Even though the Las Vegas Raiders defense was adequate against the run, they didn’t fare well against the pass. If they want to field a respectable defense, they have to do a better job defending the middle of the field. They should be able to do so with a couple of free agency additions.
The Raiders finished the 2019 season eight against the run. On the other hand, they ranked at the bottom of the league when it came to pass defense. They were 25th in yards allowed and 27th in points. Although defensive coordinator Paul Guenther shoulders some of the blame, the talent level he oversaw was less than stellar.
One of the key moves the Raiders made this past offseason was releasing Tahir Whitehead. Last season, the veterans linebacker didn’t register an interception, allowed six touchdowns, and a 78.6 completion rate in 518 coverage snaps. In his place, the team added Nick Kwiatkoski to take Whitehead’s place. He will be an immediate upgrade over Whitehead in spite of the uncertainty surrounding his expanded role. Also, the makeover didn’t stop there as the Raiders also signed Cory Littleton, whose coverage skills are superb.
Protecting the Middle of the Field
Littleton was one of the best linebackers in coverage in 2019. He allowed four touchdowns but had two interceptions in 564 coverage snaps. Kwiatkoski isn’t far behind and didn’t allow a touchdown while intercepting one pass in 282 coverage snaps. The pair should immediately fortify the middle of the Raiders defense.
Last season, the Raiders allowed 71 catches for 869 yards and nine touchdowns against tight ends. Although the yardage total was the 11th most in the league, they allowed the third-most touchdowns. For that to change, Las Vegas needs to get better production from their linebacker group. Likewise, the team needs to get better play from slot corner Lamarcus Joyner.
The Raiders also added reinforcements in their defensive line and secondary. More talent all around should take the pressure off their linebackers and in turn, get better production.
It could be argued defensive coordinator Paul Guenther lacked players to effectively run his system in 2019. However, that’s no longer the case. With a couple of additions to the team’s linebacker corps, his scheme has to perform better against tight ends this upcoming season.
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Top Photo: Sarah Store/Associated Press