The talk surrounding the Raiders the past few months has been all about the quarterback position. The trade for Matt Flynn, the drafting of Tyler Wilson, the progress of Terrelle Pryor, and the rise of Matt McGloin. But there is a quarterback that is equally if not more important than all of them that very few people are talking about - Nick Roach, quarterback of the defense.
The Raiders made Roach their biggest free agent signing this off-season to take over the middle linebacker spot and try to make everyone forget about how much of a disaster Rolando McClain created during his tenure with the Raiders at the position. Thus far, the results have been just what the Raiders had hoped.
The number one thing that Roach has done is coordinate the defense from the middle linebacker spot. It's the most important job of the middle linebacker and why the position is called ‘the quarterback of the defense.' By that same token, he must be a leader on the field.
"[Nick Roach] has played them well and he has communicated well," said Jason Tarver. "Nick is amazing in how fast he can go to the next play. He's just onto the next play. He will align guys and use his rules; we've had very few times where we've been off the same page communication."
Communication was an area Rolando McClain sorely lacked. The new coaching staff took just a few games into last season before that fact became painfully obvious at which point he was stripped of his playcalling duties.
Roach's services in that regard this season have been so invaluable, he has played every single snap. That's every single one of the defense's 688 snaps according to Pro Football Focus without leaving the field.
"I feel like that's just part of the job description," Roach told ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. "I wouldn't like to come off the field at any point. I realize that it's a blessing to be able to play all the snaps because things happen that are out of your control all the time. So hopefully I've been able to take advantage of it to the fullest so far."
All the while Roach remains in the lineup, the rest of the Raiders defensive players are coming in and out around him along the defensive line and in the secondary and he's directing traffic. He gets them aligned on the field in accordance with the play as well as what he sees from the offensive alignment.
These duties hit a snag in the team's week nine loss to the Eagles in which Nick Foles threw for a record 7 touchdowns. It made for a learning experience and some things that needed fixing in the week that followed.
"Nick is the leader and the instigator of all that," Tarver continued. "If you want to turn good into great, you need to be on the same page all the time. There's going to be one, but make sure that we fix that one and we work together to fix that one as quick as possible. Let's make it zero. That's what Nick's done, he wants zero defects too."
In the Raiders' week 11 win over the Texans, Roach had probably his best game of the season which included a big time interception. Though he had just four tackles in the game, he made plays in other ways that didn't show up in the stat line.
He gets his stats though. He currently leads the team with 68 combined tackles (48 solo). He has 2.0 sacks on the season but the fact that at least 13 different Raiders have at least one sack is a testament to the job he is doing coordinating the defense from the field as much as it is a credit to the blitz packages Jason Tarver cooks up.
Tarver can dream up the most genius schemes in the world but they won't mean a thing if he doesn't have a player on the field to communicate those schemes to his teammates. That's what Nick Roach does and it his work in the middle is a big reason the Raiders defense has gone from at times the absolute worst defense in the league in 2012 to among the most stout defenses in the NFL in 2013.
So while we all spend so much time talking about the quarterback position, it's important not to forget the one on the defensive side of the ball who give the offense more opportunities to score and the opposing offense fewer points to overcome.