The Breakdown: Vontaze Burfict

montaze burfict raiders

Despite his suspensions and on-the-field antics, Vontaze Burfict will make the Raiders better on defense. We breakdown why.

The Raiders were the expected landing place as soon as the Cincinnati Bengals released linebacker Vontaze Burfict given his ties to Oakland’s defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The mutual respect between the 7-year veteran and the coach was reiterated after his signing.

“He [Guenther] was originally my linebackers coach my rookie year for Cincinnati, and just as soon as I walked in the building, we clicked,” Burfict explained. “He taught me how to play the game in the NFL at a high level, understand the playbook, be a leader, be a vocal leader, understanding where everybody’s at on the defense. It helped me tremendously. Like I said, when he left, I felt like a lost soul.”

The biggest question mark surrounding him will be answered simply by him being on the field for the defense this year.

His “lost soul” showed up in his stats last season which were also diminished as he only appeared in seven games. Will reuniting with his former coach return Burfict to his former self and what will that look like on his new team? Checking out his 2017 season can give us some idea of what to expect from Burfict this year.

Run Defense

All of the attention of the Raiders defensive struggles last season has been focused on the pass rush, or lack thereof. That tends to happen when your team only logs 13 sacks on the year. It can be easy to focus on those sack numbers and overlook other important factors that played a role in limiting the team’s opportunities to actually get after the quarterback. Most notably the run defense.

Oakland faced the third-most rushing attempts while ranking 30th in rush yards allowed. The addition of a physical linebacker like Burfict should inject some muscle into that department.

For his career, Burfict has notched 610 tackles with 35 tackles coming behind the line of scrimmage. His ability to take on and shed lead blockers has been missing from the linebacker corp for some time. On this play he highlights his solid tackling ability bringing down a 250-pound fullback. If his physical nature rubs off on the other young linebackers this signing will be worth it.

Pass Defense

Guenther’s system doesn’t put much pressure on the linebackers in coverage. They will often “sugar” the “A” gap and then drop into zone coverage if they are not blitzing. Burfict showed the ability to handle zone coverage responsibilities.

His 28 pass defenses and five interceptions won’t jump out as far as stats are concerned but he shows good field awareness on film. Given the struggles the team has had, even an average season from Burfict could be considered an upgrade. There will be more free agent signings and draft picks made before the season rolls around but Guenther has to feel some comfort that he has a player he can count on at his disposal. Having a “coach on the field” is invaluable to staff trying to get so many young players on the same page.

Intangibles

Burfict’s field awareness and athletic ability really show up on tape. This was one of only 1.5 sacks he registered in 2017 but his feel for the game is what made it happen.

The play starts in Guenther’s signature “Double A” alignment. At the snap, both linebackers drop into their “hook” responsibilities. Burfict doesn’t simply drop into space, however. He reads the vertical release of #2 and carries his route maintaining inside leverage. This is when he looks to the quarterback and reads his eyes. As the quarterback turns his attention to the inside breaking route of #1, Burfict picks up his route.

That forces Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to pull the ball and attempt to break out of the pocket. Here is where Burfict gets to show off his athletic ability. He eats grass, closing the distance to the ball carrier before Taylor has time to throw it away. It is not often that the player is rewarded with a “coverage sack” is also the player who’s coverage created it in the first place.

Conclusion

Any conversation about this signing has to start with Burfict’s availability. He has only played in 17 games the past two seasons. The biggest question mark surrounding him will be answered simply by him being on the field for the defense this year. He will certainly be motivated by the reunion with his former coach as well as the one year “prove it” deal he signed.

While it is anyone’s guess how it turns out, what is clear is the Raiders added a player who has performed at a high level in their system. A player who can help mold and bring the young guys along while providing a physical presence in the middle of their defense.