Raiders: Interceptions, Turnovers and Sacks Are The Cure

The defensive struggles continue for the Raiders but the cure is still the same: turnovers.

We’re already halfway through the 2017 season and boy, has it been fast, with a 4-5 record going into Sunday it’s safe to say that Raider Nation has been left with a very unimpressed and disappointing feel through the midpoint of the season.

From a struggling offense to a very lackluster defense it’s clear that the Raiders of 2017 aren’t anywhere near the caliber of play from last year.  Focusing on the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders defense in 2017, as expected, is a unit that is still in the works and General Manager Reggie McKenzie fully adheres to the notion this defense is not where it needs to be.

Just look at the 2017 NFL Draft, the Raiders drafted 6 defensive players out of 9 draft picks. But what is astonishing enough is the failure to force turnovers as well as added pressure on the quarterback this season.

2017 Raiders Defensive Rankings

Currently, the Raiders are ranked 29th in Team Defense. They are top-5 in total yards allowed at 3,250. Ranking No. 7 in passing yards with 2,201 and No. 6 in rushing yards allowing 1,049. The defense has YET to record a single interception through 9 games (they had 8 last year) which is a record set in the NFL. In terms of takeaways, the Raiders have only six which is ranked 30th tied for last with Cincinnati and Atlanta.

In the 2016 season through nine weeks, the Raiders had 15 Takeaways. That’s 2.5 times more than this year. In terms of rushing yards allowed the Raiders gave up 1,033 through nine weeks, and through the air, they gave up 2,549 passing yards. As you can see the stats aren’t far off from last year, however, the Raiders were able to force turnovers to stay in games. This year, the turnovers that are needed, have been missing, to say the least. The lack of turnovers coupled with an offense far from its 2016 showing, has resulted in the team sitting at a 4-5 record.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders are the second lowest in playmaking index at 6%. This is a metric that determines the percentage of targets into a defender’s coverage that results in a pass breakup or interception. Oakland has failed to make plays on the ball and already have been charged with three dropped interceptions. In 2016, they had a playmaker index of 11.8%, eight interceptions, 30 passes defended through nine weeks.

The cornerback play has severely regressed, according to PFF, David Amerson, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald have allowed the highest passer ratings amongst Raider cornerbacks. Amerson is at the top with 156.3, Smith with 133.6 and McDonald with 128.0. It’s no wonder why the defense isn’t getting interceptions midway into the season when the corner’s aren’t able to cover and make plays on the ball.

It’s also wise to mention that safety Reggie Nelson, had 5 interceptions last year and was voted into the pro bowl and was PFF’s 34th ranked safety. This year it seems that Reggie’s age has finally caught up to him (34) as he is now PFF’s 67th ranked safety. In 2016, Nelson was graded at a 77.3 in coverage which was No. 41 in the league. This season Nelson is graded at 38.5 which is 81st out of 83 qualifying safeties.

You would think the team with the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year in Khalil Mack would be fine in the sack department, however, this is not the case. As a team, Oakland has a mere 13 sacks recorded which is good enough for a last-place tie with the Giants and Titans. This accumulates to a sack percentage of 4.3, which is below the league average of 6.5. This team is in desperate need of a consistent pass rush beyond Khalil Mack. You can hammer the secondary all you want but if you don’t have a consistent pass rush pressuring and sacking the quarterback you’re basically leaving them out to dry.

How Do The Raiders Fix This Defense?

McKenzie has already taken it upon himself to transform this defense through the Packer way, drafting. The only thing here is the picks McKenzie selects need to be spot on and can help contribute to making this defense a solid unit.

If you look at Reggie’s past drafts it’s safe to say he’s had some misses, we all remember DJ Hayden being taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft who had a major injury history and wasn’t very good on the field. He’s now in Detroit playing as a rotational corner and contributing solidly to the Lions defense.

This can’t happen any further, If Reggie truly wants this defense to be elite he’s going to have to make better choices in the draft and that starts with scouting and doing the necessary homework on each player in the draft. He’s done better in recent drafts with Mack, Karl Joseph and hopefully Gareon Conley. In the long run maybe even Obi Melifonwu, Eddie Vanderdoes, Shalom Luani and Marquel Lee might prove to be his best defensive draft class yet.

The upcoming 2018 draft will most likely see the Raiders approach it the same way as 2017, draft defense heavy with pass rush, secondary, linebacker help and run stuffing.

Raider Nation is anxiously waiting for this defense to come together in McKenzie’s vision though hopefully that’s sooner than later.

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