After the first weeks of the NFL season, the Raiders defense was very suspect. They gave up 33 points in back-to-back games and had yet to register a sack. Fans were growing anxious and wondering where the pressure was. That changed Sunday and it changed in a big way. Lets look at the grades the defense got after Sunday's win against the Browns.
Defensive Line: A
This was hands down the best performance of the year so far by this unit. Not only did they get consistent pressure on Josh McCown, but they made him rush throws throughout the game and left him on his backside all day long. Getting pressure on the QB has been consistent this season, but the unit was able to finish plays and sack McCown. Led by Khalil Mack, who had 2 sacks, 4 tackles and 2 QB hits, the D-line was great in the passing game as well as stopping the run. They held the Browns run game to a mere 39 yards and controlled the line of scrimmage despite the Browns' having Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and Joe Thomas. The highlight from this squad was the goal-line stand late in the 2nd qtr. It kept the Browns out of the end zone and made them settle for a FG.
It was a new look trio as Aldon Smith started alongside Malcolm Smith and Curtis Lofton. They helped bring pressure on McCown and came thru big in stopping the run. This group even added sacks from Ray-Ray Armstrong, which was more of a "gimme", Smith and rookie Neiron Bell. They added five tackles for loss and several passes defensed. The unit was strong in the run game, but struggled covering in the pass game. For the third straight game, the opponents' tight end had a big game. The blame for this is spread among the defensive backs and linebackers and the grades will indicate that.
Overall, the linebackers were solid on Sunday. Bringing pressure and supporting the D-line, but faltered when it came to coverage.
Defensive Backs: B
The struggles of this unit continued, but they showed signs of growth. They kept Browns' speedster Travis Benjamin (4 rec, 45 yds and TD) quiet for most of the game, but allowed WR Brian Hartline and TE Gary Barnridge to combine for 201 receiving yards on just 11 combined receptions. Covering the tight end continues to be an issue and it's difficult to put a finger on what the problem is, but the DBs must keep an eye on the tight end. The Browns' passing game was kept quiet until the 3rd quarter, but once McCown got going he carved up the unit on his way to 341 passing yards and two touchdowns. It seemed the unit was bending and ready to break with the game on the line, but Charles Woodson saved the day with an interception to seal the victory. This unit is young and continues to grow, but they have shown the ability to make a big play when needed especially with the game on the line.
Overall Defensive grade: B+
Special Teams: A+
Overall, it was a great game for the special teams units. Taiwan Jones had 2 kick returns for 60 total yards. Sebastian Janikowski nailed both of his FGs and three extra point attempts. The big story coming into this game was how would the Raiders punt to Benjamin. Well, they went right at him and succeeded. A week after having a 76-yard punt return versus the Titans, Benjamin had three punt returns for only 9 yards. This unit was also part of one the games' biggest plays.
In the second quarter with the score 3-0, Barkevious Mingo was called for a roughing the kicker penalty on a Marquette King punt. Instead of a 3-and-out, the Raiders offense was given another chance and drove down to score a touchdown. That score put the Raiders up 10 and set the tone for the rest of the game.
It was an all-around team performance with the defense, offense and special teams coming up with big plays in key moments.