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How do Raiders replace Aldon Smith?

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On Tuesday, the Raiders got the news that their premiere pass rusher, Aldon Smith, would be suspended for a year. Now, they must answer the tough question of how to replace him.

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The short answer to this question is they don't. There isn't a player on this team who can aptly fill the void left by Aldon Smith. All the Raiders can do now is use what they have. Which isn't much.

"Obviously we've got to make an adjustment," Jack Del Rio said of losing Smith. "There's several guys that have played in that role and it's likely that those guys will get called on to play a little bit more."

"Any time you lose a good player, you've got to fill the gap and do the best you can, so we've got work to do and we'll get ourselves prepared, make sure we're ready to roll and get ready to go compete against the Lions."

While Aldon Smith this season was not the dominant force he was for the 49ers over his first three seasons in the NFL, he was an important piece. He offered much needed pass rush that showed up in more than just his 3.5 sacks. His pass rush showed up across the defense.

A good example of this is what happened with the Raiders pass rush last season. Over the first 12 games of last season, Khalil Mack and Justin Tuck combined for 3.0 sacks. Over the final 4 games, the two combines for 6.0 sacks.

Late last season Mack really started to figure things out. That not only brought up his numbers, but took pressure off of Tuck, allowing him to add 3.0 sacks over a four-game stretch to finish with a team leading 5.0 sacks on the season.

A similar scenario played out this year when the Raiders signed Aldon Smith just two days prior to the start of the season. Smith had not been in a training camp over the previous month as the rest of his teammates. Plus he was joining a new team. Even a job description of ‘sick the quarterback' takes some practice.

The team's pass rush was non-existent in the first two weeks of the season while Smith got his feet under him. But once Smith became more acclimated to the Raiders' defense, they took off, racking up five sacks in week three and now have 19 over the past 7 games.

Khalil Mack leads the team with 5.0 sacks which had him on pace to more than double his 2014 total (4.0). He was getting a steady dose of double teams even with Smith in the lineup. Now, without Smith to take pressure off of Mack, teams can really focus on stopping him.

Some have suggested Smith's production can be replaced by Mario Edwards. Sure, Edwards has seen his play improve each week, culminating in a fantastic week 10 against the Vikings which included his first full sack of the season. But he and Smith don't play the same position. Smith is a pass rushing outside linebacker who can play 4-3 DE as well. the 280-pound Edwards is a 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT.

Prior to addition and acclimation of Smith, the man getting the start at outside linebacker was Ray Ray Armstrong. He is in no way a pass rushing outside linebacker. Some might argue he is in no way an NFL linebacker, but technically his position is that of a 4-3 outside linebacker.

The Raiders touted the performance of Armstrong this offseason while they were preparing to trade away Sio Moore, but once the season got here it became pretty obvious that Armstrong was not the right man for the job. Thankfully they had Smith and Mack and therefore played a good deal more 3-4 looks.

Last week, Armstrong lined up as a pass rusher on a few occasions and the Vikings went right after him with some success. It's hard to imagine, with the tape they have this season, they would think Armstrong is in any way the answer here.

The most logical replacement would probably be Benson Mayowa. Last season he came in a replaced the injured Lamarr Woodley at defensive end. In training camp he worked in drills as both a defensive end and as a linebacker. The hopes for him were put on hold with a knee injury that had him miss the team's first four games this season. Since his return, he has been in a limited role.

"We're happy to have him back," Del Rio said of Mayowa. "He was a little nicked up early in the year. I feel like he's been rounding into shape and counting on him to be able to help fill that gap."

Mayowa is 2 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Smith and it shows on the field. He also has one career sack to Smith's 47.5. So, yeah, not ideal.

But what choice do the Raiders have? The only free agent pass rushers the team has signed the past two offseasons are both now not available and what they have left are two pass rushers from the past two drafts.

Either they bring in Ray Ray Armstrong at linebacker and shift back to a 4-3 exclusively, or they keep doing what they're doing and roll with Mayowa. Neither option offers much confidence, but that's what they've got.