Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland’s defensive unit is inexperienced and undermanned, but there is no shortage of pure aggression in their approach. First year DC Jason Tarver’s unit is 100% dedicated to snuffing out the run, and they’ve done so with great success. The back line of the defense, however, has not held up its critical end of the bargain.
Through eight games the Raiders rank 6th in the NFL in rushing defense. They’re holding opponents to under 95 ground yards per game, below four yards per carry and have allowed opposing running backs in the end zone on just six occasions. Most impressively, they have allowed ONE run longer than 20 yards all season (32), tied with Baltimore for tops in the league. Burgeoning superstar Lamarr Houston is a top-five run disrupter at the defensive end position, grading out at 10.4 by Pro Football Focus. Former 7th round pick Vance Walker has been stout in the middle. This will be a tricky point of re-entry for Andre Brown to say the least. He should be the most attractive option given the sluggish acceleration of Brandon Jacobs/Peyton Hillis.
On a less than positive note, the Oakland frontline is near the bottom of the food chain in creating pressure sans the blitz (11 DL sacks). And that lack of traditional pass rush is not doing its shell-shocked secondary any favors. The Raiders are allowing a league worst 69% completion percentage, including 16 touchdowns passes and 28 pass plays of 20+ yards. Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden has struggled mightily in coverage. He was burned for 63 and 17 yard touchdowns by Riley Cooper last week, both coming within a three minute stretch of game action. Transplanted corner and emergency safety Brandian Ross also allowed FOUR touchdowns under his watch, one apiece to Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, LeSean McCoy and Cooper again. Sell out against the run – put your limited secondary in uncomfortable and frequently unmanageable situations. The LB picture is no rosier. If Brandon Myers is capable of putting together a breakout performance, this is the week to do it.
For a long stretch of seasons, the Raiders and frivolous defensive penalties became synonymous; this is no longer the case under head coach Dennis Allen. After ranking in the middle of the pack in self-assessed handicaps a year ago, Oakland currently stands at #3 in fewest penalties committed and #2 in fewest penalty yards. They won’t be donating free yardage to the Giants cause.