Oakland Raiders: 7 Things To Keep An Eye On Against Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 12: Derek Carr
GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 12: Derek Carr /
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Oakland Raiders
OAKLAND, CA – AUGUST 14: Justin Ellis /

A Source Of Strength This Year?

To put it bluntly, the defensive line was a hot mess last season. Mario Edwards Jr. spent most of the season Dan Williams and Justin Ellis weren’t playing up anywhere near their potential. Jihad Ward, for all of his hype, had a rookie season that can be best summed up in one word – “meh.”

There were some bright spots, of course. But as a unit, the defensive line failed to generate a consistent or effective pass rush. They were soft against the run (ranked twenty-third overall) allowed opposing quarterbacks too much time to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the secondary (ranked twenty-fourth overall)

Oakland Raiders
NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 29: Kendall Wright /

The failures of the defensive line had a snowball effect – one that bled over into the pass defense – and contributed mightily to a Raiders defense that was among the worst in the NFL (twenty-sixth overall).

Without Khalil Mack (11) and Bruce Irvin (7), the rest of the defense had seven sacks. Seven. Combined. The twenty-five total sacks by the defense were, by far, the worst in the league.

But this is a new year and a chance for this unit to get it right. And they seem positioned to be a source of strength for this defense.

Although they lost their most effective interior lineman last year – Stacy McGee – to free agency, Darius Latham showed that he can be effective. Early reports from camp are that Ellis is playing well and is showing much more explosiveness than he had last year, Edwards is back and healthy, and the team has a rookie in third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes who’s been turning heads in camp.

If this unit can start generating a push up the middle, play stout against the run, and actually put together a consistent pass rush – one that doesn’t let quarterbacks have enough time to sit in the pocket, eat a sandwich, and do a crossword – the cumulative effect on the defense as a whole will be tangible.

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With a solid and consistent pass rush, it will help take some of the pressure – and improve the play – of a secondary that was simply abused for much of last season. And the unit will be better as a whole for it.

This defensive line could go from being an absolute liability to a source of strength for this defense.