Oakland Raiders: A Few Things Worth Keeping An Eye On Against The Rams

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 12: Offensive tackle Jylan Ware
GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 12: Offensive tackle Jylan Ware /
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Oakland Raiders
GLENDALE, AZ – AUGUST 12: Running back Andre Ellington /

The Man In The Middle

The Raiders have burned through plenty of inside linebackers in recent years. Curtis Lofton. Malcolm Smith. Ben Heeney. Neiron Ball. Nick Roach. And Perry Riley Jr. among others. And none of them, save Riley, has come very close to being very effective.

The problem with Oakland’s linebackers group is that while they’re effective against the run, they can’t cover the short and intermediate passes. As a result, running backs and tight ends have been roaming free through the middle of that Raiders defense, putting up huge numbers.

That inability to cover the pass is one reason Oakland’s third down defensive stop rate has been as abysmal as it has been over the last few seasons – opposing teams know, all they have to do is float a pass to a tight end out there, and boom – first down.

Last season, the team drafted Cory James to help address the problem – although, as a rookie, he looked a bit out of his depth. This season, the team drafted Marquel Lee, hoping he could do what James couldn’t – shore up the middle of that Raiders defense.

Lee has flashed at times, but it’s obvious that he is a liability in the passing game – much like James was last season. He’s also been good – but inconsistent – in the run game. Against Arizona, he got pushed around quite a bit – and made a lot of rookie mistakes.

It’s obvious that Lee needs a little more time and work to adjust to the size and speed of the NFL. At best, right now, he seems to be a two down linebacker. Oakland is going to need somebody to come in to play the tight end hunter/killer role, be it Sean Smith or Obi Melifonwu.

All that seems certain is that Lee, at this point, is going to be more of a liability on passing downs than anything.

Next: Many Silver Linings In Loss To Arizona

James has, by most accounts, looked a lot sharper through camp this season. It’s possible, that over the next few exhibition games, that he could make a move to supplant Lee atop the depth chart and be Oakland’s starting middle linebacker. Especially if Lee has more performances that were as up and down as his showing in Arizona.

Oakland has a big, glaring problem in the middle of their defense – and it’s one they’re running out of time to figure out. If neither James, nor Lee, is the solution there, the team is going to have to find one PDQ.