After allowing over 1,000 yards and 68 points through the first two weeks, the Raiders defense was the strength of the team during their week three victory over the Titans. How did the unit fare in their 28-27 win against the Ravens?
Khalil Mack was a one-man wrecking crew constantly generating pressure, drawing penalties, and finally recording his first sack of the 2016 season. Mack is not to blame for the Raiders pass rushing woes, he has played excellent all year. Bruce Irvin came up huge with a strip sack (caused by Mack) that led to a Raiders touchdown. Both Mack and Irvin applied pressure on the Ravens final drive that forced Joe Flacco to throw the ball early.
If you take away Steve Smith's 52-yard touchdown in the final minutes of the game, this Raiders secondary played an excellent game. D.J. Hayden for the second week in a row made plays and showed great physicality as a tackler. Sean Smith had numerous pass breakups including an interception on the Ravens two-point conversion attempt. Reggie Nelson knocked the ball out of Kamar Aiken's hands on the final defensive play to save the game for the Raiders. Rookie Karl Joseph was all over the field, and David Amerson had another outstanding game aside from a missed tackle on Smith's touchdown reception.
The Raiders struggles covering tight ends has dated back to last year. That was not the case Sunday as this unit held Dennis Pitta to three receptions for 17 yards. Credit this unit for their huge defensive stand at the end of the game to deny Justin Tucker a chance at a game-winning field goal.
The one play that took shine off this performance was Steve Smith's touchdown. Amerson has to make that tackle and Reggie Nelson should have taken a better angle on the play.
On the surface, allowing 130 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns doesn't look great. Dig a little deeper and you realize Terrance West did that! West is by no means Adrian Peterson, he likely won't even be the Ravens starting running back once Kenneth Dixon returns. The Silver and Black also gave up a one yard touchdown to Joe Flacco on a fourth and goal.
Mario Edwards Jr will certainly improve this unit once he returns from injury, but this entire defense needs to step-up their run defense and make it a priority. This is four weeks in a row opposing offenses have gashed the Raiders on the ground. The two players that excelled in this unit were rookies Cory James and Karl Joseph who both led the team in tackles. James also added a forced fumble and Joseph showed his explosiveness.
Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton called zone coverages most of the game and it worked perfectly as the Raiders secondary played great. Norton also switched Khalil Mack to the opposite side of the field so he could matchup against the Ravens backup left tackle. That was a savvy move to help get Mack a sack and it worked as Mack recorded his first sack of the season and helped generate pressure on Bruce Irvin's strip sack.
Where Norton really earns this grade is the Raiders final defensive stand. Instead of playing prevent defense, Norton kept pressure on the Ravens offense and it worked like a charm as Flacco was forced to throw early multiple times. Had the Ravens moved the ball 5-10 yards closer, they would have been in Justin Tucker's range for a game winning field goal.
I have said it before and I will say it again, Marquette "The Magician" King is playing like the best punter in the NFL. King punted four times with a net average of 51.8 yards per punt. King has always had a great leg, but he has significantly improved at downing opposing teams inside the 20-yard line and he did it four times on Sunday. Field position is one of the most underrated stats in an NFL game and King has proven he is a game changer.
The Raiders special teams coverage was solid all game aside from a 60-yard kick return by Devin Hester. As for the Raiders own return game, Jalen Richard showed his elusiveness on a 47-yard punt return that set up a Raiders touchdown.