Dennis Allen said on Tuesday he saw no silver lining to the first six games of this season in which they finished 2-4 with wins over the Jaguars and Chargers. So, since he can't find it, I reveal it for him; it's the play of the defense.
This team had arguably the worst defense in the NFL through much of last season. This offseason they set out to rebuild it. Currently there is just one returning starter from last season - defensive end, Lamarr Houston.
With Houston leading the way with 3.0 sacks, the Raiders have a total 16 sacks on the season which is 13th in the league. They are also ranked 15th in yards per game despite facing the likes of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Phillip Rivers already this season.
The Raiders' defense has surrendered 118 points this season which is less than 20 points per game. That isn't a tremendous accomplishment unless you put it up against last season's average of 28 points per game.
Much credit for the turnaround goes to defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver. He has preached since the beginning "multiplicity through simplicity" which is a statement that needed a bit of explaining at first but as we have come to better understand it, the players have begun to put it into motion.
"Well, you have concepts that you do defensively and what you try to do is try to change the look up a little bit, but it's really not different for your players," said Allen. "And we try to do that in every game so the offense can't just get a bead on where we're coming from and what we're doing. That's critical to the success of our defense. I think our guys have done a pretty good job of understanding how we can just change a couple of different players in a particular concept and it looks totally different to the offense, but it really it's not anything different for us. You try to be as complicated as you can from a look standpoint for the offense, but yet not change too much defensively so you don't make the mistakes."
Just a few weeks ago the Raiders still had a real problem tipping their hand on defense. One play in particular stands out to me against the Broncos in week 3 when Kevin Burnett lined up wide behind Charles Woodson who was up on the line covering tight end Julius Thomas. Manning saw this and knew right away that Woodson would leave Thomas and come on the blitz, leaving Burnett to cover him. He would have a window between the snap and when Burnett could get there in coverage so he quick threw it to Thomas and the speedy tight end took the open space and ran for a 12-yard touchdown.
Since that game in which Manning picked them apart, they have learned to better disguise their plans. This is exactly what Tarver has been preaching.
"I think [coach Tarver] is really smart," said Allen. "He's able to take something that might seem complicated, break it down and make it as simple as you can for the players. I think sometimes, I think, us as coaches, sometimes we over-coach. When you over-coach, you tend to slow your players down. You want to try to make it as simple as possible so that your players can play fast."
The Raiders' last two games, have come against division rival Chargers and Chiefs. In those two games, the quarterbacks were left puzzled as to how to read the Raiders defense. The result in the Chargers game was five turnovers and a 27-17 Raiders victory.
The Chiefs beat the Raiders but it was not the fault of the defense. The defense kept the Chiefs scoreless in the first quarter and kept the score tied at 7-7 until late in the third quarter when three Terrelle Pryor interceptions led to three Chiefs scores. A week after stopping a tough Chargers offense, the defense nearly helped the Raiders upset the undefeated Chiefs. But that isn't quite good enough.
"Coach Allen says there are no moral victories in the NFL," said Tarver. "We're about winning, and we played them well defensively in a lot of phases, especially pressuring the quarterback and making [Alex Smith] throw incompletions. We had the three sacks early, but then we were in the backfield the whole game."
The Raiders defense held their last three opponents - Chiefs, Chargers, Redskins - to an average of 16 points on offense. Even so, there are areas that can still improve.
"We've got to play better situationally," said Tarver. "We've got to play better down on the goal line, especially. We had a few guys that just need to be in the correct spots down on the goal line. On both runs where [Chiefs RB Jamaal] Charles ran in, we can play those better. That's what we have to do better. When they get in the red zone we have to hold them to field goals, not touchdowns."
"Doing that starts with us. It's just simply guys doing their job in that situation. We've been good at times, we were good against San Diego, but we've got to be good all the time. You turn bad into good, good into great."