Moving forward there are still plenty of defensive miscues the Raiders have to address.
Looking back at the game in Mexico City, the Oakland Raiders knew Tom Brady had always had difficulty when defensive lines get pressure up the middle.
However, given the Raiders lack of success in that department this season, some suggested for Khalil Mack to spend some time on passing downs as an interior rusher, in a role similar to that of former Giant (and Raider) Justin Tuck. Mack had rushed from the interior just twice all season (14 in his career), so such a move would be an unexpected wrinkle to a defense needing something, anything to cause Brady and the Patriots offense any kind of confusion.
But given the “more of the same” theme from the offense, it’s no surprise that the defensive line pass rush did not see any new wrinkles schematically. Mack rushed from the interior just three times against the Patriots. He sacked Brady once rushing from the edge, but far too often did Brady have ample time in the pocket considering the Patriots offensive line was banged up at multiple positions.
With Gareon Conley and David Amerson both injured, and Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald struggling all year, it was expected during the bye week for the Raiders to add to their secondary personnel. No additions were made, but we saw a significant change to the secondary on Sunday. Proclaimed tight end stopper Obi Melifonwu was shifted from safety to starting at outside corner, replacing McDonald.
The results weren’t pretty. Brady targeted Melifonwu early in the game while the rookie was struggling in the altitude, shown on television in the 1st quarter saying “I can’t breathe.” Melifonwu also bit on a Brandin Cooks double move for a wide open touchdown in the 3rd quarter, before being benched for the rest of the game. He was line up at outside corner for 21 of his 26 snaps, targeted four times for two receptions given up for 69 yards and a touchdown.
The second round rookie may have played some corner at Connecticut, but to train primarily at safety through the year, then to shift positions in the space of a fortnight whilst expecting a solid performance, would be tough for a vet, let alone a rookie. It is this type of move that can be detrimental to developing draft picks into solid players.
When Cooks wasn’t torching the rookie, he was at times, lined up against Sean Smith, the same Smith who was burned for a 99-yard touchdown on Cooks just last year. Unlike last year’s mistaken bump and run coverage, Smith played up to 10+ yards off Cooks when lined up against him on Sunday. It allowed Cooks to take whatever he wanted underneath, keeping the Patriots offense on schedule while moving the chains. It begs to ask why Smith was even matched up on Cooks to begin with?
Head coach Jack Del Rio postgame said that “I’m willing to try just about anything” to fix the secondary. Realistically, he should be trying everything to get this team out of its slump. After the bye, expectations were that the Raiders self-scouting would result in a number of new wrinkles and play designs on both sides of the ball, but to no avail. Maybe the Raiders self-scouted so much over the bye week that they went around in circles. And we all know where circles end up – right where they started.