John Pagano

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

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USATSI

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

How Raiders can turn to John Pagano as he faces Chargers for first time

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USATSI

How Raiders can turn to John Pagano as he faces Chargers for first time

ALAMEDA – The Los Angeles Chargers have a new defensive scheme. Gus Bradley runs it and oversaw the conversion from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base front. They do different things. They obviously run different plays from different concepts.

There’s plenty of carryover in personnel. Few people know Chargers defensive personnel like John Pagano. That should be the case. Pagano was the Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-16, and was with the Bolts in various coaching positions from 2002 until he was let go this winter.

The Raiders scooped him right up, adding a bright defensive mind to the coaching staff. Officially titled assistant head coach – defense, Pagano has worked with defensive backs in practice and has been tasked with improving defensive communication. He’s also involved in the game plan, and finding efficient ways to beat opponents.

This is the first time, however, Pagano can share inside information. Coaches always downplay such advantages, but intimate knowledge of an opponent can certainly be an asset.

“He’s a heck of a coach and a heck of a football mind; certainly knows those guys,” Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “He was in San Diego a long, long time. He’s a point of reference, but right now the offense is focus on doing our job well and executing our assignments. Not really spending a ton of time trying to uncover little gems. We’re focused on doing our job.”

While Pagano knows the Chargers defense well, he also practiced each day against the Bolts’ offensive weapons. Pagano might have some insight on those guys, too.

“He has a little more insight to what they think or what they might see when they see us play,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton said. “Different ways they might want to attack us and things like that. So that certainly helps us out in a lot of ways to see how we want to go forward.”

Quarterback Derek Carr has a notebook filled with tendencies of every defensive coordinator he has faced. There’s a page or two on Pagano, which has prompted quarterback and coach to compare notes.

Every Wednesday, in fact. The conversations won’t change too much, even with a familiar opponent.

“It’s nothing different,” Carr said, via ESPN. “I’m not going to make the conversations any different. He and I have a great relationship, and we love talking to each other about football and things like that.”

Pagano ‘another set of eyes’ to help Raiders play smarter, faster

Pagano ‘another set of eyes’ to help Raiders play smarter, faster

ALAMEDA – Head coach Jack Del Rio wants to “eliminate the gray” from his Raiders defense. He talked about that several times this offseason, believing uncertain reads and fuzzy communication got that unit bested, too often in explosive ways.

Del Rio wants his defense to read and react quickly. At times last year, it was far too slow because players were uncertain. Uncertainty causes hesitation. Hesitation gets you beat.

Eliminating gray’s a major reason why John Pagano is wearing silver and black. The longtime Chargers assistant coach and defensive coordinator changed color schemes this offseason to give the Raiders defense fresh perspective, greater efficiency and improved communication.

“I’m another set of eyes that gives them a different way to look at things,” Pagano said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “I’m here to be able to hear and to be able to help guys understand. Communication with (defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.) has been outstanding from a point that we try to talk everyday about certain situations, just to be able to give another set of eyes and be able to handle those things.”

Pagano is here to help fix a system, not take it over. Norton will still call plays, and says Pagano’s presence doesn’t alter his job at all.

“Nothing changes for me,” Norton said. “Obviously Pagano is a guy that has a lot of experience. We all have a lot of experience. Certainly you have to use the people around you and it’s important that we all fall into and understand what he’s been able to accomplish. Obviously right now his role is to help us on the back end with our communication and shore up what’s going on to make sure we stay on top, and that we’re all talking about the same things every week, about them throwing the ball deep on us. That seems like all we want to talk about so let’s make sure with his addition and his experience, let’s put that fire out.”

The Raiders gave up a league-worst 61 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Del Rio finds that volume unacceptable, and hopes Pagano can decrease it significantly.

Stopping big plays starts with good communication, especially on the back end. Pagano has primarily worked with the secondary this offseason alongside defensive backs coaches Rod Woodson and Brent Vieselmeyer, and drilled those points home.

“With him seeing it and helping us out with our communication, I think it’s been great for us,” free safety Reggie Nelson said. “It’s been helping us out. I think we’ve been right on track and we still got a lot of work to do, but it’s coming along good.”

Pagano has a clear focus on the back end, but is a well-rounded, well-respected football mind. He coached Chargers linebackers for nearly a decade, and proved a productive coordinator adept at creating pressure and exploiting offensive weak spots.

Norton runs this Raiders defense. Pagano’s focused only on tasks designed to make it run more efficiently.

“No. No, there’s no stepping on anyone’s toes,” Pagano said. “I have a job to do and Coach Del Rio told me what I needed to do and the first thing was to improve our overall communication as a defense. It starts in the backend. Once we get those things, because as long as we’re saying the same things and we’re doing the correct things, you get 11 guys doing that you get 11 guys out there hunting on the field. That’s what it’s all about.”