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Ken Norton Jr on Raiders defense: "We have to find out what we're good at"

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With an all-new coaching staff in Oakland along with several new players, this team is a work in progress. Over the first two games of the season, that has proven to very much be the case for the defense, which ranks worst in the NFL in several categories.

The first place you look is the pass rush, mainly because it hasn't been nearly what anyone thought it would be based on their performance in the preseason along with the addition of All Pro pass rusher, Aldon Smith. But it goes far beyond that.

After giving up the second most points in the NFL (66) this season over the first two games, the Raiders defense clearly lacks an identity. They have zero sacks, the tackling is atrocious, the linebackers can't cover anyone, the safeties are both injured, and the cornerbacks... well, they have actually been a bit better than we suspected considering they were initially thought to be the worst part of this defense.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr is the man tasked with finding a formula that works. He comes over from the Seahawks where they had dominant players all over their defense.

Even with pass rushers on the field most of last week, none of them got a sack out of it. Norton was criticized for not blitzing in the Raiders opener but in week two the Raiders' blitzed 18 times and still couldn't get any good pressure out of it. Jack Del Rio put much of the blame on the coverage not making the quarterback sit in the pocket longer. He's not wrong, but it again just means the Raiders continue to struggle to find a niche.

"You have to find out first what you're good at," said Norton. "Are you good at zone coverage, are you good at man coverage, are you good at blitzing, are you good at rushing forward. You have to find out what you're good at and then you have to emphasize that. Always play to your strengths. And right now we're at the point where we have to find out what we're good at. Are we good at stopping offenses? Are we good at stopping the run? Are we good at tackling? What exactly is our thing, our staple point? And that's where our growth is; trying to get that understanding."

"We have a really good group of players who really care. Everybody's really competitive. I don't think any team plays as hard as we do. I don't think any team cares more than we care. It's just a matter of putting it all together. Our rush connected with our coverage, connected with our underneath, connected with our run stoppage. All those things need to be connected. Sometimes we do good at one thing and not as good at the other. Now let's put it all together and that's the growth that we're looking for."

Even with the defense giving up 33 points in each of the first two weeks, the Raiders managed to pull out a win. The only obvious difference you can see is the Raiders forced two turnovers last week after not forcing any in the first game. Those turnovers were a forced fumble on the Ravens' first play of the game that led to a Raiders field goal, and an interception on the final play of the game to seal the win. Norton points to that as a big reason the Raiders were able to get a win out of it.

"If you notice there were a lot more plays being made," Norton said of the win. "Good defenses make plays. Guys are knocking balls down, guys are close in coverage, they're making plays in the backfield, we're getting turnovers. Those are things that the good defenses do. And you see those things are happening. Obviously you'd love to have 15 points, you'd love to shut people out. The offenses are pretty good these days, it's just a matter of the good defenses make plays. The good defenses tackle well, so we want to emulate what the good defenses do."

If you are looking for a sign of growth, the second half against the Ravens last week offers shreds of it.

Here are some numbers from the first half to the second half against from last week:

1st half

2nd half




Total yards



Joe Flacco

231 yds, 2 TD

153 yds, 1 int

Steve Smith

4 rec, 102 yds

6 rec, 48 yds

Crockett Gillmore

5 rec, 79 yds, 2 TD

1 rec, 10 yds

Justin Forsett

57 yds, 7.1 ypc

11 yds, 1.5 ypc

Even though the Raiders still managed to blow the lead they developed in the game, you can see the overall improvement the defense had.

"It's about growth. The guys are getting more confident. They're really tough players, they really play hard, and they really are growing. They're talking about the right things, they're asking the right questions, and it's just fun to coach them because you've been at the highest point, you've been at the lowest point and you know what it takes to get there; you know the direction that everyone needs to go. And we are going in the right direction."

They put that growth to the test in Cleveland Sunday to face the Browns, which would also be a good time for some aspect of this defense to show itself as a strength.