this position and they have to stay healthy and work as a unit in order to dominate the division and put the team in a spot to win games.
When it comes to tight ends, the league saw a lot of multiple tight end sets in 2011. These types of formations usually creates a lot of different mismatches that favor the offense and has become all the rage among offensive coordinators around the league recently.
Looking at the AFC West division, the Denver Broncos will begin our breakdown on how the Raiders’ safeties matchup against the tight ends.
This is the one position Bronco GM, John Elway, did address after acquiring Peyton Manning via free-agency earlier this year. I imagine this came as part of the deal as Peyton knows how much the quarterback position relies upon a good tight end in todays’ NFL.
That is why they went out and immediately signed Jacob Tamme from the Colts and Joel Dreesen, formerly of the Houston Texans, once free agency got under way. Potentially, this duo can be very dangerous and their signing mimics the moves New England made last season with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Coincidence? I think not. Peyton is always mimicking Tom Brady and vice-versa.
That is why the Raiders’ safeties must step up and improve their coverage skills, as the Broncos’ tight ends are definitely going to test them. A safety covering a tight end is always difficult and creates a major mismatch that is extremely advantageous to the offense.
In these games against Denver, the linebackers are definitely going to have to help the safeties cover this duo. Given the turbulence surrounding the LB’s for the Raiders’ this offseason, this is the one area I have to very reluctantly give the hated Orange and Blue an advantage in when it comes to game-planning against the Silver and Black.
The play of the Raiders’ safeties is critical in these matchups and turnovers will be a key area of focus.
San Diego brings the familiar face of TE, Antonio Gates back to the table and it would be extremely pleasant if the defense would plan on stopping him this year. This guy has dominated in matchups versus the Raiders and it is high time the defense executes against the Bolts and forces someone else to bail them out.
If Gates is injured, the Chargers production at this position drops off considerably as their backups are Randy McMichael and rookie Ladarius Green, who really cannot combine to equal the numbers Gates puts up.
The Chargers added veteran Dante Rosario from Denver via free-agency, but he is going to be primarily a backup. The five-year vet just hasn’t lived up to expectations and has bounced around quite a bit with stints in Miami as well as Denver since he was chosen in the 2007 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.
If the Raiders’ safeties can step up and shut down one of the league’s best tight ends like Gates, look for them to have a very dominant year indeed. If they struggle however, look for opponents to continue to exploit this kind of matchup and it could really become a serious problem in division play to say the least.
Kansas City rounds out our preview and the Chiefs possess a very good tight end in Tony Moeaki and Raiders' free-agent bust from a season ago, Kevin Boss is now their number two.
The one thing this combination can accomplish is to make it harder to guess between running plays and passing plays in multiple tight end formations. That’s because, Boss is actually a better blocker while, Moeaki possesses better than average hands for a tight end. Multiple tight end formations featuring these two will make it tougher to determine what the Chiefs are doing and will surely test the Raiders’ safeties.
If Moeaki or Boss happen to go down with an injury, look for the Chiefs rookie out of Kansas, Tim Biere to step in. Biere has been making some noise in the Chiefs OTA’s and at 6’4” 250 lbs, the guy is said to have that rare combo of good hands and decent blocking skills that should earn him the number three spot at tight end on the Chiefs’ roster.
Regardless of which divisional opponent the Raiders face this season, they will see plenty of multiple tight end formations and this means the safeties have to step up their play.
The Oakland safeties must evolve and take their game to the next level in order to meet the challenges of covering and/or fighting off the blocks of the AFC West division’s dangerous opposing tight ends.
One thing is extremely vital to their success in 2012, they must stay healthy! After all, you can’t improve if you’re not on the field.
The Raiders’ safeties can step up to be the most dominant group in the division this season. This position can prove to be the catalyst that could really help solidify what is basically an untested, unproven, defense under first-year head coach, Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver.
Consistent play which involves supporting the linebackers and stepping up to stop the run is as essential as making sure no one beats them deep.
Shutting down the AFC Wests’ tight ends will go a long way for the Silver and Black’s quest to return to the promised-land in 2012.
I am betting on them to step up and just win baby, how about you?
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