One of the most disappointing aspects surrounding the Las Vegas Raiders this year has been their defense. They aggressively invested resources to the unit in the offseason but don’t have much to show for it. In four games, they have given up 120 points and currently rank 24th in that department. Most observers would argue defensive coordinator Paul Guenther deserves the blame for the team’s defensive subpar production. Nevertheless, head coach Jon Gruden believes he’s doing a good job.
Looking back at Guenther’s work with the Raiders
Guenther has been the Raiders defensive coordinator since Gruden came back to the coaching ranks in 2018. Lured by the prospect of coaching edge defender Khalil Mack, the job was too good to pass on. However, the team would ship the All-Pro to Chicago and Guenther would have a bare defensive roster to work with.
The Raiders finished the 2018 season dead last in the NFL in points surrenders with 467. Also, the team finished with a 4-12 record due to the lack of playmakers they had on the roster overall. It wasn’t just the defense, but the whole roster was undergoing a makeover and it sort of made sense they had produced such poor results.
The following season, they would add Lamarcus Joyner in free agency. While it didn’t seem like much, they also allocated plenty of draft picks to their defense. All in all, they selected defensive end Maxx Crosby, cornerback Trayvon Mullen, safety Johnathan Abram and defensive end Clelin Ferrell. The results were mixed and the Raiders defense finished 24th in points given up and 19th in total yards. Moreover, their sack totals went from 13 to 32. The Raiders defense, under Paul Guenther, took some steps in the right direction, but there was still plenty of work to do.
This season has been more of the same
This past offseason, the Raiders added defensive tackle Maliek Collins, defensive end Carl Nassib and safety Jeff Heath. Moreover, the team finally addressed their long-time need at linebacker when they signed Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Later in the draft, they chose cornerback Damon Arnette with one of their two first-round picks. With all the talent Guenther got, the Raiders defense looked poised to be even better than they were last season.
That hasn’t been the case though and the Raiders defense is still struggling. They are currently surrendering 30 points per game and have generated only two turnovers in four weeks. Putting injuries aside, this unit has underperformed and in 36 games, Guenther hasn’t produced enough results.
#Raiders defense under Paul Guenther:
Points per game: 27.9, 31st
Yards per play: 6.1, 31st
Passer rating against: 101.6, 31st
Sacks: 49, 32nd
Takeaways: 34, 32nd
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) October 5, 2020
In his latest press conference, Gruden said Guenther is a good coach and that all the mistakes the defense is making are ‘correctable’. He also praised the team’s defensive line for containing the Buffalo Bills quarterback. Nevermind that he threw for 288 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Raiders also had just one sack and failed to force any turnovers. Despite all that, Gruden believes the Raiders defensive coordinator did a good job.
Why aren’t they addressing the elephant in the room?
We’re just speculating here, but there are two reasons why Gruden might not call out Guenther. The first one is that he has already done but behind the scenes. There is nothing less professional than a head coach berating their subordinates in public, and it’s possible Gruden is actually pressuring Guenther, just not in public.
Another hypothesis is that Gruden can’t get himself to call out Guenther. It’s no secret that they’re best friends and we’re reaching here but maybe Gruden’s friendship is clouding his judgment and won’t hold Guenther accountable for his lack of results. This theory may fall into the tinfoil category, but any other head coach would surely want better results from their coaching staff.
Regardless of the reason, the Raiders need to do something about their defense. They can’t keep giving up 30 points per game and expect to win many football games. The season is still young and as Gruden pointed out, some of the mistakes they’re making are correctable. Let’s see if they can indeed turn things around before it’s too late.
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Top Photo: Las Vegas Raiders official YouTube Channel