Oakland Raiders: The Time For Excuses Is Over, The Time For Change Is Now

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Assistant Defensive coach Ken Norton Jr. of the USC Trojans shouts from the sideline during the game against the Stanford Cardinal on September 25, 2004 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. USC defeated Stanford 31-28. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Assistant Defensive coach Ken Norton Jr. of the USC Trojans shouts from the sideline during the game against the Stanford Cardinal on September 25, 2004 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. USC defeated Stanford 31-28. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Raiders, after a successful 2016 year, enter this season with lofty expectations – and if they hope to fulfill them, they need to make one big change now.

Hey, it’s just the preseason, right? The Oakland Raiders, after dropping games against the Cardinals and the Rams, have started the preseason 0-2. But not even that start has dimmed the enthusiasm of the Raider Nation. Big things are expected of this talented Raiders team – one of the most talented rosters the Silver and Black has had in ages.

But if this team is going to live up to those lofty expectations and hype, they can’t afford to keep waiting to make one big change to the defense that needs to be made – demoting Ken Norton Jr. and letting John Pagano run the unit.

This is a change that needs to happen. And it needs to happen now.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result every time. Going by that definiton, heading into the season with Norton at the helm of the defense would be utterly insane.

When HC Jack Del Rio hired Norton on as his Defensive Coordinator back in 2015, a lot of eyebrows were raised, but most of us were willing to give him a chance.

Under Norton’s watch, the 2015 Raiders defense ranked twenty-second in the league – thirteenth against the run and twenty-sixth against the pass. But given a lack of overall talent on the roster, most of us were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In 2016, Oakland’s defense, while certainly not stacked, had some really nice pieces. GM Reggie McKenzie shelled out quite a bit of money for players like Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, David Amerson, Reggie Nelson, et al.

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And as we all know, last year’s defense was an absolute dumpster fire from the get-go. Oakland’s defense opened the season with a two-game binge in which the defense surrendered 69 points and more than 1,000 yards in total offense to the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.

If not for the offense, that team would have started 0-2. That’s to the heroics of Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and the offense, the team salvaged a split in those two games – and should be thankful for it.

Over the last half of the season, the play of the defense improved, but it was still more of a liability than it was an asset. The defense gave up 24 points a game – twentieth in the league. As a whole, Norton’s defense gave up 375 yards per game – and was ranked twenty-sixth in the league.

Broken down, the defense gave up 257.5 yards per game through the air – twenty-fourth in the league, and 117.5 yards per game on the ground – which made them the twenty-third ranked unit.

But that was last year and this is a whole new season, right?

While that is factually correct, so far this preseason, all we’re seeing is more of the same from this defensive unit.

Against Arizona, Norton’s unit gave up 383 yards – 211 through the air and 172 on the ground. This past Saturday against Jared Goff and the Rams – not exactly an offensive juggernaut – Norton’s defense gave up 341 yards – 282 through the air and 59 on the ground.

Even more disturbing is that both Arizona and the Rams put together long touchdown drives to open up the game. Arizona went 70 yards in 14 plays for a score in week one. In week two, Goff led the Rams 85 yards in eight plays to put the Rams up by seven.

But – but – but, this is preseason. It doesn’t count and doesn’t matter in the big picture – right?

Sure. But, the preseason is also when habits and tendencies are set. We saw it in 2015 and we saw it again last season – issues that cropped up in the preseason bled over into the regular season.

Problems with penalties. Blown coverages. Inability to get off the field on third downs. A penchant for giving up big plays. All of those were issues that flared up in the preseason and are issues that haunted this Raiders defense all season long.

Oakland Raiders
SAN DIEGO, CA – DECEMBER 14: San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano gives instructions while playing the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on December 14, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) /

And in what really feels like a nasty case of deja vu, we’re seeing it again over the first two games of the preseason schedule. If the Raiders are going to reach their potential this season, it’s time to make a radical change.

Ken Norton Jr. must step down or be relieved of his duties and John Pagano needs to take over the defense.

Ostensibly brought in to help fix some of the communication issues on the back end of that defense, Pagano needs to have a more direct role in fixing some of the issues this defense is facing as a whole.

The fact of the matter is that under Norton, this defense has not improved. Has not progressed. It’s simply been – bad.

Yes, it’s the preseason, but what we’ve seen through the first two games is that this defense continues to struggle with some of the same issues it had last season. And it’s not as if this roster is bereft of talent. There are playmakers all over the place.

Which means that the problems come from up a bit higher. Namely, Norton.

Norton is a good coach. He’s a great rah-rah guy and really knows how to light a fire under people. But what this defense desperately needs is a good X’s and O’s guy. Somebody who can call the right plays at the right time and put his pieces in a place on the board where they have a chance to make a play.

Is Pagano that guy? Maybe. Maybe not. But he’s a guy who’s seen it all before and has had some success, including being at the helm of two top-ten defenses in his five years as San Diego’s DC. To this point, Norton has had absolutely zero success in putting together a defense capable of playing at mediocre, let alone at a championship level.

Even worse, we’ve seen zero progress or improvement from Norton-led defenses – which should be the most damning thing of all.

There are still two weeks left in the exhibition season. The players are used to having Pagano around already and he’s familiar with them – knows their strengths and weaknesses. And he can tailor the defense to fit that – something Norton has yet to do.

Oakland’s offense is going to be electric. With the multitude of weapons, they can put up 50 points a game. But if the defense turns around and gives up 51, it all goes for naught.

With the team’s aspirations so high, they can’t afford to have this defense be the albatross around their neck that drags them down and holds them back.

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Maybe Pagano isn’t the answer. Maybe nothing changes with him at the controls. But then, maybe everything changes. The only thing we do know for certain is that in two years – and now two games into 2017 – Norton isn’t the answer.

And running him out as the DC again this year, knowing what we know and seeing what we’ve seen – and expecting a different result – is, in fact, the definition of insanity.

The time for excuses and giving Norton the benefit of the doubt is over. The time to make a change is now.