Today we will look at the Raiders defense and see what needs to be done to make this a winning unit.
Last night when the New England Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills, you saw the power of a stud defensive line. The Patriots were playing with third string players in some offensive positions but they still won. The Patriots didn’t get a lot of sacks but the relentless pressure they put on Bills QB Tyrod Taylor was a key to that win. Their cornerback’s are just alright but with a pass rush they become much better.
You don’t win on defense with a stud defensive backfield. Seattle still has the best DB’s in the business but they are struggling in close games. Why? Teams now double team DL Michael Bennett and the other players on the line are not getting to the quarterback.
Lets look at recent NFL history. Harbaugh’s 49ers; Seattle; Arizona; Carolina; New England; New York Giants Super Bowl years; what do these successful teams have in common? STUD defensive lines that can control games. The Giants beat the great Tom Brady because their DL dominated. If you can rush the QB with only 4 players and stop the run, your defense alone can win games. The Broncos offense is awful but their defensive line is really good. Carolina’s DL literally controls the game while Cam Newton gets most of the publicity. People forget the early games when he struggled. If you have a really good defensive front, then you are going to straight up win in the NFL. A good DL covers up a lot of issues.
I like Ken Norton Jr. and think he will do a good job. He’s aggressive and has adapted more on a week to week basis than others have in the past. He’s blitzed a lot more as the year went on and that is a good thing. He is even blitzing DJ Hayden more which in the end somewhat hides him against the pass. Not a dumb thing.
The defense has struggled for the most part and is near the bottom in some defensive categories against the pass.
If you want to turn your team around quickly, have a great DL that can rush the passer and stop the run. The Raiders haven’t had that in years. When you look at the Super Bowl wins for the Raiders, EVERY win was marked by dominating defensive front play literally beating up the opponents quarterback.
Khalil Mack is a really good NFL player but he’s not the superstar that the media tried to hype him to be. He disappears in some games. He was completely shut out in the Pittsburgh game, and against the Ravens and the Chargers, he had 3 tackles and no sacks combined. Aldon Smith has been a solid player for the Raiders but it’s obvious he’s not the super talent that he was at San Francisco. He played in the awesome 49er’s defense beside the great Justin Smith who got double teamed getting coffee. Aldon is a good player and a keeper though and he is young. The Raiders look like they will keep him which is a very smart thing.
Justin Ellis has had his moments but none of the other DL have shown they are starting NFL material. Some are trying to hype Mario Edwards but I’m not buying it yet. He may end up being good but he has a long way to go. Getting NFL rookie of the week when you are on a DL that gave up 269 yards rushing against Minnesota isn’t exactly epic material. The Raiders DL need to make plays at the line of scrimmage and not down the field.
Dan Williams has really been good against the run but he’s often seeing double teams now so the others need to step up. Williams also is a bad pass rusher so he’s limited.
The Jets have a mess on their DL for next year. DE Muhammad Wilkerson is a really a good player and he said he’s tired of getting underpaid and nose tackle/tackle Damon Harrison is another good player that may be available if the Jet’s don’t resign him. They need to spend a lot of money and they can’t keep them all. Add a DE to play until Smith gets back, and then when Smith gets back move Mack to LB. Michael Bennett is still wanting out of Seattle after his walkout and he could be had with a trade. There are not many players in the NFL as disruptive as Bennett. He has a mean streak that is missing in Oakland.
In the end the Raiders need a tackle that can stop the run and rush the passer. They may not be able to get any of the top players but there are those that can help immediately.
This group also struggles at times because most of them have weaknesses. Curtis Lofton is good against the run but bad against the pass. He has improved some, but Malcolm Smith is good against the pass but bad against the run. Ben Heeney has had to play and to be honest I loved watching him in college. Unfortunately he’s not a good tackler and he struggles in the passing game. In fact in his final year at Kansas he lead the nation in missed tackles. He’s not a starter but great off the bench or in special teams. Moving Mack back to LB immediately helps this group.
They need Mack back there to help them out but with Aldon Smith out, the Raiders are kind of stuck right now. Lofton needs to be moved but the Raiders can’t afford the cap hit to let him go. He’s probably here for 1 more year.
I’m not a Ray Ray Armstrong fan; I think he’s not a really good starter. There are solid CB’s and LB’s in next years draft but to rely on a rookie is risky. The Raiders linebackers have been somewhat disappointing and they are handcuffed by contracts somewhat but they still can upgrade in free agency.
The Raiders defensive backs have struggled. Woodsen struggled early guarding tight ends but he has rebounded. He’s taken a beating this year though and his days are numbered. Nate Allen hasn’t played much this year and he had issue’s tackling Sunday. The DJ Hayden experiment will be over at the end of the year. He’s just not a starting NFL CB. David Amerson has had his good moments but he’s a nickel back at best. TJ Carrie looked better at safety than he did at cornerback and I would move him there. I like Carrie and think he can excel there.
The Raiders first round pick will probably be a cornerback or a safety. They also will need to find a CB in free agency. When the defensive line can’t get a pass rush, it’s hard to watch this defensive backfield struggle.
The Raiders are fine at kicker and punter. Marquette King is solid and a positive influence and Sebastian Janikowski is fine. He will have his bad moments but for the most part he’s very good.
People got carried away when the Raiders won a few games. I saw people predicting 10-6 to 12-4 and post season glory. It’s hard to beat down on people that want to be so positive, but it was pie in the sky. There are still issues in Oakland. The Raiders have a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr and that is half of the battle.
At the start of the year I said that the Raiders would be 8-8 and they are going to have to go 4-2 the rest of the year to get to that. They also have some tough games ahead. I don’t think people should lose their minds if the Raiders lose but you have to be real at some point. If you are a good team you win. It’s really not that hard.
Moral victories are for elementary school plays, rehabbing from an injury, and pee wee soccer games. They have had time to rebuild this team and they need to start winning. The Raiders have improved and that is encouraging but being 4-6 when the AFC and the AFC West is so bad is a head scratcher. Some are still talking playoffs and to be honest it’s kind of embarrassing to think they may go to the post season only because the rest of the league is so bad.
The Raiders have made it an art form on talking about what might happen in the future but they need to deal with the reality of the situation. They are 4-6, with a defense that has struggled this year; especially against the pass; and an offense that has scored in only 2 of the last 8 quarters. Tough decisions are ahead.
For many it’s time to be honest and go old school and bring back the days when losing was unacceptable. With the salary cap, the Raiders will never be the juggernaut they were in the 1970’s and 80’s but there is no excuse for not being a competitive team year in and year out. Support and nurture those players that are a part of the solution, and move on from the players that aren’t. Time will tell if the Raiders can turn this thing around and Mark Davis, GM Reggie McKenzie & the Raiders players are on the hot seat. No matter what happens this year, if the Raiders do not go to the playoffs next year, they need to get people in the front office and players on the field that can make it happen.