The Raiders set out to get faster on defense. That mission was accomplished in every sense.
That’s true by traditional measures, as the Raiders hope their raw speed can keep up with the track stars Kansas City trots out on offense Sunday afternoons.
It’s also true in terms of reading and diagnosing plays. The Raiders installed a faster multi-core processor this offseason, plugging Vontaze Burfict into a defensive network that now runs at warp speed.
Burfict has mastered Paul Guenther’s scheme and knows exactly how to adjust and re-align to best defend a particular offensive play. Burfict is confident in his reads, efficient and clear when dispensing pre-snap information. Being in the right spot, able to anticipate what’s coming, allowing the defense to play faster.
Burfict as Guenther’s field general has been a storyline since the veteran joined the Raiders in March, and his scheme knowledge assisted returners and newcomers alike during the preseason.
That was clear when operating at game speed. Burfict orchestrated the defense well in a Monday night victory over Denver, making individuals better while helping the defense play as a cohesive unit.
“It was awesome,” defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “He knows the system inside and out, so he’s able to make checks pretty quickly. He always seems to know what’s coming and gets us aligned fast, so we can just play ball.”
The Raiders must play mentally and physically fast against Kansas City, armed with speed and an offense that will attack using both latitude and longitude.
“They make you defend every inch of grass,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “Laterally with the jet sweeps, you got to defend them sideline to sideline. They can outrun you, outflank you and vertically they can run right by you over the top.”
There’s a buzz word that describes the key to defending this high-powered attack.
“Eye discipline,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “[Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid] will try to mess with a defense, to shift people around the formation and put you in a bad spot. They will do all types of things to play with your eyes and make you think you’re seeing one thing when it’s something else. You have to trust your preparation and make the right checks.”
That’s where Burfict comes in, and why he’s so key to the Raiders’ defensive effort on Sunday.
“He obviously knows the system, but Vontaze is very intelligent,” Morrow said. “He processes information quickly and is confident in what he’s doing. That’s what you want from somebody in his position.”
Burfict is the defense’s cerebral cortex, but he isn’t just directing troops while watching them work.
He plays with trademark intensity and didn’t step over the line in his Raiders debut. That’s key moving forward, because the Raiders need him on the field to succeed against Kansas City, a team that doesn’t need freebies to score.
“He’s really fun to play with,” Hurst said. “He’s an aggressive player. He’s going to come downhill and hit everything that moves. It’s awesome playing with someone like that.”
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Burfict fought through some knicks in the opener but didn’t miss a practice snap all week. It’s important for him to stay upright and available, because they need his presence and football smarts on all three downs.
“Those of us returning for a second year with Paul [Guenther] feel pretty fluent in the system,” cornerback Daryl Worley said. “But having a leader like Vontaze in complete command is definitely helpful.”