When Jon Gruden stands in front of the Raiders media horde tomorrow, the question about his coordinators will surface. Granted, no one is exceptionally pleased with the return of Greg Olson. Yet, RaiderNation should smile. By many accounts, Gruden hired Paul Guenther to run the defense. While John Pagano fixed the wreck of the 2017 version, Guenther brings an intriguing mix of skill and innovation. Now, this is not a redux of Jason Tarver. Here is why:
Paul Guenther began his career at tiny Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. During his career, he amassed 366 tackles, breaking the school record. After his playing days ended, Guenther split time being computer sales and graduate assistant. When Ursinus needed a head coach, the 26-year-old Guenther earned the job. After turning the program around, Steve Spurrier brought him to Washington. There he met Marvin Lewis. Impressed, Lewis hired him as a linebackers/special teams coach. While learning the job, Mile Zimmer tutored Guenther on the fine art of coaching.
First and foremost, Guenther preaches rushing four. When he coached Dunlap and Atkins, getting pressure upfront was not an issue. In return, unleashing Mack, Autry, and Edwards should rack up sacks in this system. Guenther preaches placing that four in heavy rotation. In return, late in the game, Khalil Mack will not tire late.
More importantly, as a disciple of Mike Zimmer, Guenther advocates for the A-gap blitzes. Meaning, the linebackers will show pressure on each side of the center. As a result, the offensive line will take the bait, thinking that a blitz will flow from the inside. Under those consequences, that will leave the perimeter rushers singled up with tackles. With this in mind, imagine Khalil Mack one on one with a slow-footed right tackle. On the other side, Bruce Irvin should have a step on many offensive tackles. However, the beauty of the A-gap blitz pre-snap, is that the mere suggestion, forces protection changes.
As mentioned, Guenther appreciates line pressure. With this intention, his mandates linebackers to make the balance of tackles all over the field. If you look at Vontaze Burfict’s stats, when he is healthy and not suspended, the tackles and interceptions will find ‘backers. Provided that NaVorro Bowman re-signs, he will have the keys to a brand new defense.
In the secondary, Guenther demands strong coverage. The defensive backs in the Guenther system played mostly Cover 2 and Cover 4. The screams for safeties with range and quickness. Seeing that leads everyone to believe, that Reggie Nelson played his last down as a member of the Raiders. On the other hand, Karl Joseph and Obi Melifonwu will need to learn discipline. For Melifonwu, getting healthy and getting up to speed in this defense remains crucial.
In the end, Paul Guenther will bring a vastly different system to the Raiders. In return, Reggie McKenzie needs to provide the appropriate personnel to match this scheme. If you look at the Vikings’ success, the scheme works.