When Jon Gruden peers across the sideline on Sunday, he should see something vaguely familiar. The Raiders will line up against a defense that mirrors their own. In fact, the architect of the defense taught Paul Guenther the ins and outs of it. Before leaving for Minnesota, Mike Zimmer served as the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. During that time, Guenther worked as linebackers coach. As a result, Guenther learned under Zimmer. Yet, for all of his tutelage, Zimmer holds two major advantages over Guenther: flexibility and personnel
In all honesty, Mike Zimmer is the de facto DC of the Vikings. While George Edwards is the actual coordintor, make no mistake, this is Zimmer’s scheme. Period. Now, you’ve heard of the term ” doube A gap”litz from Jon Gruden for years on Monday Night Football. Basically, the A-gap is the area between the center and each guard on either side. Zimmer will send blitzers up the middle. Now, does that mean he won’t rush from any other place? No. Zimmer sends heat from everywhere.
Our esteemed colleague, Kenny Berry compiled notes on players that the Raiders completely failed to draft. Danielle Hunter sits atop the list of ones that he pounds the table for. Hunter evolved from just a lanky situational pass rusher to an every-down end that stops the run with aplomb. What makes Hunter deadly is the ability to use his hands and arms to keep blockers off his chest. On top of that, he won’t veer too far wide on pursuit angles. On the other side, Everson Griffen made a return from dealing with mental health issues. While this is not football-related, applaud him for seeking treatment. On the field, Griffen brings more of a power element to his rush. Possessing the ability to jar tackles, Griffen will wreak havoc on one side, with brute force and excellent snap anticipation. On the interior, the Raiders need Rodney Hudson to neutralize Linval Joseph. A prototypical nose tackle, Joseph exists to crush the pocket.
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For the Raiders to win, they need to account for Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. First, Barr offers cover ability and run stuffing. However, he shines as a blitzer, finishing the quarterback with authority. Meanwhile, the speedy Kendricks gives the Raiders an opponent that makes plays sideline to sideline totaling at least 90 tackles every year in his career. However, due to his smallish stature, steady doses of the power running game can work.
Mike Zimmer collects cornerbacks like poker chips. during his stay, the Vikings spent three first round selections on corners. Trae Waynes brings a sticky twitch to coverage. With his speed, he will challenge the go route with ease. In contrast, Xavier Rhodes displays physicality with thumping jams and handfighting down the field. Mackensie Alexander, the slot corner thrives on jumping option routes and cleaning up tackles. Yet, the centerpiece of the secondary remains Harrison Smith. Whether playing centerfield or supporting the run, Smith shows little to no weakness in his game. The Raiders, especially Derek Carr needs to account for Smith, at all times.
On paper, the Vikings defense poses a sizable challenge to the Raiders. With a blend of speed and a knack for playmaking, they will challenge the offense to make the smartest decision. The only real flaw is their penchant to play with too much aggression. If the Raiders can capitalize on those inevitable miscues, this game could fall Oakland’s way.