Oakland Raiders: Notes And Observations From Week Nine

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Nov 8, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton (11) runs after a catch as Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) defends during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Where Was The Defense?

From the opening snap, the Raiders just looked slow on defense. They looked like they were just a step behind. From receivers getting behind the secondary to running backs gashing and trashing Oakland’s vaunted run defense, the Raiders just didn’t have a decent defensive effort against the Steelers.

The Steelers amassed an incredible – and embarrassing – 597 yards of total offense for the game. Pittsburgh went off for 195 on the ground and 402 through the air. Anything the Steelers wanted, they pretty much got from an Oakland defense that looked incredibly flat from the opening snap.

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Over the last three weeks, the Raiders have been flying to the ball. They’ve been limiting yards after the catch and have absolutely bottled up the opposing team’s running game. The Oakland defense has been swarming. They’ve been ferocious. And they’ve been playing some of the best defense Raider fans have seen in a long, long time. Not so coincidentally, Oakland has been rising and had put themselves in the thick of the playoff race.

That intensity was missing on Sunday and the number of arm tackles, poor angles to the ball, and bad communication cost them dearly. When Pittsburgh wasn’t running all over them, they were humiliating them through the air.

In reality, with Bell out, the Steelers had just two viable offensive weapons – Antonio Brown and Heath Miller. The rest of Pittsburgh’s offensive skill guys are little more than complementary role players on this Steeler offense. They’re there to keep defenses honest, but aside from Bell, this Pittsburgh offense goes through Brown and Miller almost exclusively.

And yet, despite knowing that, DC Ken Norton didn’t have a game plan in place that put the focus on taking those two weapons away. Oh sure, Miller was held in check, but Browns’ explosion is just inexcusable. It was an abominable performance by the Raiders defense.

After halftime, the Raiders had done a better job of keeping Brown in check. They were – finally – double teaming him and not giving him free rein to run. On the play that decided the game though – the 59 yard catch and run from Jones to Brown that put them in position to kick the game winner – Norton inexplicably dialed up a blitz, leaving the very clearly overmatched D.J. Hayden alone on an island with Brown.

Is it any wonder the Raiders lost that game?

As Hayden is wont to do, he lined up eight yards off of Brown – likely not trusting himself to stay with the receiver stride for stride after being abused all day long. The trouble though, is that Brown was able to turn a short catch – in front of Hayden – into a long gainer because Hayden wasn’t close enough to him to make the play.

Del Rio was quoted as saying the Raiders defense took a step backward against the Steelers. That’s a more than fair assessment. It’s actually quite the understatement. But Norton bears some of the responsibility for an ill-timed call.

The Raiders are going to need to rediscover that missing ingredient – and rediscover it quickly – that had been helping them succeed if they want to continue their climb back to relevance. Because it was the defense alone that cost Oakland the game against the Steelers, and if they want to keep winning, they’re going to need to figure it out quick.

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