We need to be honest with ourselves about this Oakland Raiders defense — nothing it going to turn it around this year. No matter what the Raiders do, this a defense that’s going to give up a lot of points this season because of the lack of talent in the secondary. But there are a couple of ways this defense can significantly upgrade its play.
Cut down on missed tackles
Through the first four games of the season, the Raiders have 46 missed tackles. Having a lack of talented players on defense makes things hard enough, but when your team averages more than 11 missed tackles per game, you’re just asking for teams to run up the score.
Anyone watching the Raiders has probably noticed an incredibly frustrating defensive tendency. They stuff the run on early downs, force a third-and-long, then allow a run or short pass to get the first, but only after numerous failed opportunities.
The Raiders have allowed the third-most third down conversions of any team in the league, with 26. What’s even worse is the Raiders have given up a first down on every single fourth down attempt.
It sounds cliché, but the coaching staff needs to go back to the basics and clean up the sloppy tackling by the linebackers and secondary. Doing so will likely result in fewer third and fourth down conversions while setting up better late down situations. Missed tackles are breaking the back of the Raiders defense every Sunday.
Get more of a pass rush up the gut
The past couple of weeks have seen both Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith start to consistently get pressure on the quarterback. After failing to rack up any sacks over the first two games, Smith and Mack have combined for five sacks over the last two. They also combined for 14 quarterback hurries and three quarterback hits in those contests.
Which leads me to ask: How do Mack and Smith start turning some of those hurries into more sacks? Watching the last two games gives us a good idea how to make Mack and Smith more productive: get more pressure up the gut.
Multiple times against both the Browns and the Bears, either Smith, Mack or both would beat their guy and get into the backfield only to see the opposing quarterback step up into the pocket to buy an extra second or two before completing a pass. The Raiders need to start getting more pressure up the gut so that quarterbacks cannot avoid pressure from the edges so easily.
Once they do that, Mack and Smith will have even more success than they have experienced the past couple of weeks. And as we all know, a cornerback’s best friend is a good pass rush. So while it’s too late to do much about the secondary from a personnel standpoint, the Raiders can get them some help with improved play up front.
So, how do they do that? Personally I would love to see second round pick Mario Edwards Jr. start playing defensive tackle on passing downs. He is a stout run defender, so his presence will not tempt other teams to run the ball out of a passing formation because they see Justin Tuck or Denico Autry playing defensive tackle. Edwards is also a powerful player who can push the pocket by simply pinning his ears and bull-rushing the center and guards.
Like I noted at the top, neither of these potential improvements would completely solve the Raiders’ defensive woes. But these are enhancements that the team can make now without adding new players. The team will still need to put a lot of points on the board to win every week, but in games like against the Bears — where the Raiders were only a few plays away from winning — these improvements could have made the difference.