Jack Del Rio? Ken Norton Jr.? John Pagano? I shall be perfectly honest with you: I do not give a damn whose name is attached to the Oakland Raiders’ defense.
While many praise the addition of Pagano and others revile Norton, I have always held Del Rio ultimately accountable for the team’s defensive shortcomings.
However, pointing fingers is child’s play.
What I care about is the following: Did the Raiders defense do enough and not cost the team an all-important win?
Whether the margin of victory is as measly as an extra point, two-point conversion, or a field goal, or as large as multiple touchdowns, I am far more concerned about seeing more numbers in the win column. Be it a nailbiter that leaves me a nervous wreck or an absolute butt whooping; just win, baby.
This mindset did not appear out of thin air. No, my mentality towards the defense — “give up as many yards as you want, but win the damn ball game” or simply, bend but don’t break — was born out of Raiders’ history. I went back 30 years — 1987 — to gain perspective of how the Raiders defense ranked at season’s end.
Top 10 finishes
- Six. 2002, 2000, 1996, 1990, 1989 and 1987 seasons. Highest ranking coming in 2002 (6th).
Top 20 finishes
- Ten. 2016, 2010, 2006, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1995, 1994, 1992 and 1991 seasons. Highest ranking coming in 1995 (11th). Of note: Raiders were ranked 12th in back-to-back seasons, in ’91 and ’92.
So, in between ‘87 and this past season, the Raiders defense has been a mixed bag. You got the fat years, and then you have got the lean years. The 2014 season was the absolute worst with the Raiders dead last.
To hell with rankings, I say.
We are early in the 2017 campaign, but the early results are encouraging. You can see the imprints Del Rio, Norton and Pagano have on this defense.
The Raiders are swarming to the ball at both the first and second levels. Defenders are grasping and executing gap assignments. Moreover, that has afforded the team to be a bit more aggressive with finely disguised blitzes.
“It’s about us and our preparation. If we sat around and worried about all the injuries and other things teams are doing, we wouldn’t have time for ourselves,” Norton said at Wednesday’s press conference. “So it’s important we get our execution down and our game plan together and our ability to play hard and work hard as a team. And be physical and go get the ball. Those things are important to us. And if we play our style of football, it won’t matter who we play.”
Norton may point out the obvious, but he hit it home at the presser.
“The best defense is a really good offense,” Norton said.
Mock the defensive coordinator if you will, but it’s the stone cold truth.
“We have good ball control and a run game and an offense that can eat up the clock and grind,” Norton continued. “It’s important to us to get the offense the ball as much as possible. That’s one of our big goals.”
And he ended the presser talking about safety blitzes.
“Timing and a guy who knows how to blitz and a guy who knows how to finish,” Norton said. “But it’s all about timing and how bad do you want it.”
That last part echoed in my ears like a gong.
How bad does the Raiders defense want it?
We’ll find out, Sunday night.