Entering Week 11 of the 2018 NFL season, the Oakland Raiders have had a miserable season leaving their fans solely focused on the draft.
The team is traveling to Arizona to play the Cardinals who are led by a rookie quarterback. Many Raider fans are rooting for a loss to maintain a stranglehold on the first overall pick, but the coaches need something to hang their hats on in this season.
Week 10 was an important week; it was the moment where the young players showed they can form a quality group defensively. It was also the week the receiving corps was decimated, and the week Le’Veon Bell hit the market.
Changes Came on Defense
Many pundits expected the Charger offense to pick apart the Raider defense in Week 10. Instead, the Raiders produced nine pressures, a sack, and an interception. The Raiders produced more offense than the Chargers, they were more successful on third downs, and possessed the ball longer.
A big reason for the success defensively was the starting safety tandem being Marcus Gilchrist and Karl Joseph. Per Pro Football Focus, Karl Joseph played a season-high 45 defensive snaps against the Chargers in Week 10, had three run stops for loss, and allowed one catch for 18 yards in coverage. This tandem was also responsible for the lone interception on defense. To hammer the point home, the long touchdown reception by Melvin Gordon occurred on a play where Reggie Nelson was on the field for Joseph and he overran the play allowing the touchdown.
Other key changes happened at linebacker. The first was Marquel Lee moving to strongside linebacker. The next was Morrow and Cabinda playing middle linebacker and the duo was lead by Morrow. Again per PFF, Nicholas Morrow played a season-high 36 snaps on defense against the Chargers, made 4 total tackles against the run with 0 missed tackles. He also generated 2 pressures in only 3 pass-rush attempts.
Overall, the defense put on a decent performance, and it was led by young players. Gareon Conley continues to excel at man coverage while getting better in zone, while Worley continues to play physical but occasionally gives up plays. As Nick Nelson begins to get more reps we will begin to see a young trio grow together. One weak point still on this defense is Tahir Whitehead. For some reason he has not been the quality defender he was in Detroit for this defense.
The template is there to begin building this defense. Adding a player like Devin White and making Whitehead a high end versatile backup would solidify the second level of the defense. Pairing Karl Joseph with Thompson from Alabama would solidify the back end. PJ Hall has shown he can be a quality nose tackle, while Hurst is flashing as a three tech. With a healthy Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis the team would have two similar nose tackles and a run defending specialist.
Why Lev Bell and the Raiders are Perfect for Each Other
One of the cornerstones of efficient cap management is being judicious in who you spend money on. Most teams opt not to spend too heavily on the running back position. For the Raiders, spending big dollars on a big time running back not only could be a smart move, but it may need to be an essential move. The ideal fit would be Le’Veon Bell.
Early in the season the Raiders ran Marshawn Lynch hard. It was a bit of a mystery for some including myself, but the answer of why seems to be more clear now than ever. The Raiders refuse to use tight ends in their pass protection schemes and instead rely heavily on running backs picking up the blitzes or stunts. When Lynch was playing early on, he was exceptional in this role. With smaller running backs like Martin and Richard they are not effectively stopping or slowing down the opposing pass rush.
Against the Chargers the Raiders gave up four sacks. Of those four sacks, three of them were failures of the running backs to be the final obstacle for the pass rush. One of those was Richard who simply got ran over by Derwin James. When Richard is in the game, he is so obviously a pass catching threat and is not taken seriously as a pass protector. This is one of many little details that makes the Raider offense predictable.
The ideal solution for the Raiders and specifically Jon Gruden’s offense is a running back who can do literally everything. Due to the fact the offense is this reliant upon the running back for those blocks, the value of the position for the team now skyrockets. Bell is likely looking for a 100% guaranteed contract. The Raiders in their current cap situation should highly consider paying him a 3 year 45-million-dollar contract completely guaranteed.
As has been mentioned time and again in the Ruminations, the Raider offense is one of the most formationally predictable offenses in the NFL. The Raiders are only one of four teams in the NFL to have five formations with at least five personnel groupings getting over 5% of the in-game reps. Joining the Raiders in this group are the Ravens, Lions, and Steelers. In fact, the Raiders and Steelers personnel grouping numbers are nearly identical except on grouping five which for the Raiders is 13 personnel and for the Steelers it is 01 personnel.
If a team is formation-ally predictable then they must be able to out execute teams and be able to extend plays to force defenses to break down. This Raider offense with smaller running backs is entirely unable to do so. A combination of Bell and Warren who can run, catch, and receive enable the Raiders to run their full offense without changing the running backs. It finally gives the Raiders a small dose of unpredictability. If you add to that, an offense that can work off script, now you can force defenses to respect your offenses ability to create on the fly.
Adding Bell should be a top priority in free agency more than edge defender, defensive tackle, or any other position. There is a very decent chance that Derek Carr is not the long term solution for the Raiders, not because of his talents, but rather how Gruden wants to call the game. A paring of Le’Veon and a quarterback who can create with his feet could dramatically change the prospects for this offense in a hurry.