The Oakland Raiders entered the 2013 season with pass rush being one of the teams’s biggest concerns. With the exception of Lamarr Houston, the Raiders saw their entire starting defensive line, as well as most of their backups, leave during the offseason. As Reggie McKenzie began filling out the roster, there was a distinct lack of pass rushing talent in the additions being made.
In fact, by all appearances, the biggest move made by the Raiders to increase their pass rush was moving Houston from left end to right end, where he could rush the passer’s blind side. Houston is clearly the Raiders’ best defensive lineman so the move made sense, but it also didn’t seem like it would be enough.
Then, when the Raiders cut their roster down to 53 men in order to start the season, the Raiders cut two players who were brought in for their pass rushing skills in veteran Andre Carter and rookie David Bass. While neither were expected to be especially impactful players, it was also concerning to see pass rushers leaving with so few on the roster.
Yet, despite the apparent lack of personnel, the Raiders were able to put consistent pressure on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the season opener. The Raiders even tallied four sacks. In 2012, the Raiders only had 25 sacks all season. If the team had gotten one more sack on Luck in week one, they would have totaled 20% of last season’s sacks in one game.
So how are the Raiders applying so much pressure without any elite pass rush talent? By going away from one of Al Davis’ core philosophies.
Davis was a football purist. He believed in playing one way, the Raider way. When it came to defense, an Al Davis unit played man to man, bump and run coverage and generating a pass rush from the front four defensive lineman alone. He was staunchly against blitzing in order to apply pressure on the quarterback.
But that’s exactly what the Raiders did in Week 1. The Raiders blitzed the Colts 25 times, matching their season high from 2012. Two of the four sacks tallied by the Raiders came from blitzing defensive backs. So while no one on the defensive line has shown themselves to be stand out pass rushers, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has found a way to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks, even if it makes Davis roll over in his grave.