Raiders’ Defense Gets Focus But Special Teams Must Step Up

The Raiders impotent pass rush and league-low 13 sacks is/was the subject of analysis, many jokes and ridicule. And for a damn good reason. No other team approached the pathetic nature Oakland displayed when it came to disrupting and dropping opposing quarterbacks.

As a result, the team invested serious draft capital and cap space in an attempt to increase the virility of the rush. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s side of the ball was bolstered with new, hungry and young talent.

Same goes for the offense as head coach and play caller Jon Gruden oversaw an influx of new blood in free agency and via the draft.
But football is a game of three phases: Offense, Defense and Special Teams.
And it’s Rich Bisaccia’s crew that plays a critical component to the Raiders success and failures. Yes, the Raiders defense needs to step up, but special teams needs to elevate it’s game on a near exponential level.

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In a nutshell: Last season, the offense didn’t do the defense any favors. And special teams didn’t do the D any good, either.

Bisaccia’s loyalty to rookie kicker Daniel Carlson — who he helped bring to Auburn — paid of handsomely. After a brutal start to his NFL career (three missed field goals led to the Minnesota Vikings waxing Carlson after only two games), the 6-foot-5 placekicker drilled all but one of his 17 kicks for Oakland.

“You can grow a lot in adversity, and hopefully you learn some things when you’re doing well too, and you gain some confidence from that, but for me last season was last season,” Carlson explained. “It finished off great, but it’s a new chapter now, and I’m just trying to get as prepared as I can to help the team get some wins this season. I’m just really excited to be a part of this team, and excited where we’re going in the future.”

Kicker is all set. Punter, however, is a true American Horror Story. Bisaccia and the Raiders were primed to nab a punter in the 2018 draft after Gruden soured on Marquette King and thus, Johnny Townsend, the Florida Gator boomer.

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Yet, instead of boomer, the Raiders got a buster. Townsend routinely shanked and shorted kicks, giving the opposition favorable field position and leaving the Raiders defense in the unenviable position of defending a short field.

“I don’t think any of us were pleased with how we punted throughout the course of the year,” said Raiders special teams boss Rich Bisaccia. “I think Johnny would probably say the same thing. He’s really a directional-type guy. But anytime you go through a skill position as a rookie and play all 16 games, there’s going to be some ups and downs and I think he weathered them both.”

Give Townsend credit, he’s apparently hellbent on not letting his rookie year define him.

“He’s really done a great job working on his hang time,” he said Wednesday. “That’s improved tremendously (over) the course of the year. Now, we’ve given up a little bit of direction to get his hang time where he’d like it to be, and hopefully we can get both — the hang and the direction — going into training camp.”

Not one to leave stones not turned over, Bisaccia has another punter — rookie AJ Cole — in tow to compete with Townsend. The North Carolina State booter is of the touch and directional type armed with a mediocre leg.

“I think (Townsend is) in a competition as well with A.J. We’re really excited about the work that both of them have done,” Bisaccia noted.

The victor of the punting competition must not deliver the demoralizing effort of 2018. Imagine being an increasingly tired defense that watches an offense quickly go three-and-out only for the punter to botch a kick for a sub-30-yard punt … Gross.

Is a Townsend turnaround possible? Indeed. Carlson showed an in-season 180 can be done.

“I think you’re always getting worse or better, and so I think, yes, I learned from things that worked last year, and I want to keep those things going, but at the same time, I always want to improve. I’ve been working really hard this offseason,” Carlson said. “I want to continue to build off what I had last year, and the things that were going well, but still continuing to improve every day. I think for the most part I’ve been able to do that. That’ll be the goal now as we wrap up minicamp and have a little break before camp, just continue to get myself ready so once the season hits I’m ready, and hopefully we have a long season, and get into the playoffs, and hopefully I’m peaking come playoff time.”

It takes all three phases working in consistent unison and for the defense to get it’s ample rest, the offense needs to move the chains and put up points. And the special teams needs to flip field position and pin the opposing offense as close to the end zone as it can.

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