Cover 32 Raiders Roundtable: The Norton Firing

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Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. (left) and coach Jack Del Rio
May 5, 2017; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. (left) and coach Jack Del Rio react during rookie minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As news broke on the Oakland Raiders firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Cover 32 Raiders writers Ray Aspuria, Chris Simmons, and Anthony Zaragoza discussed the matterin-depth.

What was Norton’s two biggest flaws, and why?

Zaragoza:

Inability to adapt. Norton tried to use the same strategies and schemes that Seattle ran a few years ago. Problem is, the Raiders do not have the personnel to run those plays. More specifically, the secondary is night and day compared to Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. So instead of changing, Norton continued the course and consequently the defense suffered because of it.

Lack of experience. Sometimes, like in the case of Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing, the position coach cannot make the transition to coordinator as smooth as some may hope. There’s been some talent on the Raiders defense, but to no avail. Norton could eventually be a good coordinator, but it will come because of the perfect situation (talent and skill of the players).

 

Aspuria:

No experience as an NFL defensive coordinator. Norton spent years on Pete Carroll’s staff in Seattle but when the opportunity presented itself, was never elevated past linebackers coach with the Seahawks.

Great with words, not so with two letters X’s and O’s. Seattle media made a point to emphasis Norton’s keen ability to be a “rah rah” type and not a scheme man. As an NFL coach, you must be equal blend of both.

 

 

Simmons:

Ken Norton Jr.’s tenure as Defensive Coordinator is more or a less a referendum on what not to do. His first and most significant issue was communication. Before you can tweak your scheme per the skills of your talent, they have to be able to understand the scheme. Week in and week out we watched as the Raiders failed to pass off wideouts properly, left backs wide open, and couldn’t communicate who had the tight end. That lack of communication was exacerbated further by the lack of capacity to make adjustments on the fly.

We knew early last season that Sean Smith could not cover smaller, speedy wide receivers and yet Norton continued to ask him to, even up through Sunday against the same receiver who exposed him in the first game last season. This all parlays to probably his single biggest flaw, a complete lack of development on the part of either his players or his scheme. At no point during his time with the Raiders did we begin to see defenders elevate their level of play with the lone exception of David Amerson who has come back to earth.

 

How much of his firing sits with Jack Del Rio?

Simmons:

I would say Jack Del Rio completely failed his long time friend. He allowed Norton far too much rope to hang himself with as it was very clear mid-way through last season that he was not going to last, highlighted further this off-season with the hiring of Defensive Assistant John Pagano. We all knew this was coming, and yet Del Rio allowed this tire fire to keep on burning, he even threw gas on it last season when he took over defensive play calling responsibilities for a while.

Reggie McKenzie did not do him any favors with regards to talent, but I imagine Norton had some input on the kinds of players being drafted, especially at the linebacker position. All in all, Del Rio more or less punted when it came to dealing with the elephant in the room and Norton’s coordinator role died on the hill for him.

Zaragoza:

Somewhat. Jack Del Rio handpicked Norton to lead the defense under his watch. The experiment did not work at all. Del Rio is known as a defensive coach and was very successful with Denver a few years ago, which makes the awful defense of the Raiders even more of a surprise. Norton will get his blame for the unit, but Del Rio owns a part in the operation as well.

Aspuria:

This dismissal has to do more with Jack Del Rio than Ken Norton Jr.’s ability as a defensive coordinator. Why? Because at his introductory press conference, Del Rio said he was going to “groom” Norton. And if that is JDR grooming a coach, it does not speak highly of Captain Jack’s ability to teach, does it?

 

Where will Pagano succeed specifically in 6 games?

 

 

Aspuria:

Blitzing to generate more pass rush. During his tenure as Bolts defensive coordinator, Pagano successfully devised a disguised blitz scheme which allowed linebackers and defensive lineman to disrupt the opposition’s passing game. He has Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin at his disposal as well as hard-hitting safety Karl Joseph from the back end. Oakland is in desperate need of making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable and Pagano has the brains to do so.

Simmons:

It’s hard to say if only because there was a real dearth of talent in his specific area of expertise (DBs) which likely hamstrung him. Even still, the defense can only go up from here after it’s vivisection by Tom Brady et al. I would expect for the communication between the second and third levels of the defense to improve at least to avoid the constant free releases of backs and tight ends. Fewer turned heads at the snap should be a top priority. I would also expect to see some accountability on behalf of the defense instead of shrugged shoulders and finger pointing. In all, I expect the defense to be challenged to be professionals, as opposed to the random collection of guys they’ve been playing as for the last two seasons.

 

Zaragoza:

Playing aggressive. I know the secondary, especially with some of the guys hurt and not playing at the moment, limits the playcalling to a certain degree. Yet, Pagano will do all he can to create some nice pass rush with Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards. Not to say these three players will transform the defense to a top five unit, but there is no reason to believe they can’t total 25+ sacks a season together (1.5 sacks per game).

 

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