Raiders GM Dave Ziegler drafts Tyree Wilson

Tyree Wilson, and the direct correlation between pass rush and defensive back play

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the Las Vegas Raiders struggled in coverage last season. During the team’s 2022 campaign, they surrendered the fourth-most passing yards league-wide. In 2020, the Silver and Black were responsible for the seventh-most passing yards against them. For the 2019, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2013 seasons, the Raiders joined the top-10 teams in most passing yardage allowed on the year. In an effort to fix this, general manager Dave Ziegler selected edge rusher Tyree Wilson at seventh-overall in this year’s draft.

But how does an edge rusher fix the team’s secondary struggles?

The answer to that is simple. When a front-seven is able to generate pressure, quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball – or scramble out of the pocket – quicker than they wanted to. Overall, this means defensive backs don’t have to sit in coverage all day, greatly reducing the chances of a pass catcher finding space.

In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles single-handedly proved how great of an impact pressure has on a team’s secondary. Out of all EDGE and defensive lineman in the league, Philadelphia had two of their own finish top-20 in pressures. They also had two completely separate players at these positions finish top-three in quarterback hits, giving the team four total pass-rushers who either placed top-20 in pressures, or top-three in QB hits.

Such success going after opposing quarterbacks did wonders for their secondary. Rasul Douglas, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, who served as the Eagles’ starting outside cornerbacks that season, each allowed less than 57% of passes their way to be completed (career-high for Darby, Mills). Each also surrendered a passer rating south of 90 when targeted.

The end result? A Super Bowl win.

Las Vegas has proved how generating pressure affects your secondary as well.

How does pressure up-front affect the secondary? Raiders show the league

Within the last 10 seasons, the Silver and Black finished top-10 in most passing-yards allowed seven times. Uncoincidentally, the team also finished bottom-10 in sacks five-of-seven times, failing to total more than 38 sacks through any of the seven seasons.

No pass-rush help, no help for the secondary.

Conversely, the Raiders made it outside the top-10 in most passing-yards allowed three times during the last decade. The team’s 2021 campaign ended by allowing the 13th-least yards through the air. This was accompanied by a sack total that surpassed the bottom-10.

2018 and 2014 were a bit different but follow the same basic principles all the same. Although Oakland finished dead-last in sacks in 2018, they managed to escape the 10 teams who allowed the most yardage through the air. However, with 36 passing-touchdowns allowed, no team was responsible for more scores on passing plays. The Raiders once again finished outside the top-10 teams for most passing-yards allowed in 2014, despite having the second-least sack total. Still, with the sixth-most passing-touchdowns allowed, along with the sixth-least interceptions, you can understand how the secondary struggled.

One of the best examples of how finishing plays can change the entire course of a game – or an entire season – is the Kyler Murray scramble in Week 2 of last year. Although down 20 points at one time, this 2-point conversion paved the way for a historic comeback against Las Vegas.

Arizona makes history, and so do the Raiders – with the latter being on the wrong side of history. Tyree Wilson can prevent these things.

A closer look at the Silver and Black’s secondary over recent years

Something you may have noted from the Kyler Murray clip is the outright negative in having your secondary cover for so long, regardless of if they’re locking down their assignment or not. The team’s secondary was so focused on not giving up space in coverage, that the thought of a quarterback scramble didn’t even occur. Murray takes advantage of that and puts points on the board.

The longevity per play has been a big reason why the Raiders’ secondary has struggled over recent years. Las Vegas hasn’t necessarily had bad cornerback rooms, but you’d never know that if you glossed over the passing numbers against them.

Trayvon Mullen, Casey Hayward and Rock Ya-Sin were all formidable cornerbacks.

When Mullen played at least 230 snaps during a season for the Raiders, he failed to allow a completion percentage above 63.5% or an opposing QB rating higher than 89.5 when targeted. Add at least eight pass-breakups and an additional interception per season, and you get a legitimate corner.

In 2021, Mullen missed a great deal of time with injury. With Casey Hayward now sporting the league’s iconic silver and black uniforms, the Raiders still had a legitimate cornerback presence on the outside. Hayward allowed just 50.8% of passes his way to be completed, earning a QB rating of 76.1 when targeted.

Great numbers from the two aforementioned players, keeping Las Vegas with a true CB1.

In man coverage, Rock Ya-Sin was as good as it gets during his ’22 campaign. Among corners with at least 100 snaps in man-coverage, the 26-year-old allowed the 15th-lowest completion percentage (40%) and 15th-lowest passer rating (51.3), while recording the 11th-most pass breakups (4).

These are good cornerbacks. Why hasn’t the presence of any made a difference against opponents? No pass-rusher can get home.

In short..

The presence of Tyree Wilson directly influences the Raiders’ secondary. If he can be the player Dave Ziegler hoped for when he selected him seventh-overall, every level on defense improves.

Although Maxx Crosby has been adept at forcing pressure, he can’t do it alone – as the league has proved. When Crosby beats his man, quarterbacks simply move away from him knowing the other side of the field contains green grass. In 2021, Las Vegas acquired Yannick Ngakoue to fix this problem – which he did masterfully.

Crosby forced quarterbacks to move in a different direction, and Ngakoue capitalized beautifully as he logged a team-high 10 sacks. Thanks to this, the team escaped the bottom-10 in sacks, and the secondary performed adequately.

If Tyree Wilson can replace Ngakoue’s ’21 production, the Raiders will tally both more pressures and sacks, helping the secondary tremendously. With an already underrated cornerback room (read about the full CB unit here), Las Vegas’ secondary can become a legitimate asset to the Silver and Black.

Sounds refreshing, right?

*Top Photo: Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

Detailed comparison of Raiders’ 104th-overall pick Jakorian Bennett to first-round counterpart Deonte Banks

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