“The State of the Oakland Raiders Defense Right Now, and How to Make it Great”

sio moore

Al Davis and Ron Wolf created a two and a half decade dynasty with 3 key factors that they always tried to obtain; a tough, physical running game; a downfield passing attack that could score anywhere on the field; and a philosophy where the opponents quarterback must go down, and go down hard.

If you look at the history of the Raiders, one thing is greatly overlooked and underappreciated; their pass rush.

In the 3 Super Bowl victories, the Raiders defense gave up only 3 touchdowns in 12 quarters.  Their defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and harassed some great quarterbacks in Fran Tarekenton, Ron Jaworski and Joe Theisman into making some terrible mistakes.  They also stopped the rushing game of all 3 teams along the way.

When the Raiders played Washington, Washington was the highest scoring offense in the history of the game.  They were a 9 point favorite over the Raiders and many felt if they defeated Oakland, they were the greatest team in the history of the NFL.

A stud defensive front 4 can carry your team.  Ask the Arizona Cardinals, 49ers during the Harbaugh days, and the Seattle Seahawks.  The Giants beat the patriots twice in the Super Bowl on the backs of their defensive line and a great running game, and when the Patriots figured out how to limit the Seahawks pass rush in the Super Bowl last year, Tom Brady carved the best defensive backfield in the NFL for over 300 yards.

If you can rush the passer without blitzing, you then can have 7 players covering the pass while 4 rushers are making life terrible for opponents quarterbacks.  In 12 years, that is a key element that has been missing from the Oakland Raiders and it has hurt them greatly.  After the quarterback, the pass rush and ability to stop the run is the most important part of your football team.

Some teams and even fans think draft picks are the elixir of life; they are sacred and cherished.  That’s not true.  A young woman on twitter direct messaged me and said, “I’m a new fan to football and I wan’t to know why draft picks are so important”.

It is a question that many fans; and even teams forget the answer to.  Draft picks are important because you want to get a young player that will help your team for at least the next 3-4 years.  The higher the draft pick, the more help he should give.

That’s why it makes PERFECT sense to do a trade with the New Orleans Saints for defensive end Cameron Jordan using a draft pick.  Jordan is 25, and has 28 sacks in 3 years.  If the Raiders drafted a high draft pick with those stats, they’d be jumping up for joy. Add Jordan and Leonard Williams and now you have a really good front 7 and your team can stay in any game.

Defensive Line: Justin Tuck, Justin Ellis, Dan Williams, Benson Mayowa 

The Raiders did a much needed overhaul to their DL which was awful at times last year.  Gone are Lamarr Woodley, CJ Wilson, Antonio Smith, and Pat Sims.  They ranked 31st in the NFL in sacks and had trouble stopping the run which are the two things you have to conquer to win in the NFL.

Dan Williams was a GREAT signing.  He was an anchor for a studly defensive line at Arizona and was a key run stopper.  He gets double teamed often and it helps to release LB’s to make tackles.  Look for Williams and Ellis to compliment each other nicely.

Justin Tuck had a disappointing year and it remains to be seen what he has left in the tank.  The Raiders still desperately need 1-2 pass rushers or they will struggle.

Outlook:

It’s unclear now.  We will have to wait until after the draft to see what the Raiders do to shore up their bad pass rush.  Look for a trade to occur as well for a defensive end.

Sleeper Solution:

Trading for New Orleans Saints DE Cameron Jordan would be a great move.

When everyone was debating whether to draft wide receivers Kevin White or Amari Cooper, I’ve been one of the lone voices that said I still think the Titans are going to either pick Oregon QB Marcus Mariotta or they will trade down with a team that wants him.

In that case USC DL Leonard Williams will drop into the Raiders lap.  It’s a scary thought because in the last 12 years MANY good players have dropped into the Raiders lap just to see them instead make a crazy pick that doesn’t work out.  My friends still laugh at me and remember me falling on the floor pretending to pass out when the Raiders DIDN’T pick Aaron Rodgers.  (Don’t get me started on Raiders draft history).

