In part one of a three-part series reviewing the scintillating 5-2 start for your Las Vegas Raiders: we start with the defense. When Gus Bradley was hired to be the Raiders’ defensive coordinator, many changes ensued. So far, this defense has played like a contender.
It has been a long time coming for Raider Nation to finally have a defense they can be proud of. Many forget that despite his documented love for explosive offense, Al Davis was a defensive man.
“Somewhere between the first 5-10 plays the other teams quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.”
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Under Bradley, the Raiders defense has knocked the quarterback down 34 times in seven games. The Raiders, on average, are knocking all quarterbacks down 13% of their passing attempts. Both of those are second-best overall, along with the 81 total team pressures on the quarterback. The 18 sacks the Raiders currently have, rank them top ten in the league, seventh to be exact. The real mind explosion, in 2020, they only had 21 sacks for the entire season. A better pass rush helps everything related to defending the pass.
The run defense remains the area of opportunity for the team this season. Currently, they have the fifth-highest runs against in the league at 201, surrendering 919 yards at an average of 4.6 yards per carry. That makes their rushing defense seventh-worst in the league in terms of yardage. The eight rushing touchdowns allowed ranks them at number eight. So, according to the charts, that is tied for the fifth-most.
Not perfect, but a whole lot better than what the Raiders have been used to. The Raiders have defenders that are at the top or near the top of the league in several categories.
Raiders honor roll defenders
Crosby has continued his evolution throughout his career and should be the Raiders’ number one priority this offseason. He’s leading the league in quarterback hits and knockdowns with 19 and 12, respectively. His 22 pressures are fourth-best in the NFL, and the 5.5 sacks he’s compiled place him 15th.
Hayward has been phenomenal for the Raiders: providing leadership by example both on and off the field. Hayward hasn’t allowed a single touchdown and has been such a terror to opponents that they rarely throw the ball near him. He’s been ranked by Pro Football Focus as the number one corner in the league multiple weeks this season.
Perryman is the punch the Raiders defense has been lacking in the middle of the field since the days of Eric Barton. Leading the league in tackles with 81, Perryman is performing well as theÂ mikeÂ linebacker in Bradley’s defense. With good reason, he owes much of his career success to Bradley. They were together as player and coach for the last four years for the Chargers.
Raiders defensive report card
Defensive Line: B+
What kept the Raiders’ defensive line from an A was the run defense. As you can see, the defensive line has collectively been hellhounds. Pillaging just for fun and collectively knocking the quarterback round and round. Everyone on the defensive line is getting home. Again, they have two main areas of improvement needed. Containing mobile quarterbacks and run defense.
Armed with arguably the best rotation in all of the NFL, everyone on the Raiders defensive line is getting a taste. They are rolling on that defensive line so tough that despite injuries to Johnathan Hankins and Darius Philon, they were able to keep the pressure up and keep getting after the quarterback.
The linebackers are without a doubt, a tremendous improvement over the 2020 season. Perryman leads the league in tackles, and Littleton is eighth. They are in the unenviable position of being the weak point of the defense. In terms of the passing game, playing zone leaves them with an incredible amount of field to cover. While the completion percentage may be high, they are usually short passes, hence the high quarterback rankings against them.
Pass rush is not what they are asked to do. The Raiders are the least blitzing team in the league averaging a blitz 12.7% of their defensive plays. While the 38 total blitzes are the third-least in the league, you can see they do not ask the linebackers to rush the passer.
Through the air, this secondary has only allowed 1,559 total passing yards, 13th-least in the NFL despite allowing 169 completions, 10th most. On the flip side, 985 air yards on completion is 12th most overall and indicative of a ‘keep everything in front of you‘ defense. The opponents’ average depth of target against the Raiders defense is 9.2 yards fourth highest overall. Gifting opponents 11 passing touchdowns, placing them 15th, squarely in the middle of the pack. They have all been sure tacklers, and the 671 YAC yards are the sixth least.
Soul PatrolÂ was the last Raiders secondary which was good enough to have a name. This particular group of players isn’t quite on the level of the Soul Patrol, but they are good enough to keep the Raiders in football games against good passing attacks.
Abram’s play has been nearly a night and day difference since being named the worst safety of 2020. Under the tutelage of defensive backs coach Ron Milus and Bradley, he has resurrected his career. He’s currently the 26th rated safety overall (including Free/post) and is quietly making the right plays.
Slot corner has been a position void of the proper player to fill it for years. 5-foot-8 corners don’t fare well in this league anymore. Guys like Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman are like unicorns.Â Hobbs, on the other hand, has been a gift from the football gods and a fifth-round jewel. A ready and willing open-field tackler, an explosive and suddenÂ blitzer, as well as a big physical corner who can play both man and zone.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
*Top Photo: Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal