The Oakland Raiders came into Tennessee as underdogs but left with smiles as they start the season undefeated. Many expected a shootout to occur between these two high-powered offenses, due to the Raiders defense giving up a ridiculous amount of yards in 2016 and coming into the preseason showing little change.
However, that was not the case; the defense showed up to play only allowing 95 yards rushing and one score. Much better than most Raider fans (including myself) expected. On Saturday, RaiderRamble.com gave you five key rookies on defense to look out for, and in the end, each had a role in contributing to this win. Here’s a quick rookie recap from Sunday’s win.
Defensive tackle Treyvon Hester logged 31 of 64 (48%) snaps on defense and five snaps (17%) on Special Teams. He earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 45.7 and recorded one QB hurry to boot. While Hester did not fill up the stat sheet just yet, it was encouraging to see him get snap counts similar to fellow defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. (32) which shows the team is willing to give him a chance to make plays and earn more reps.
Safety Shalom Luani didn’t play any snaps on defense, unfortunately, however, his role was crucial in the special teams battle playing 24 snaps (80%) which were higher than any other special teams player on the Raiders. Luani made a crucial play at the start of the game when the Titans attempted to trick the Raiders with an onside kick. Luani wasn’t fooled as he stood his ground recognizing the kicker’s different approach to the ball.
“His approach to the ball, he didn’t want to kick it,” “That’s why I stayed back a little bit. He wasn’t going hard to kick the ball. If you’re a kicker, if you go hard, the ball is going (far). I’m a soccer player, so I can know when you’re kicking it hard or not.” -Shalom Luani on the special teams’ play
It helps that Luani has a strong background in playing soccer, in fact, in his native country of American Samoa, he played for the Under 20 national team as well as a club team called the Faga’itua Vikings where he helped the team win a national championship. This recovery by Luani enabled the Raiders to have excellent starting field position at the 50-yard line and would eventually lead to the first touchdown of the game for Oakland.
Since Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson played 100% of the snaps at both safety positions it’s safe to assume for the time being that Luani’s role is strictly special teams. He could get a shot down the road for some snaps but for now, Luani will serve as a key component to the special teams unit.
Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes played 37 of 64 (58%) snaps and boy did he look good. According to PFF, Vanderdoes earned a 79.2 grade and applied four quarterback pressures, including two hits & two hurries on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The former Bruin played solid in run defense situations as well. There were some moments in which he helped collapse the pocket including one highlight that made Raider Nation roar with excitement when he ran over the Titans’ second-year tackle Jack Conklin to flush Mariota out of the pocket late in the second quarter.
You can see the strength Vanderdoes brings to this defense, more specifically it’s his bull rush that will set him apart. Expect him to be a key piece as the weeks move on and he starts to get acclimated with this defense and learning new pass rush moves along side Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and Mario Edwards Jr.
All eyes were on the rookie middle linebacker as he was #1 on this list to watch against this Titans offense. Lee ended up playing 21 of 64 (33%) snaps and received a PFF grade of 71.3 recording two tackles, one run stop and allowing only one reception for four yards.
By day’s end, it was not such a bad debut for the rookie middle linebacker from Wake Forest. Lee played along side Cory James who has taken the role of weakside linebacker. It is also important to note that linebacker Tyrell Adams played 41 of 64 (64%) snaps and gave up nine targets for 110 yards in playing 33 coverage snaps against the Titans. Giving up this much amount of yards is unacceptable and only bodes well for Lee to get more snaps as the season progresses.
Overall this was a solid debut from the rookies that contributed to this win for the Raiders. I did not mention Gareon Conley in this article since the Raiders listed him as inactive for this game, it was a toss up if he would play or not, since the rookie is recovering from a shin injury. I expect to see him play down the line maybe in Week 2 against the New York Jets in the home opener. Raider Nation should look forward to the coming weeks and how the defense gels with these rookies contributing mightily. Perhaps they can help elevate this defense so it doesn’t have to rest entirely on Derek Carr’s shoulders.