The Warriors basketball team, who play right next to the Raiders, in the Oracle Arena are on the verge of making history and throwing their names into the hat for the greatest season of all time in any sport. They broke the NBA record for best regular season ever and are looking to cap it off with their second consecutive championship. Their success has been in large part due to their “Death Lineup” in which they take out their traditional center and play “small ball” with a smaller but lethally quick lineup that few teams could match up with and defend. When opposing teams are in obvious passing situations, the Raiders have the personnel to create their own Death Lineup with a defensive line that could give quarterbacks nightmares.
When Aldon Smith comes back from his suspension and if Mario Edwards Jr. continues to recover from his neck injury, the Raiders are going to have four extremely capable pass rushers with Smith, Edwards, Khalil Mack, and Bruce Irvin. The problem is getting them all on the field at the same time because out of all those defensive linemen only Edwards plays in the interior. But in obvious passing situation, size in the interior is not as big of a concern.
When the New York Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, they did it with a relentless front four that could pressure the quarterback without the aid of a blitz. A key element in that line is moving defensive end, Justin Tuck, to defensive tackle. The Raiders could make a similar move by kicking Mack inside to defensive tackle and match him against guards. If the Raiders could get all of their star pass rushers on the field at the same time, opposing teams would have fits figuring out who to double team, where to slide their protections, and might have to keep in extra guys to block, which would make it easier on the secondary with less receivers to cover. If I were coach Ken Norton Jr., this would be the Lineup of Death I would unleash in passing situations:
Bruce Irvin (Left DE)
Although the perception on right tackles have changed, there are still a shortage of quality tackles and the the better athletes are on the left. Irvin’s speed off the edge against slower right tackles could be a huge challenge for them. He said in an interview, “Coach Del Rio watched film of me and noticed I was dropping in coverage a lot. That’s one of the things he wanted to change.” In the Raiders Lineup of Death, not only will he have a chance to rush the passer, he is most likely going to singled on the edge against lesser athletes.
Khalil Mack (DT)
Khalil Mack moving inside to the three-technique (outside shade of the guard) will be the key to the Death Lineup working. Justin Tuck was listed at 265 lbs. when he rushed from the inside for the Giants and last year, there were reports that Mack bulked up to 270 lbs.. Regardless of his weight, there is no doubt that he is physical enough to bull rush a guard if need be, but what guards should really be worried about is his speed and athleticism. It’ll be hard getting a double team from the tackle on him with the tackle trying to block either Aldon Smith or Bruce Irvin coming off the edge. Double teaming Mack inside with a guard and tackle would mean Smith or Irvin would be matched up with a tight end and that should be a win for the Radiers more times than not.
Watching Tuck in his prime against guards simply wasn’t fair and he’s never had a 15 sack season. Mack in one on one situations with guards would be a lot of fun… for Raider fans.
Mario Edwards Jr. (DT)
The second defensive tackle opposite of Mack does not have to be a dominant rusher. If he could at least push the pocket and hold his gap, he would have done his job because it would allow Smith, Mack, and Irvin unleash hell. If Edwards is healthy, then it just isn’t going to be fair. Edwards isn’t quick enough to consistently win with speed when he plays on the edge but on the inside, not only can he win with speed, he also uses his burst and leverage to provide a powerful bull rush.
I don’t expect Edwards to be lined up on the center often but this play is an example of his bull rush as he knocks the Bronco center on his butt from the nose tackle position.
Aldon Smith (Right DE)
It is no secret that Aldon Smith is potentially a top five pass-rusher in the league, but his career has been derailed by legal issues. If he could remain on the straight and narrow, he will return to the Raiders as early as week ten and give them the best situational pass rusher in the league and it wouldn’t even be close. He has the talent to be a starter, but it might take him a while to acclimate to playing football again and gel into the system. However, when he comes in obvious passing situation, he would be the final piece to the Death Lineup. He has the power, length, and speed to rush from either side, but I would put him on the defensive right to rush against left tackles and allow Irvin to match up against right tackles.
On this play, the left tackle looks to be so worried about beating Smith to the spot that he stands straight up and Smith uses his exceptional length and bull rushes him into Ben Roethlisberger for a sack.
Being able to provide rush with just four while dropping seven in coverage is an advantage. Being able to provide a dominant rush with four will require more blockers and is an even bigger advantage. We haven’t even talked about the stunts and games that the Raiders could use with the athletic ability of Mack playing inside. Again, the possibility of seeing this lineup together would depend on Smith staying clean and Edwards’ health. I do not know how Coach Norton plans to use all of his pass rushers, but I don’t think any NFL quarterback would want to see the Raiders Death Lineup on the field.