Teams--and by this I mean "team" in the truest sense of the word--are generally constructed with a particular overarching philosophy in mind and all the units feed into that. Is it a high-flying, offensive juggernaut or is it a ground-and-pound team or is it a beat-you-up defensive monster?
The overall team direction dictates how each unit is to contribute to the success of the team. And that's how great teams become great. We all know that there is a symbiotic relationship between the offense, the defense, and the special teams. If the offense is bad, it often shows up on the stat sheet. If an offense is particularly bad, it can show up on the DEFENSIVE stat sheet.
Teams like the 49ers and the Seahawks have fantastic defenses. And what is noteworthy about them is not only were the defenses great, but they also often had the offense and special teams helping out.
The 49ers in particular had a great ground attack with Frank Gore that generally was able to move the ball and consume the clock. Alex Smith did not turn the ball over and when they had to punt, they handed the ball over to Andy Lee and the guy boomed it 60+ yards. The result was the 49ers defense was often playing in good field position. It's almost unfair to give a defense as good as the 49ers an additional advantage like that. That is one reason why they have been so tremendously successful. The mantra "Any possession that ends in a KICK is a good one" (punt, PAT, or FG).
So, what about the Raiders? Would it surprise you if I told you that the Raiders' offense did NOT help out their defense very much last season and in fact was a terrible offender in putting the defense in compromising positions? Actually, I should say, that both the offense and the special teams contributed greatly to compromised position of the defense.
Just as the 49ers offense and special teams put their defense in a position of strength, the Raiders' offense put their defense in a position of absolute weakness. The Raiders defense was not that good to start with (being kind here) and they needed as much help as they could get. The offense and special teams did not offer any help but instead did the exact opposite.
I have just begun my full analysis on the Raiders' defensive statistics for 2012 and it's already interesting. One statistics jumped out -- Number of defensive drives that started in Raiders' territory. Think about how important that statistic can be for a defense. Obviously, you would expect a defense to perform rather poorly when the opponent gets the ball inside the 50 yard line. Two first downs from inside the 50 is field goal range and naturally it's even less if the ball starts farther inside.
In 2012, the Raiders led the NFL in drives started in their own territory with a ridiculous 29 drives. The Raiders defense faced 178 (non trivial) drives in 2012. 29 drives out of 178 total is a stunning 16%, which is basically 1 drive out of every 6. The NFL Average was 19.1. Here's the full list :
|Team||Drives inside Own 50|
Meanwhile the top of the list is filled with some historically bad defensive teams -- Raiders, Jets, Saints, Titans, Bills, Chiefs -- but we also see the Steelers here. It's worth mentioning that the Steelers defense had a down season and of the 26 drives that started inside the 50, 10 of them occurred in 2 games -- including the infamous 5 fumble day against Cleveland.
In 2012, the Raiders allowed 443 points. That is 10 more points than the Raiders defense allowed in 2011 and that defense was TERRIBLE. So was the 2012 defense even worse than that?
What if I told you that in 2011, the Raiders defense had only 14 drives inside their own territory? That's right, the 2012 Raiders defense faced more than twice as many "plus position" drives than the 2011 and as a result "only" gave up 10 more points. This is an early indicator that the Raiders' defense might have been functioning slightly better than the Points Allowed statistic gives them credit for. Keep in mind, they were still bad. This is just determining whether they were absolutely awful like the 2011 team or maybe (hopefully) slightly improved.
Here's how those 29 drives started :
- 8 interceptions
- 4 sack-fumbles
- 4 big returns
- 3 failed onside kicks
- 2 fumbles (both by DMC)
- 2 short punts
- 2 muffed punts
- 2 blocked punts
- 2 bad long snaps (Goethel)
There were 14 turnovers by the offense -- 12 of them by Carson Palmer.
There were 15 special teams "failures" -- 3 in Game 1 when Jon Condo went out, 2 on maddening Philip Adams' muffed punts, and 2 rare poor punts by Shane Lechler that didn't get out of the Raiders' side of the field (one of these was downed, but the other also benefited from a nice return as well). Of those 3 failed onside kicks, 2 were "desperation mode" ones where the kickoff unit lined up to onside kick, while one of them (Pittsburgh) was a "Surprise" onside kick (that very nearly succeeded).
The results of this field position is striking.
Those 29 drives accounted for 114 points allowed, which is 3.9 points per drive.
Of the 14 turnover drives, the Raiders' defense surrendered 46 points, 3.3 points per drive.
Of the 15 special teams drives, the Raiders defense surrendered 68 points, a 4.5 average.
Note that of the 29 drives, the opposition failed to score in only 7 of them; 2 of those were because the opposing team ran out the rest of the clock and ended the game, while one of them resulted in a missed FG (42 yarder). So, only 4 of those drive are what might be termed "Legitimate defensive stops." (2 punts, 1 fumble, 1 over on downs).
To put these values into context. The Raiders' Points Allowed total for the year was 443 total points. This total includes special teams and defensive scores (like the Atlanta Pick 6) and so doesn't represent exactly the total points that the Defense surrendered (I will update this with the correct number when I get it).
443 Total points allowed.
114 points in 29 Plus Position drives.
That leaves 329 points allowed in the remaining drives (178 - 29 = 149 drives). But those 329 include Points allowed on both special teams (returns for TDs) and on Offense (pick 6, fumble return for TD). When we exclude that, the Raiders' defense surrendered 294 points in these 149 drive.
294 points allowed in 149 drives is a 2.0 points per drive average.
Compare this to the 3.9 average from Plus Position. That's a factor of just under 2. That means that when the opponent starts their drive on the Plus side of the 50 yardline, the Raiders' defense was giving up points at a about TWICE the rate as otherwise. So that's how much field position impacted the defense.
Now a 2.0 point per drive average for the drives outside the 50 is not great. It's not even that good. The NFL Average is 1.6, so the Raiders' defense was still functioning about 25% worse than the NFL Average. So it's not like the Raiders' defense was doing wonderfully and the failures shown were entirely the fault of the offense and special teams. No, the defense definitely had their own issues.
The point is, though, a poor defense can appear like an historically bad defense if they are put in terrible field position. Combine the worst field position in the league with below average defense and that's a formula for a defense that statistically appears to be among the worst in the league and perhaps even worse than that of 2011.
The 2011 offense did some pretty good things. They weren't perfect and it certainly had some problems, but they did some nice things and it helped the defense. The 2012 offense, on the other hand, was a disaster and set the entire team back a couple of years.
Perhaps the biggest sin of all last season was how the poor offense overshadowed some incremental progress on the defensive side of the ball. Imagine if the Raiders' defense had finished middle of the pack in terms of points allowed. It would have been a hollow victory, but it would have given the team something to build upon next season. As it turned out, it was often hard to tell if the defense was any good. Most defensive stats indicate it was terrible.
Stay tuned for a full defensive assessment to come, but for now, keep in mind that the Raiders' offense put its mark on the defensive stat line in 2012.