The word defense hasn't meant much in Oakland of late. What was a pretty solid looking Raiders defense early in the season has become a shell of its former self. And it appears to be getting progressively worse with each passing week.
The collapse really began four weeks ago when the Raiders allowed the Titans, with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback to march down the field in the waning second to score the game-winning touchdown.
The following week, the collapse began in the final two minutes of the first half. The Raiders were up 21-7 in the second quarter and then allowed a touchdown to the Cowboys just before half time. It was the beginning of another implosion and a 31-24 loss.
The week after was the game in New York against the Jets. That was a debacle from start to finish with the Raiders allowing the Jets to score a season high 37 points.
Then last week they gave up a franchise record 56 points to the Chiefs. The situation has reached critical mass. How this can be seen as anything but a regression is beyond me, but Jason Tarver insists that's not the case.
"I wouldn't say regressed," said Tarver. "This is what happens as you're building, as you're building a process, and as you're building trying to lay a foundation with ten new starters and where we are, you're gonna have ups and downs."
I suppose if you consider there was a game earlier in the season against the Eagles in which the Raiders gave up 49 points, one could say this is "ups and downs". But it seems pretty clear the ups have gone away and the downs are reaching new depths.
Against the Chiefs, it was screen passes that killed the Raiders defense. They were completely helpless against them. Turnovers didn't help but those don't always have to result in touchdowns. And against the Chiefs, they did in nearly every instance. Those have been the focus of the Raiders this week.
"Two major things to correct," Tarver continued. "The obvious one that's all over the news right now is our screens. And we were in different calls on all of them. We have three guys there with one blocker to make the first play and that's gotta be made. The guys know that. Those have all been corrected. We've been emphasizing it, we were emphasizing it last week. The guy's a good player so you gotta make sure you keep him in the cage and execute on those.
"And in the red zone. Very rarely are you gonna win a game if you turn the ball over seven times as a team but we need to hold them to field goals. So, those are the two major points of emphasis. Now, we played well in those areas. We played well on screens this year too and we know what we have to get corrected and how to execute in all situations."
Both Tarver and Dennis Allen have been quick to point out that the Raiders have performed well on defense at times this season. So, what's the reason for them looking like the worst defense in the NFL the past few weeks? Is it fatigue? Is it simply they are now starting to play as most expected this discount group of cast-offs to perform?
We could see the answer in the final two games of the season and according to Tarver, it will be a deciding factor on whether those players are back next year or not.
"This is a great opportunity for our defense," he said. "Almost all of our guys has set a career high in snaps or starts. And what's great for them is they were brought in to see if they could do it. The facts are a lot of them are on one-year contracts. That's not my area but that's the facts. So, what we wanna see is who can push through this. The Oakland Raiders want to see who can make some plays at the snap counts. So, that's the challenge to them. Is [fatigue] a factor of it? It may be, but who's gonna push through because that's how you earn the contract they want and that's how we find out who's gonna fit in the future. Because we're right on our process, we wanna figure out which guys are gonna push through. Who's gonna finish this thing? Who's gonna finish it the right way?"
The Raiders defense will face probably its toughest challenge the next two weeks when the face Phillip Rivers and a resurgent Chargers team followed up by Peyton Manning and the Broncos top offense. It's a hell of a challenge to this Raiders defense to try and pull out of their tailspin but that's the situation they're in.