Even after last week’s win over the Jaguars in which the Raiders held the Jags to 16 points and 344 total yards of offense, the Raiders are still dead last in the NFL on defense in terms of yards allowed per game (430.4) and 8th worst in points per game allowed (25.6). And yet they’re 5-2 on the season.
So, what gives?
Obviously part of it is the offense which is 11th in yards per game (369.6) and 8th in points per game (26.4). But that doesn’t cover it. If it did then top ten offenses like the Saints, Panthers, Chargers, and Colts wouldn’t all have losing records.
The missing piece in this equation is turnovers. Both those forced and those given up.
Currently the Raiders are +8 in turnover ratio which is tied for second in the league. And every team in the top ten in turnover ratio has a winning record. This isn’t a coincidence.
“Winning the turnover battle is the first and most important thing that you have to do,” said Jack Del Rio. “We’re doing a pretty solid job protecting the ball, we’re doing a pretty solid job taking the ball away.”
The Raiders have 13 takeaways this season on 7 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles. That puts them tied for fourth in the NFL. Those takeaways make up for a lot of those yards given up that have affected their ranking. A good example of this would be against the Jaguars last week
Midway through the second quarter, the Jaguars drove 59 yards to the Oakland 18-yard-line only to have his next pass picked off by David Amerson for a touchback. Those 59 yards are rendered meaningless with the Jaguars coming away with no points.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders have turned the ball over just 5 times on 3 interceptions and 2 fumbles. Only one team in the league (Buffalo Bills) have fewer turnovers than that (4). Much of the credit for that offensive efficiency goes to Derek Carr.
“Whenever you can be in the plus territory and then some in the turnover margin, that always [equates] to winning,” said Carr. “That’s how when you look back in the league at stats and all of that, the most winning teams have a plus margin 99 percent of the time. That is a thing that we take a lot of hard work in. That’s a mental focus, a lot of mental discipline, obviously on my part not to force so many or trying to do too much and those things.
“Obviously, they’re going to happen sometimes, but you just hope and know that the defense is going to get some as well, and we have a good unit that’s really good with those tipped balls. They’re really good when the balls on the ground, so whenever they can recover more and more, it gives us a little leeway.”
A secondary that began the season giving up a lot and not taking much away has become a bit of a turnover factory. Every one of the Raiders’ top defensive backs have at least one interception, with the trio of David Amerson, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson all have a pair of picks.
Then there’s Bruce Irvin who leads the NFL with 4 forced fumbles.
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter knows the kind of opportunistic defense he will be up against on Sunday.
“I think they’re second in the league, something like that, in turnover margin,” said Koetter. “They’re not turning it over at all on offense. Their defense, you’ll be watching the game tape and there they are getting a takeaway, getting an interception at a big time. I was in Jacksonville when Reggie Nelson was drafted number one years ago. He’s always been ball hawk. Both of those corners are very aggressive to the ball. They can put pressure on the opposing teams with the four man rush. A lot of teams can’t do that, but they have multiple pass rushers so they’re able to get pressure. The turnover thing is definitely big.”
In every one of the Raiders’ wins this season they have forced at least one turnover. That includes forcing an average of 2.75 turnovers in their last four wins. The only time this season they lost the turnover battle was their big loss to the Chiefs in week six. They turned the ball over twice, and didn’t force any which directly resulted in their most lopsided loss of the season.