After a thorough 34-7 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers, the Las Vegas Raiders offer promise defensively. Producing four first-half sacks of Trey Lance and two near-interceptions, the Raiders’ defense looked like gangbusters. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had to be proud.
“I think that, somewhere between the first 5-10 plays, the opposing quarterback must go down. And he must go down hard.” This was a popular mantra for the late Al Davis. Needless to say, Mr. Davis would’ve been proud last Sunday.
A Rivalry Renewed Between The Raiders And 49ers
Neither team played their starters on Sunday, a fact that was clear to see once kickoff ensued. On the first play, the 49ers’ pocket collapsed, and 11-year veteran defensive tackle John Jenkins kicked off the Raiders’ 2023 season with a bang. Two plays later, Isaac Rochell and former San Francisco Niner Jordan Willis combined to sack Lance again. The second sack forced a punt and got the defense off the field in three plays.
Adam Butler would tally another sack on Lance on San Francisco’s third possession of the game. Sixth-round pick Amari Burney sacked Lance for the fourth time before the end of the half. Granted, what we saw on Sunday were not the starters or the premier players, but it was a promising afternoon for the depth pieces.
Joint practices throughout the week gave the coaching staff better looks at the starting units away from the camera. Levi Edwards, the Raiders digital media reporter, has intimated the defense is balling. It’s best to remain cautiously optimistic about this defense. But there is plenty to like about the group, as Patrick Graham seems to be getting the most out of his guys.
The Eye In The Sky
Here is my first curve ball of the season. This video centers around the play of Trey Lance in the preseason opener. You can check the full video out on the YouTube channel The QB School, hosted by former quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan. It shows every throw made by Lance and how the defense played it. You can see the defense from multiple angles, including the coveted All-22 film angle.
The 49ers’ pass protection was not up to par vs. the Raiders, and it only takes one play to see that. The Raiders took full advantage by hounding Lance all day, ending the game with four sacks and 19 pressures. Vegas took full advantage of all the miscues. Interestingly enough, a majority of the pressure came from up the middle rather than off the edge. The hiring of defensive line coach Rob Leonard is already making a difference.
Burney, Butler, and Jenkins recorded one sack apiece and collected four total pressures. Rochell and Willis combined for another sack and six more pressures. Second-year defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. completely ran through the guard on a play and narrowly missed bringing Lance down for a fifth time. While the individual accolades are nice, the cohesion on defense sticks out the most.
2nd Level Of Impact; Raiders Getting Help At LB
When activated, the linebackers present a threat to the quarterback rather suddenly. The front office may not have prioritized size when assembling the roster, but this group can run a little bit. The 2023 Raiders linebacker unit is comprised of no-name players who attack the football and, to their credit, are sure tacklers.
Curtis Bolton’s peanut punch treated the Raiders to the game’s first turnover. Azizi Hearn’s hustle led him to a fumble recovery. Both Luke Masterson and Amari Burney made it to the quarterback. Masterson even got his hand on the football for a bat down, while Burney found paydirt for the sack.
Off-the-ball linebackers have not been great for the Silver and Black for quite some time. Patrick Graham has a different vision for his linebackers than many have grown accustomed to seeing. Watching the above tape will show you a well-coached and disciplined group.
The Defense Is Coming Together For Patrick Graham
Tyree Wilson was activated off the NFI list Wednesday before the joint practice against the Los Angeles Rams. Wilson, the Raiders’ most recent first-round draft pick, is in camp and ready to learn from coach Leonard. The young rookie has the luxury of developing under the tutelage of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones.
Wilson is an enormous and physically gifted athlete. Despite being 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, he is still growing into his body. Explosively disruptive with long arms and a quick first step, the pass rush has seemingly received another power-up on the edge and in NASCAR packages.
Lifelong California Raiders
Davante Adams showed up to Thousand Oaks, California, home of the L.A. Training Camp, with destruction as his mission. He refused to stay off the practice field when he could have, just to break the Rams’ defensive backs off. The word is Adams, who was a full go for practice, was cooking them by all accounts. The All-Pro wideout has been unguardable by anyone lined up against him.
While Adams may not play in the preseason at all, he will be ready to go in Week 1, you best believe.
Marcus Peters had a great showing in practices against the 49ers and has continued to be a leader for this young defense in a short amount of time. Peters looks comfortable at Thousand Oaks, a place where he spent two of the best years of his career while donning the Rams jersey. Hopefully, the veteran continues turning back the clock for the Raiders.
*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images