After watching that debacle of a Thanksgiving game, I found myself scrounging through box scores and highlight videos trying to find some ray of hope.
Other than DHB finally getting a touchdown catch, there wasn't much about the offense I was overly happy about. Play-calling is still questionable as Cable still seems to not want to utilize this running game. Yes it was inconsistent, but it worked better than that horrid pass attack.
But then I saw that which shows that this season was not a loss.
Our defense gave up big plays, but the defense (primarily the younger guys) played hard from start to finish. They had their low-point, but they never seemed completely demoralized at any point in the game. In a game like this where the offense was in a sheer tailspin and the D was being carved for several big plays, I've been so used to seeing the team just flat-out quit.
This defense had energy and had some promising moments, as it has all year. Though buried by some bad plays, this young defense has been getting slowly better as the year has gone on.
So just what can the Raiders do to get this D over the hump? Read on to find out.
Step 1: Do whatever it takes to keep Ellis and Seymour
With four sacks by Seymour and five for Ellis, these guys have created a dominant pressure unit and have really stiffened the run D to the outside. However, they also bring a winner's mentality and leadership to what was once a very disgruntled D-Line. They bring an energy that I haven't seen on this D-Line in a great many years.
But perhaps what they bring more than anything, is mentoring. I'm constantly reading and hearing about how much the young guys like Scott, Richardson, Bryant, and Shaughnessy are being taught by these guys both on and off the field. And it's definitely been showing. But we'll get to that later.
Though I would feel bad to do this Seymour, Davis needs to franchise tag him. As for Ellis, he still has a year or two left on his contract I believe. We need this guys for only really about a year more so the young D-Linemen can keep learning from them and eventually take over their roles as starters.
Step 2: Rotate the young D-Linemen in more
These young Raiders D-Linemen have shown a great deal of promise over the past two years or so, despite being later draft picks or even undrafted. from Richardson, to Shaughnessy, to Scott, to Bryant; all of these guys bring something different to the table. However, they all bring something in common as well. Heart and energy.
Off the field they're constantly working on their games, competing with each other really; for more playing time. And in the process, have sped up their development processes. This strategy of late-round drafting by Al Davis to find hard working competitors who aren't necessarily good from the get-go has really worked when it comes to D-Linemen.
Which is why I think they need more playing time. In a way to help integrate them into starting spots when Seymour and Ellis move on, but to also further their development. Plus they're talented enough that they we wouldn't really lose all that much if they got more snaps.
Scott has come a long ways from looking atrocious in preseason to getting 4.5 sacks and making himself a very effective pass rusher whenever Seymour moves inside or there's an injury. While improved, his work in the run game is still pretty shaky.
Shaughnessy has seen time starting and is getting really good minutes. He's got 2 sacks and is doing a decent job in the run game. He doesn't really show up on any plays, but that's not always a bad thing. He doesn't make many big plays, but he doesn't allow any big plays either.
Richardson is the man closest to being a full-time starter. He's had plenty of starting experience in his career primarily sealing off the run. Though we've seen that pass rush get better and better every year. In far less time than years past, he's still managed two sacks; 1 off from last season's total despite not starting this year.
As for Bryant, he reminds me a lot of Warren Sapp. Except he actually works hard and tries. Very small for a DT at only 260, he is however incredibly fast. Like Trevvor Scott fast, maybe even faster. But he's got strong enough legs that he can get that good push in the run game as well. Our primary rotation man at DT, I'm interested to see what he can do next year with possibly some more time and more chances at the QB.
I look forward to watching these young D-Linemen grow and mature into what should be very good players in this league.
Step 3: Draft or sign a NT
Though this goes against the Davis code of draft for speed, even he has to admit that his defense is plagued by big runs up the middle. With two pass rushers in Warren and Kelly there in the middle, this is to be expected. If Davis wants to go back to his ways of the old-school, even he should know that he can't do it without a big man built specifically for the run in the middle.
Three DT's to me are worthy of the pick, Suh of Nebraska, McCoy (Gerald not Colt) of Oklahoma, and Cody of Alabama. All three are big, physical, and command at least two blockers or else they'll be making plays in the backfield. All three are so big that they can fill up gaps in the middle and force runs to the outside, where the Raiders playmakers at DE would be waiting.
My man of preference is definitely Suh. Monstrous, great penetration, fills up gaps, and has a decent pass rush as well. Suh is an immediate contributor and is the best DT I've seen in an NFL draft since I started following the NFL.
Next up would be Cody. He'd definitely win the Terdell Sands look-a-like contest, but if they also wanted the contestants to play the same, Cody loses. Cody is a thousand times more dominant a NT than Sands could ever hope to be. Terrance is a freaking mountain in the middle. His strong lower legs coupled with his sheer size make him nearly impossible to move backwards. If you want a guy to redirect run plays and get some occasional penetration, there's no one in the draft better.
I don't know much about McCoy though many compare him to Suh but with less penetration capabilities in the running game. Not a bad pick, but with where we're drafting Suh and Cody are the top priorities.
With mentoring still available in their rookie years from Seymour and Ellis, there appears to be no better time to draft a NT.
Step 4: Get something at SLB
I've been calling for Morrison to move to OLB for a long time, but it clearly won't be happening. But it seems Kirk is finally getting a handle on the spot. Though of course there's definitely room for improvement on his part.
But that middle of the run defense seems to be greatly effected by the ineptitude of the Alston/Brown/Williams project of Davis. All three are liabilities in the run game, and all three in coverage is an automatic completion by the opposing QB.
While I don't know what lies in the draft or in free agency next year at the spot, it must be addressed. We need someone with proper size and tackling ability to be playing the side of the defense that sees the most runs its way.
Pass coverage is just an added bonus if this OLB possesses it, the main priority is a run stopper at the spot.
Step 5: Cornerback Depth
I'm not necessarily ready to cal lit quits on Chris Johnson, but Routt should not be our primary rotation corner nor the nickel back. I still want Routt on this team, but their needs to be somebody ahead of him on the depth chart.
As long as they're better than Routt, I don't care who Davis gets to fill the spot.
With Seymour and Ellis still on the team and the development of the young DE's, this line would still seal off outside runs and create a lot of pressure and sacks. Throw in a good NT and a pass rush rotation of Kelly and Bryant in the middle, the defense of inside runs would be improved, but not necessarily solved.
Inside runs still falls on Morrison and a new SLB. The linebackers might be affected by poor interior D-Line play, but they still should be doing better than what they are next year. And since the Law Firm is still there, pass coverage should be pretty good.
The secondary should do much better if the front-seven manages to stop the run more. They could then expect pass plays instead of being caught off-guard by so many effective play-action plays. CJ, Routt, and the new CB would still need to work on their respective games. However, with enough pressure and what would hopefully a better job of run defense, they should be fine.
As for the unmentioned safety spot, Branch should be even better with another year under his belt and a full year starting. Free safety is an enigma based on what happens to the spot. Does Huff stay and maybe start, what of Eugene, or could Mitchell take over the role?
The offense still needs to get better so this D can stay fresh, but until then, they might as well build up the D to compensate for that offense.
And I see a very very birght future for the Raiders D if they stay on course.