Oakland Raiders: Help With Pass Rush May Be Closer Than They Think

Jan 1, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end James Cowser (47) pass rushes in the first half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end James Cowser (47) pass rushes in the first half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders, last in the league in quarterback sacks in 2016, desperately need some help with their pass rush – help that could be closer than they think.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, the Oakland Raiders were set to unleash one of the fiercest pass rushes in the league. With Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and Aldon Smith primed and ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, Oakland’s defense was going to dominate.

Except, of course, that fearsome triumvirate of Mack, Irvin, and Smith never came to fruition and Oakland’s pass rush absolutely floundered last season.

With just 25 sacks on the year, the Raiders posted the lowest total in the league. What makes that figure even more galling is that 18 of those sacks came from just two players – Mack (11) and Irvin (7). The now-departed Stacy McGee was third on the team in sacks with a paltry 2.5 – which really serves to illustrate just how desperately the Raiders need some help running down the quarterback.

Certainly, there must be improvement up front. The defensive line needs to get a stronger push and they need to collapse the pocket far more regularly than they did last year. The return of a healthy Mario Edwards Jr. will undoubtedly help the cause. As will the subtraction of Dan Williams, whose production took a serious header in 2016.

Oakland suddenly has an infusion of young talent up front in the form of Darius Latham, this year’s third round pick Eddie Vanderdoes, seventh round pick Treyvon Hester, and undrafted free agent Paul Boyette – who seems to have a decent shot at making the roster, given Oakland’s need along the interior of the line.

And if Justin Ellis can return to his previous solid form after a down season, and Denico Autry can be productive, Oakland’s defensive line will be in good shape.

Oakland Raiders
Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker James Cowser (47) tackles Arizona Cardinals running back Stepfan Taylor (30) during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

But, that doesn’t mean they don’t still need serious help in the pass rush department.

Enter James Cowser.

An undrafted free agent last year, Cowser surprised many by making the team. Coming from a small school where he dominated the competition, many didn’t believe he had the skills to make the leap to the speed and physicality of the pro game.

And yet, he did.

Unfortunately, for him, he didn’t see the field very much in 2016. In fact, Cowser was on the field for just 46 regular season snaps on defense for the Raiders. 46 – over six games. Point of fact was that after a week six game in Denver – in which he posted a season high 12 snaps – Cowser didn’t play another defensive down the rest of the year.

That’s something DC Ken Norton and HC Jack Del Rio should think about correcting this year.

Aside from Mack and Irvin, the Raiders are a bit thin in the pure pass rusher department. And given the fact that recent reports indicate that Smith is “nowhere close to returning” from his banishment, it would behoove the team to do something about that.

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They can’t wait around for Smith any longer and have to address that particular elephant in the room. Because if they can’t put serious, sustained, and consistent pressure on the quarterback, the defense is going to get picked apart as badly as it did last season.

In his meager 46 defensive snaps, Cowser made some plays. He has a fumble recovery, eight tackles – with six solo – and a sack to his credit. He was all over the place, played like his hair was on fire, and showed the same nose for the ball he did when he was destroying the competition back at Southern Utah.

Was he perfect? Of course not. Does he still have much to learn? Absolutely. But, could he be a solid solution to helping put a charge of life into Oakland’s nearly dormant pass rush? Without a doubt.

He just needs more than 46 defensive snaps to prove that.

With Smith not a realistic option anytime soon, what would the Raiders have to lose by throwing Cowser out there and letting him chase the quarterback?

Defense, as they say, wins championships. And right now, the Raiders are currently lacking just a bit in that area. And a pass rush that’s nearly non-existent isn’t helping the cause. They need some life, some energy, and most importantly, some help for Mack and Irvin – who would both benefit tremendously from having another body flying around out there.

James Cowser could absolutely be one of the keys to helping revitalize the Raiders pass rush. He just needs more than 46 snaps to help accomplish that.