Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was finally shown the door after 11 disappointing weeks.
Raider Nation is now asking, was Norton the scapegoat? Who was actually running the defense? And is head coach Jack Del Rio the real issue? But before we try to find answers to some of these questions, let’s take a look at some numbers that give us a snapshot of the current state of the defense.
In the first six weeks where the Raiders went 2-4, the defense at first glance looked to be playing well. The bad record was mostly due to the offense being incapable of scoring. The defense was only giving up 5.6 yards per play. However, the defense reverted to its usual bad play and the numbers in the chart above do not lie. Here are some key highlights.
- The only time the defense cracked the top 50% in the above categories was in 2016 when the Raiders ranked ninth in interceptions. This year the Raiders rank last with 0.
- This year the Raiders rank last in 4 categories.
- From 2016 Raiders only improved in 4 of the 10 areas listed at an average of 4.5 places
- 2017 Raiders are the only team in history to not have an interception at the half-way mark. 10 games in and we are still waiting.
- Yards per play and 3rd down defense, regarded by some as the most important stats, Raiders defense went from 32nd to 30th and 16th to 32nd respectively.
Should Ken Norton Jr have gotten the can?
The answer is yes. Norton was hired by the Raiders after spending time as the linebackers’ coach with the Seattle Seahawks but as reported by Greg Papa, Seattle radio was not too optimistic on the job Ken would do as they saw him as a motivator and not someone who can create viable defensive game plans. Papa also mentioned that the Patriots staff he spoke to after the game were amazed at how unprepared the defense looked. This also comes after getting a week off to prepare. You can listen to the entire segment here (listen from 25:00).
Better defensive coaches such as Bill Belichick and Wade Phillips design plays around the strength of their personnel. However, Norton seemed to be set in playing the Cover 1 and Cover 3 scheme ran in Seattle no matter who was playing defense. As the saying goes, putting a square peg in a round hole does not work. It’s obvious that the poor scheming has not allowed for players to be put into the right situations to maximize their talent.
Justin Ellis on Norton firing: “we played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences.”
— Scott Bair (@BairNBCS) November 21, 2017
Is Ken Norton Jr. the only person to blame?
Absolutely not. The head coach has to take the blame as well. Especially when the head coach is a “defensive guy” and has his tentacles are all over the defense. Was coach Del Rio responsible for primarily playing Cover 1 and Cover 3 with primarily Cover 2 talent? Was he responsible for placing a free safety in Cover 1 even after repeatedly failing to keep receivers in front of him? The answers to these questions will tell us how much responsibility he holds, but no doubt he has to take a lot of the blame.
Jack Del Rio fired 19 assistant coaches during his nine-year tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was fired late in the 2011 season. So far with the Raiders: Bill Musgrave, Ken Norton Jr. … who’s next?
— Steve Corkran (@CorkOnTheNFL) November 22, 2017
The recent interview with radio host Damon Bruce did not inspire confidence in the head coach either, Del Rio got a little chippy when confronted regarding the Raiders bad play. Listen on 957TheGame.com. Del Rio also has a habit of blaming coaches and players when things do not go right.
McKenzie puts the operation in motion. However, a great, good or bad draft pick cannot flourish without a coaching staff able to develop talent in place. Last year, many wondered if Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff could handle starting in the pros under former head coach Jeff Fisher.
Now, with head coach Sean McVay leading the team, Goff looks like a No. 1 overall pick. Maurice Moton, Bleacher Report
Will coach John Pagano fix the defense?
That all depends. Will coach Pagano be given full control over the defense to play the scheme he wants? Will he be given full control to start and bench whoever he wishes? From what we are hearing from the beat writers, this probably won’t be the case.
New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme. Scott Bair, NBC Sports Bay Area
Coach Pagano is a great defensive mind who has been coaching since 1989 and is well-respected around the league. His style and scheme are also vastly different from coach Del Rio’s. Coach Pagano understands how to scheme his defenses to fit the players. Unlike coach Del Rio, coach Pagano likes to blitz and play an aggressive style of defense.
If we see the same results, mistakes, and personnel from Week 12 to the end of the season, it is a very good indication that Jack Del Rio had control of the defense all year. It would also mean that coach Del Rio is the reason the Raiders defense is stuck in first gear. For now, we can only wait and see.