Last week we discussed the background to the 2011 season and reviewed the performance of the offense. (To read this post follow the link: http://www.silverandblackpride.com/2012/1/27/2753203/oakland-raiders-2011-season-review-part-one )
This week we will evaluate the defense and the special teams unit.
Points Allowed per Game 27.1 (29th) Yards Allowed per Game 387.6 (29th) Passing Yards Allowed per Game 254.1 (27th) Rushing Yards Allowed per Game 136.1 (27th)
Coming into the 2011 season the Oakland Raiders acquired Chuck Bresnahan to replace John Marshall as defensive coordinator, Bresnahan had previously been defensive coordinator for the Raiders from 2000-2003. Oakland also lost their pro bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, whose presence was sorely missed from the secondary.
Overall the defense was bad; the Raiders failed to consistently limit opposition rushers, with poor tackling and bad gap discipline largely to blame. They also gave up a lot of yards through the air, especially when playing in zone coverage which was routinely too soft. Furthermore the defense was liable to give up big plays, and could not turn the ball over regularly enough to compensate for other failings. The record setting amount of penalties committed in 2011 further hampered their overall performance.
The bad defensive play was further compounded by bad scheming from the coordinator: The Raiders defense rarely seemed to make effective halftime adjustments. On multiple occasions teams were able to comeback from behind to make what should have been comfortable victories close or even defeats. In addition there were several cases of naive or outright bad play calling - the decision to leave linebacker Rolando McClain isolated in deep coverage against Detroit Lions star wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, with less than two minutes to play and the game on the line being a notable example.
The poor performance from the defense in 2011 is confirmed by the statistics: The Raiders had franchise worst’s in touchdown passes allowed (31), yards per carry (5.1), yards passing (4,262) and total yards (6,201), while giving up the third-most points (433) in team history. Furthermore the Raiders, along with Tampa Bay, became one of only four teams to allow at least 30 TD passes and 5.0 yards per carry in a season; the last team to achieve this was the Dallas Texans in 1952. The Silver and Black also had the ignominy of becoming the sixth team since the 1970 merger to allow 2,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards passing in a season. For a team that prided itself on strong defensive play has in the past, the performance during 2011 was unacceptable.
Coming into the year the defensive line was meant to be one of the strengths of the team. The defensive was build round it and it was expected to be dominant. The line was anchored by veterans John Henderson, Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour and complemented by talented young players like Desmond Bryant, Lamaar Houston and Matt Shaughnessy. The unit as a whole performed well but was not as dominant as many had hoped. Richard Seymour, the leader of the defense, started the season in excellent form, he was disruptive and dangerous, but unfortunately knee injuries slowed his production considerably as the season progressed. That said, he and fellow defensive tackle, Tommy Kelly, were amongst the leading interior linemen in the league when it came to pressuring the oppositions quarterback and Kelly lead the team in sacks with 7.5. On the negative side the pair were also amongst the most penalised defensive tackles in the league.
A major bright spot was the play of second year defensive end Lamaar Houston. Houston was the best run defender amongst the defensive linemen. He led the unit in tackles (51) and played the run in an aggressive, disciplined manner. He only registered one sack but his 27 pressures was second best on the team, with only pass rushing linebacker Kamerion Wimbley registering more. An additional positive note was the versatile lineman Desmond Bryant whose contribution was solid.
The injury to defensive end Matt Shaughnessy was a big blow to the defensive line. He was expected to have a big year but was lost for the season to a shoulder injury sustained in week three. There were of course some other disappointments; firstly the amount of penalties the unit conceded but also the health of tackle John Henderson which limited his production, and the inconsistent play of end Jarvis Moss. Trevor Scott, back from ALC, was largely a non factor.
Oakland’s play at linebacker was pretty inconsistent throughout the year. Outside linebacker Wimbley was the stand out player due to his pass rushing ability. He recorded 7 sacks and was amongst the league leader in quarterback hits and pressures – though it should be stated that he moves to defensive end in passing situations. Wimbley played the run relatively well but was prone to over pursuing, and he struggled a bit in coverage. A big negative against Wimbley was that he was streaky; he would turn up big in some games (four sacks against the Chargers in week 10) and not really featuring in others.
Second year linebacker Rolando McClain improved from his rookie year, though he continues to frustrate. His statistics are respectable - 99 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 1 safety and 13 passes defended in his 15 games – but he can be slow to diagnose run plays, struggles to get off blocks and misses tackles in open space with poor technique generally to blame. Despite previously mentioned play against Calvin Johnson, McClain did well dropping into coverage, particularly zone coverage, he moves well for a big man and he swats the ball well. His off the field conduct was a big disappointment to say the least.
