The Oakland Raiders found themselves with another top five draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, taking OLB Khalil Mack, after another highly disappointing season. It was a tale of two seasons for the Raiders, as they were 3-5 in their first eight games and had an outside shot at the playoffs. The Raiders then followed it by going 1-7 over the final eight games of the season. The collapse of the defense was a key contributor to awful second half of the defense gave 30 or more points five of the final eight games. Was it a talent and player issue or a scheme and coaching issue for the Raiders’ defensive woes over the course of the season?
The Raiders made a lot of personnel changes during the offseason prior to the start of training camp. General manager Reggie McKenzie shook up the roster through free agency and the draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders’ end of the year defensive depth chart featured just a single returning starter from 2012. Many would have considered most of the players an upgrade from the previous season, except for the defensive line and the middle linebacker position. The Raiders lost two of their top three players in linebacker Philip Wheeler and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant. The Raiders also lost starting safety Tyvon Branch to an injury from early in the season.
They were able to find some impact from new additions, such as defensive lineman Pat Sims, linebackers Sio Moore and Kevin Burnett, and defensive back Charles Woodson. There also several new additions that failed to make any sort of impact, such as defensive lineman Jason Hunter and defensive backs Mike Jenkins and Brandian Ross. Ross was in the lineup due to the injury to Branch.
The Raiders’ dearth of talented depth played a major role in the failures towards the end of the season. It also affected the schemes of defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, as he had to change what he wanted to do to try and compensate for the weaknesses of the defense. The biggest sign of this was the Raiders’ blitz percentage. Towards the end of the season, they were top three in the NFL in blitz percentage, as Tarver tried to manufacture some pressure with his front four struggling to create pressure by themselves. This would leave the defensive backs vulnerable in one on one coverage, which opposing quarterbacks were able to take advantage of.
Many fans wanted to criticize coach Tarver’s defense for being too predictable, as they struggled on the key downs. They finished near the bottom in the league in opponent’s third down conversion percentage, which is what many of the fans are pointing to. In the first half of the season, the Raiders were pretty solid on third down. Injuries then started taking their toll and bodies began breaking down during the season, which Tarver had to simplify his schemes to account for the constant shuffling of the roster.
While the defensive scheme did account from some of the blame, the onus of the blame falls on the shoulders of the players. They simply had a break down in focus and execution, as the season rolled on. Poor tackling and broken coverages were all too common during the defensive slump and those are things that fall on the players. While McKenzie was able to find some nice additions to the defense, he needs to add some more play makers. Additional pass rushers and defensive backs should be the focus for the Raiders’ executive.