Actually, before I go into that though, I am going to touch on some recent history, and how that ties into what is currently happening right now. First, the roster for the Raiders has in recent years had some nice players added through the draft, but not many, and not nearly enough; too many missed gambles have contributed to a talent deficit that still exists, and is still waiting to be fully addressed. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to address it, regardless of need, due to the salary cap being a yearly mess. Yes, Al would be able to get from under it, but there has not been any flexibility for pretty much the last 15 years or so, and it has had a cumulative effect. Poor free agent signings only added to the issue without making much difference on the field. So, with that history being noted, on to the first quarter of the season.
DL - The issue really isn't that the starters suck, which is what some idiots are saying, but that there isn't sufficient depth to provide sufficient breathers. There is really only one rotational DT in Bryant, who does well but is still somewhat green, and it is no better at DE, where there is only Tollefson, who is seviceable, but still a drop-off in talent. Bringing in Carter will help provide a better pass rush, but the lack of depth is hurting the whole team, not just the defense. This unit can be seen as a strength, but only if it is able to either rotate to stay fresh, or be kept off the field by the offense being more effective.
LB - Another paper-thin unit that has not played that badly, but gets run down. Wheeler has looked very solid, and I expect he will get a multi-year offer after this season. The hope is that he will stay where he was allowed a real chance to start, on a team that is making the right moves. Burris has been a pleasant surprise so far, with great hustle and work ethic; the question is when or whether he will hit the rookie wall. McClain has struggled at times, and at other times played solid ball. I don't know that he will ever be as good as he was in college, but he is improving his play overall, and that's a plus. Still, we need to upgrade at MLB, unless the plan is to go to a 3-4 alignment more when injuries are less of a concern.
S - As yet, I still see this position as a weakness. Although the injuries to the DB's came early, I didn't see much difference from last year to this; there simply aren't enough plays being made. I have seen Huff as replaceable for years; the problem is that he tantalizes with athletic ability more than production. Branch is solid against the run, but weak on coverage; Mitchell is the same, but even more of a liability in the passing game; Giordano would be so much more effective with the physical gifts of any of the other three, because he plays heady and hard, but simply doesn't have quite the raw ability needed to be reliable.
DB - This is currently the weakest position on the team, mostly because of injuries. Once the position was purged, the team (Al) was set on making do with players that had been drafted, players that were unfortunately not good enough to step up, or even keep. As we have clearly seen, good DB's can be hard to find on the waiver wire, we don't have the salary cap to sign them if there were, and we don't have the draft picks to make trades; we have to make do with what is available. Bartell and Spencer looked serviceable, but they went down. Now we are using guys that nobody else wanted, and fans are expecting that they should be playing like All-Pros; quick hint: it doesn't happen that way. Lee and Adams look like they can be good nickel and dime backs, but they are what they are, and the fact that we have converted a safety to play DB should tell you all you need to know about our depth, and what is available on the market.
Here is what I see: we cannot afford many blitzes, putting DB's that are already struggling in even more precarious positions, unless we want to see more big scoring plays against us. Our DL has shown some ability to pressure the passer, but less and less as the game goes on, and they get gassed from the combination of lack of rotation and not much help from the offense. When we have blitzed, we have struggled to get to the passer because we don't have guys that are strong in that department, and so give up easy plays to the opposing team. Overall, tackling has not been bad, certainly better than in years past. Which leads to really only one conclusion: we have to play bend don't break.
The more plays that we force the other offense into, the better the chances of creating turnovers, or forcing mistakes on their part. Playing a gambling, attack-style defense right now, with all the injuries and other problems, just means being put into deep holes. That means that even if the offense is doing better, they need to go to passing mode sooner, McFadden now becoming a receiver or decoy, just what some people are howling about now. I look forward to the time when we are able to bring the heat, to force quick plays that are ripe for mistakes, to create confusion on the opponent sideline as they try to figure out what adjustments to make. Until we are capable, however, that style will just bring heartache...