Quinton Groves started the year as the other outside linebacker but struggled in coverage and was mediocre against the run despite his good form tackling. He was replaced in the starting line up when Oakland traded for Seattle’s Aaron Curry. Curry played quite well, particularly against the run, thanks to his good lateral movement and big hits. At times his high level of aggression resulted in penalties. Darryl Blackstock saw time as a backup and on special teams and was generally unimpressive.
The play across the secondary was generally bad with one notable expectation in Tyvon Branch. The strong safety led the Raiders in tackles (109) for the third straight season, and was excellent against the run and he made some big stops on passing downs. His coverage has improved, especially when playing in deep zones – though he does struggle in man coverage against larger receivers. Branch was the only truly constant player in the secondary. He is a free agent this offseason and resigning him should be a priority.
The other safeties were generally inconsistent. Michael Huff played at free safety and nickleback, and struggled with injuries that limited his production. Matt Girodano filled in at free safety in lieu of Huff and played solidly; he led the team in interception with five, and allowed the lowest catch rate for safeties at 40.0%. However his tackling was poor; he reacts late and takes bad angles. Mike Mitchell, at strong safety, made some big hits and covered opposition tight ends well but misses too many tackles, again due to taking bad angles. Bit part player, Jerome Boyd, struggled against the run and the deep ball.
At cornerback Stanford Routt had a curiously frustrating year. Most football analysis websites have him ranked as one the best cornerbacks in the league in terms of burn percentage. Furthermore Oakland ranked in the top half of the league against passes thrown to a number one receiver, who Routt was generally covering. However these statistics do not take into account the league-high 17 penalties he commented and he gave up nine touchdowns. Routt is a good corner, but he needs to play cleaner, and cut down the touchdowns if he is going to be worth his huge contract.
Elsewhere the other Oakland corners also fared badly. Chris Johnson struggled with injuries and was eventually placed on injured reserve after a family tragedy. Rookie Chimdi Chekwa flashed potential against the New York Jets and New England Patriots but could not stay fit and was placed on IR in mid November. Fellow rookie DeMarcus van Dyke looked raw, and mid season addition Lito Sheppard struggled badly against larger receivers.
Overall the special teams unit played well for the Silver and Black in 2011. The specialists themselves all had an excellent year and they were rewarded, as punter Shane Lechler, kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long snapper Jon Condo all went to the pro bowl. The returners on the team were disappointing without being bad; the loss the Jacoby Ford was costly as it meant the Raiders lacked a real threat when returning kicks. While the coverage teams were poor, finishing near the bottom of the league on kick returns and last on punt returns.
Shane Lechler was superb as ever. He led the AFC with an average of 50.8 yards per punt, and was third in the conference in net yards with an average of 40.9. He also landed 27 punts inside the 20 yard line and had four punts of over 70 yards including an 80 yarder over the head of Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester. Lechler even managed to throw his first touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Boss on a fake field goal against the Cleveland Browns.
The struggling coverage team finished last in the league in terms of return yard, they allowed 13.5 yards per return. Though this in part reflects badly of Lechler, the coverage team was constantly poor, failing to get away from blocks and missing tackles. The unit allowed two returns for touchdowns.
Janikowski had an excellent year and made the pro bowl for the first time. He made 31-for-35 on field goal attempts, without missing a kick inside the 50 yard line that was not blocked. He finished sixth overall in percentage of field goals made while attempting a league leading 10 attempts from 50 yards or more. Furthermore he equalled the NFL record for the longest field goal (63 yards), and set a new league record for his three 50-yard field goals in the game against the Houston Texans. And set a new a team record with six field goals against the Bears.
Janikowski also took charge of kick-offs. Despite his monster leg the Raiders surprisingly only finished 20th in the NFL in touchback percentage. This is partly due to a hamstring injury that limited Janikowski mid season and partly due to the poor performance of the coverage unit, who ranked 27th in opponent’s kickoff return average at 25.7 yards per return. The Raiders also allowed one touchdown.
Oakland’s kick-off and punt to returning was below par. They ranked 18th in average kick-off return with 23.5 yards per attempt and 24th in punt returns with an average of 8.3 yards per attempt. Kick-off return figures were disappointing largely due to the loss of Jacoby Ford who was averaging 31.0 yards per return before getting injured, he had also scored a touchdown against the Browns. In his absence the return game was poor until the late acquisition of Bryan McCann who averaged 27.8-yard on 13 returns. Punt returning was generally unimpressive; Rookie Denarius Moore saw the majority of work and returned 25 punts for an average of 8.6 yards.
Thanks to all who have taken the time to read my two part review, I hope it was informative and enjoyable.