Through eight games, the Las Vegas Raiders defense has underperformed. However, there have been some improvements and changes following the loss to Tampa Bay. While the Silver and Black did not force a turnover in Week 9, they have begun to show signs of life.
We took a deep dive into the Raider’s defensive snap count in their 31-26 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers. This will help us look at the things they need to keep doing and what they need to work on ahead of their Week 10 matchup against the Denver Broncos.
Ironmen in the Raiders secondary
A couple of Raiders defensive backs earned “Iron Man” status in Los Angeles last Sunday, as they both played every single snap on defense. Safety Johnathan Abram and rotational cornerback Nevin Lawson logged 79 total snaps. The Mississippi State standout was fantastic and brought a much-needed swagger to the defense. On the other hand, Lawson struggled once again.
Following an injury to starting cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who played 27 snaps, the Raiders turned to second-year corner Isaiah Johnson. The former fourth-round pick played a total of 50 snaps, including the final two plays of the game where he recorded back-to-back pass breakups to seal the victory. Based on how he played, he should be getting more playing time. Nevertheless, he may not see many snaps moving forward as Damon Arnette should be back in the lineup.
The secondary also saw action from safety Erik Harris, who tallied 67 snaps in a decent outing of his. Nickel cornerback Lamarcus Joyner played a total of 70 snaps and has been improving week after week coming off of a disappointing 2019 season. Backup safety Jeff Heath, cornerback Amik Robertson, and cornerback Keisean Nixon also saw playing time, although not much.
A Tale of two Linebackers
Nick Kwiatkoski played 62 snaps in Week 9 and has earned every penny of the contract he signed this year. He had a game-altering stop during a two-point conversion try in the fourth quarter. Also, ‘Sly’ was a force in the box this past Sunday and continues to build on impressive performances the Raiders have not seen from a linebacker in many seasons.
While Kwiatkoski has made the most of his opportunities, the same cannot be said for Corey Littleton. The linebacker played 70 snaps on defense and continued the trend of abysmal performances. His struggles have been very apparent to those watching this defense, but Pro Football Focus has also taken notice.
Nicholas Morrow played 26 snaps. While the Greenville standout has never jumped off the screen with his play, he has been solid in relief and rotation for the two big-ticket linebackers. On the other hand, Raekwon McMillan oddly only received a single snap this Sunday. Looking back, the decision to part ways with a fourth-round selection to acquire him looks puzzling.
Littleton will be out in Week 10. The Silver and Black placed him on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week, so Morrow will likely get plenty of snaps against the Broncos.
Defensive Line Contributions
The Raiders defensive line had a solid performance against the ‘Bolt’s. Defensive end Maxx Crosby played 69 snaps, made his presence felt, and registered one sack and two quarterback hits. Meanwhile, 2019’s overall pick, Clelin Ferrell, took the next step of his development in Los Angeles. He played 57 snaps this Sunday and even though he didn’t have a sack, was a steady contributor.
Whether it be pressuring Herbert all game, or blowing up jet-sweeps behind the line of scrimmage, ‘Cle’ is quietly coming on as one of the Raider’s better defenders. Don’t be surprised if he finally records his first quarterback takedown of the season against the Broncos. The “Salt-n-Pepper” tandem of Crosby and Ferrell is one the Raiders hope to lean on for many years to come.
How is the Raiders’ defensive tackle group shaping up?
In Week 9, we saw a heavy dose of defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Johnathan Hankins. Playing a total of 58 and 44 snaps, respectively, Collins and Hankins had a solid outing. Maurice Hurst will be out once again in Week 10, so will see the duo once again.
These interior defensive linemen have not been a liability. However, they haven’t had the same effectiveness against the run this year as there was in 2019. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst should get ample playing time when he returns, but we should not be upset with the job Collins and Hankins did in covering for him.
Carl Nassib finally recorded a sack
As we round out the defensive lineman, it was a refreshing sight to see free-agent acquisition Carl Nassib record a sack on one of his 37 snaps. Returning earlier than expected from a toe injury earlier this season, the veteran’s play has been commendable.
The defensive line also saw contributions from Kendal Vickers, who played 21 snaps, as well as Daniel Ross who was in for a total of 18 plays. Neither made a huge impact helped spell Hankins and Collins. Paul Guenther has done a better job creating pressure along the defensive line and will look to continue the improvements made to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.
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(Top Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)