One of the major focal points of the Raiders off-season was to try and improve the run defense. Much of the blame was laid at the feet of the LBs and the LB corp went through a complete overhaul.
The results of these changes have yet to bear much fruit, but it is possible to see tiny blossoms. The Raiders run defense looked to be on that improving track until the Week Four debacle against the Texans, where they surrendered 249 yards at 6.9 yards per carry.
Other than the Texans game, the Raiders have done a good job of stuffing their share of runs. In fact Football Outsiders has the Raiders at 13th in defensive line run stuffs.
What kills the Raiders run defense is the total team breakdowns that lead to the all too often big plays. In fact, Frank Gore had a 49-yard carry preseason contest.
That run sums up the Raiders defensive woes pretty well. The DEs get pushed around too easily, then a lineman locks up a LB and it's one cut and go, which then leads to a missed tackle by a member of the secondary.
Typically, that missed tackle is by reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Michael Huff. Huff is especially vulnerable for these highlight gaffes, since the Raiders often employ a one deep safety defense.
The key for this young defense is to not let RBs get to that level. Something they had much more success with against the Chargers. Last week the Raiders defended the run much better as they held the Chargers to 91 yards on 3.5 yards per carry.
This was in large part due to the DEs Matt Shaughnessy and LaMarr Houston holding their ground and forcing the Charger RBs further outside. Many of these runs were with the slower Mike Tolbert and the Raiders bigger LBs had no problem locking him up.
The speedier Ryan Mathews had more success evading the LBs, especially Trevor Scott who was forced into LB action from his DE position due to injuries to Quentin Groves and Thomas Howard.
Trevor Scott will likely again be forced to take the WLB duties. Either way, it shouldn't impact the game too much. These men are not the key to LBs success in the run game though. That title falls to the eighth pick in the first round of this year's draft, Rolando McClain.
McClain has had a typical rookie season. He has made some nice plays, but he's also overrun a few run plays or run himself into blockers. Still, he is in on more plays than he is out of. Watching him, you get the feeling he is due for a game in which he announces his presence to the NFL.
If he is going to do that in this week's contest, his defensive lineman are going to have to hold their own.
Most of the Raiders big runs have come when opponents have run to the right towards their Right Tackle. This side is typically manned by rookie DE LaMarr Houston and DT Tommy Kelly. Football Outsiders has the Raiders ranked 27th in runs outside of the RG.
Expect the 49ers to test this part of the line early and often. Football Outsiders has the 49ers ranked 5th in runs between the RG and RT.
Winning the battle on the ground is going to be key for both teams. It will set up everything they want to do in the passing game and given the fact that the Raiders will likely start QB, Jason Campbell, giving the QB time to throw is essential for both teams. A good way to do this, is to establish your ground game--which leads me to the next highlighted matchup.