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The Las Vegas Raiders: defensive woes

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Four weeks into the season and the Las Vegas Raiders are sitting at 2-2 and second in the AFC West after two consecutive losses. While this isn’t the worst situation to be in, the Raiders’ defensive woes are yet again evident. Three years of new draft picks and signings, combined with $90 million spent on defense this offseason, has yielded little to no results. Just how bad have the Raiders been on defense? While tenth in points scored, they are 24th in points allowed, giving a brief overview of the gap between each side of the ball.

Check out how the Raiders dynamic offense are carrying this team here

Major issues

On paper, this is one of the best defenses the Raiders have put together in a while. However, the unit hasn’t performed up to preseason expectations.

Image Credit | Raiders Wire USA
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After replacing Brentson Buckner with Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach this offseason, the Raiders have just four sacks through the first four games – second-lowest in the NFL. This is extremely poor and brings back shadows of the 2018 season. This was when the Raiders managed just 13 sacks on the whole year. While pressure doesn’t always translate into sacks, the Raiders have a pressure rate of just 13.3%, the third-lowest in the NFL. While the blame can’t solely be held on Marinelli, it is largely the same defensive line as last year but with extra pieces.

The Raiders are, yet again, struggling in coverage. While it would help them if the pressure rate increased, some questionable plays last game versus the Bills don’t bode well for the young Raiders secondary. As seen below, on a third down and one early in the game and the Raiders have an extremely busted coverage. While this is decent protection for Allen, seven Raiders players are covering the middle of the field giving Allen a choice of THREE touchdown throws to make.

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The Raiders’ highest-graded defensive back through four weeks is Damon Arnette at 58.7. With Arnette set to miss a few weeks with a thumb injury, the rest of the Raiders secondary needs to step up. Patrick Mahomes is set up to have a field day week five if this level of play continues.

A five season problem

Yet again, the Raiders turnover production is extremely poor. With just two turnovers on the season, they sit second to last in the NFL and have a turnover differential of -4. Since the start of the 2017 season, the Raiders are averaging 0.96 turnovers per game, the worst in the NFL. Along with this, the last time a Raiders defensive back forced a fumble was Charles Woodson in his final season before retiring in 2015. These are horrible statistics for the franchise.

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The Guenther debate

Paul Guenther was brought in as the Raiders defensive coordinator in 2018 by Jon Gruden. Since then, they’ve had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Much of the Raider Nation are calling for Guenther to be fired after the four games this season. However, Jon Gruden has recently come out and stated otherwise.

“I know he’s a good coach and the mistakes are correctable.”

Jon Gruden on DC Paul Guenther – Post game press conference 5th October 2020

The highest production on this defense in the last three years was the Raiders 2019 run defense, giving up just 98.1 yards per game to opposing offenses. This has regressed significantly during the 2020 season, giving up 138.3 yards per game. However, they haven’t improved in other areas of the unit to make up for this. The pass rush has significantly regressed, as mentioned previously, and the pass defense hasn’t moved forward. After giving up 257 yards per game in 2019, the Raiders have given up 251 yards per game this season.

Player regression

New addition Cory Littleton offhandedly mentioned the poor coaching in an interview from week three. While it may just be a comment not intended for Guenther, Littleton’s drop in play has been worrying. After finishing with a 79.0 PFF grade in 2019, he has dropped to just a 34.2 over the first four games of 2020. It’s hard to believe this is just Littleton’s play, as a similar thing happened with Lamarcus Joyner before joining the team in 2019. His play dropped from a 74.9 to a 47.5 in the 2018 to 2019 season after joining the Raiders. The defensive scheme needs to be scrutinised by Gruden before things get out of hand. If Guenther is to keep his job, the Raiders’ defense will have to improve significantly.

“The only thing I can do is do what’s coached to me and try to put on the best performance I can,” he said. “So far it hasn’t been that great. But that’s football. There’s upswings, there’s downswings. Hopefully I get back on track and play how I want to be.”

Cory Littleton – press conference 30th September 2020
Image Credit | Just Blog Baby
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Improvements moving forward

Vast improvement is needed while pressuring the quarterback. If the Raiders can finally sort out their defensive line issues, the other things will come. Forcing the quarterback to scramble and throw quickly is such an integral part of the game that the Raiders just aren’t doing at the moment. It would be encouraging to see at least three/ four sacks against the Chiefs. This should set the Raiders up nicely for a competitive game against the AFC West’s domineering team.

How are the Raiders rookies faring against pre-season predictions? Find out here

SCORE PREDICTION: Las Vegas Raiders 31 – 38 Kansas City Chiefs

The Raiders are going to struggle in this one unless major improvements on the defense occur. While Derek Carr and the offense are likely to put up some big points, they are no match for one of the best offenses in the NFL.

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