The Oakland Raiders are coming off of their worst loss of the season, a 49-20 blowout at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Raiders allowed the Eagles’ backup quarterback Nick Foles to throw for 406 yards and seven touchdowns, while surrendering a total of 542 yards of total offense. One might think that it is the same old bad Raiders’ defense, but one game does not make a season. How does the Raiders’ defense grade out at their midway point?
Starting with the most important aspect of the defense’s job description, which is to keep the other team from putting points on the board. Last season, the Raiders were the fifth-worst team in points allowed at nearly 28 points per game. Giving up almost four touchdowns a game is a sure way to lose football games and it was a major point of emphasis for the front office heading into the offseason.
Through eight games this season, the Raiders defense has seen a small improvement to allowing almost 25 points per game. The three-point improvement does not seem like much, but it pulls the Raiders from the bottom of the league to roughly the middle of the pack. Their number is also inflated by a couple of rough games in which they gave up 37 points to Denver and yesterday’s debacle against the Eagles. Taking those two games away, the Raiders’ points per game average drops to about 19. That would put the Raiders inside the top seven.
The Raiders are not a top 10 scoring defense, but they are markedly improved over their performance from last season. Realistically, they would be about league average.
As for giving up yards, the Raiders are roughly in the same area. Last season, the Raiders surrendered 354.5 total yards per game. They gave up an average 235.9 passing yards per game and 118.6 rushing yards per game. The Raiders had trouble stopping opposing offenses in a multitude of ways. The front seven got pushed aside consistently and the secondary was victimized often. That was the main reason that Reggie McKenzie conducted a major overhaul of the defensive roster.
This year, the Raiders are giving up 357.3 yards, which is more than they gave up last year. They are giving it up in a different way this year. On the ground, the Raiders are only giving up an average of 94.6 yards per game. That ranks sixth in the NFL, which is a major jump up from their ranking of 18th last season.
The improvement could be two fold as the Raiders look much stout on the front end of the defense and they are playing much more competitive games that don’t allow teams to try and just run out the clock. The front seven is much improved, as they are giving up nearly a yard less per carry on average from last year.
The secondary has struggled this season, as they have been the weak point in the defense. They are giving up 262.6 yards through the air, which is nearly 30 more yards per game than last year. They rank 24th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. They have allowed over 300 yards passing in three of their eight games and in two of the three they have given up over 400 yards.
There is no denying how rough the secondary has struggled during the year. Last year, the Raiders’ secondary had an excuse with a complete lack of pass rush, which ended the year ranked second to last in the NFL in sacks with just 25. This season, the pass rush is vastly improved with 23 sacks in just eight games. The secondary is getting help from the front seven, who is getting much more pressure, and is taking a step backwards.
Much like the explanation for the running game, opposing offense are relying more on their passing attacks to move the ball against the Raiders. More competitive games and the improvement in the run defense is forcing them to turn to the air more often, as opposing offenses are on pace to blow past the amount of attempts last season against the Raiders.
Overall Grade: B-
The Raiders have been mostly improved from last season, but consistency has been an issue. They have had great performances, but then they have paired with several disastrous performances. There are signs of improvement, but they have not taken a major leap forward. The improvement of the run defense comes at a price, as the pass defense has taken a step backwards to cancel out their progress.
The biggest area of improvement, which should have Raiders’ fans excited for the next few years is the pass rush. They have nearly tied their total in sacks from last season in half the amount of games. Lamarr Houston has taken a big step forward in his development, while the additions of Sio Moore and Nick Roach have added secondary pass rushers from the second level of the defense.
Overall, the defense is showing signs of improvement, but it is often one step forward and then two steps back. They have showed improvement on many of the important stats, but they are giving up more yards than they gave up last year. That is the next step in their development, as they have shown they are better at keeping teams out of the end zone. Now, they need to show they can keep teams from moving down the field.