The Oakland Raiders have had an up and down season, full of surprises and upsets. Through 12 games, the Raiders still have not been able to tally more notches in the win column than they did last season. But on the bright side of things, the team has looked much better on the field, even if their record doesn’t reflect it.
One problem that remains is that the Raiders simply cannot manage to put together a complete game.
Earlier in the season, the Raiders defense was clearly the strength of this team. Game in and game out, the defense would play four quarters, doing their best to keep the team in the game as the offense continuously failed to put points on the board. Despite being comprised of essentially an entirely new group of players, the defense gelled quickly and were flirting with being thought of as one of the better defenses in the league.
At around the midseason point, the Raiders defense began to spring leaks. It started with the blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles where it became clear that the Raiders could not get pressure on the quarterback without blitzes from linebackers and the secondary. When the Eagles made the Raiders defense pay for blitzing, they took away the one aspect of the defense that is necessary for everything else to work.
The Raiders defense hasn’t been the same ever since. They put together decent performances against the New York Giants and Houston Texans, but even in those games, the defense was far from being anything more than above average. Then in back to back games against the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys, the defense completely let the team down.
Once the Eagles gave other teams the formula to beat the Raiders, the defense began to look a lot like smoke and mirrors. The Raiders have even seen their vaunted rush defense begin to struggle, the one aspect of the defense that had not previously faltered. The Raiders gave up their first 100-yard rushing game to the Giants and then were dominated on the ground against the Cowboys, giving up 144 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Raiders defense has clearly taken a huge step forward from the dismal unit that took the field in 2012, but they have also clearly not bridged the gap to being a good defense. With more tape, offenses are keying in on the deficiencies of Jason “The Mad Scientist” Tarver’s once formidable defense.
This, however, should not be surprising. What is surprising is how well the defense played to start the year. Filled with a group of players on one-year, “prove it” contracts, this is about as ragtag a group as one can find in the NFL. But for most of the season, this group of backups has out played themselves and some are being seen as completely different players.
With an offseason full of cap room and draft picks, the Raiders should be able to put the finishing touches on this defense and truly field an impressive unit in 2014. Until then, the Raiders may have to watch their defense continue to struggle, if not get worse for the last four games of the season.