If the Raiders draft a WR in the first round, I LOVE Danielle Hunter, the defensive end out of LSU as a second round pick.  He reminds me a lot of the New York Giants Jason Pierre-Paul.  He’s a freakish athlete who had 14 tackles for losses his last year.  And that was with him not being the starter the first 4 games.  With some pollish and a little more weight, this could be a great player.  In the games I watched him he just looked like a star waiting to happen.  This is a special player in my eyes.

Dante Fowler and UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa are talked about as possible draft choices but to be honest both are weak at consistently rushing the quarterback.  Jordan is a need for sure.

Defensive Backs: Charles Woodson, DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie, Keith McGill, Nate Allen, James Dockery, Larry Asante, Brandian Ross, Jonathan Dowling, Neiko Thorpe, Taiwan Jones, Jansen Watson, Ras-I Dowling, Chance Casey 

If you don’t have a pass rush, even the best defensive backs will struggle.  The Raiders had no pass rush last year and their DB’s aren’t the best so you know how that worked out.

There has been a revolving door with several players coming into the Raider fold as DB’s.  So far there are more questions than answers.

At cornerback, this is it for DJ Hayden.  Between injuries and poor play, he’s been a disappointment.  With the Raiders passing up on stud DL Star Lotulelei; who is playing in Carolina’s great defense; to draft Hayden, it’s hard to watch him struggle.  He seems to be a great athlete with little football instinct.  This will be his make or break year.  TJ Carrie has good instinct and is more promising.  He did well at times and the hopes are that he will continue to improve.

Keith McGill had a couple of good moments but for the most part he was a little overwhelmed.  The Raiders like his size and potential.  He needs more experience and they hope he can improve.  They have a lot of young, inexperienced players as back ups in the defensive backfield.

Charles Woodsen comes back for one more year.  He played with a lot of heart last year and played well.  At 27 ex-Philadelphia Eagle safety Nate Allen is a great compliment.  Allen won’t wow you with highlights but he’s very good and a player that you can count on.

Charles Woodsen is great at stopping the run and this will allow him to concentrate on that.  Allen can play deep middle where he can use his good instinct and ball hawking skills to protect the deep routes.  I like this group but the Raiders don’t have a lot behind them.

Outlook:  

The Raiders have a lot of question marks with their DB’s and time will tell what will happen.  They have a lot of young players and I don’t think they will stand pat.  The Raiders can’t help but draft DB’s and I see them doing that again.

Sleeper Solution:

None.  The starters are pretty much already chosen so the depth will be the big question.

Linebackers:   Sio Moore, Khalil Mack, Curtis Lofton, Malcolm Smith, Miles Burris, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Bojay Filimoeatu, Spencer Hadley and Justin Jackson

If Sio Moore stays healthy; and that’s a big IF; this is a top 5 linebacking core.  Fans give all the credit to Mack but Sio Moore is the key to this defense.  Lofton is mature and is a great leader and he will help Moore and Mack mature.  The Raiders were noticeably better when Sio Moore played and he is a great blitzer and playmaker.

At 28, Curtis Lofton is a tackling machine.  He might be the best run stopping middle LB in the NFL.  In his rookie year in 2008, he had 94 tackles; Khalil Mack had 75.  Last year Lofton had 144 tackles.  With Lofton and Dan Williams, running up the middle won’t be easy.  Both are not real threats in the passing game, but the Raiders signed LB and past Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith from the Seahawks for passing downs.  He’s a great pass defender but not very good against the run.

Outlook:

I love this group.  Sio Moore has to stay healthy though.  Add Mack and Curtis Lofton and now you have a great group.  Most think Smith is pretty much insurance if Moore gets hurt.

Sleeper Solution:

None.  This is a solid group.

If the Raiders can pick up a couple of pass rushers, now you have something to work with.  If your front 7 is physical and can rush the passer and stop the run, you can somewhat hide your cornerbacks.  Reggie McKenzie did well in signing Williams, Lofton and Allen and this group will be fun to watch next year.  I look for the defense to be the heart of this team and much of the Raiders success will depend on them.

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