No question when a team loses one player and the team falls apart, there are serious issues to address. For the Raiders, that one player was Derek Carr and his absence exposed the rest of the team’s issues that had been masked much of the season.
Sunday, the day after the Raiders playoff run ended, Jack Del Rio laid a few of the areas that the team must address and/or improve upon in order to make another playoff run in 2017.
With the addition of Sean Smith to go along with David Amerson and DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie battling for the slot corner job, the Raiders thought they had their secondary issues shored up. But time and time again, the Raiders’ corners would allow their assignments to get behind them or were unable to shed a block or stop a runner from getting past them.
“Explosive plays, whether you like it or not, they always come back to the secondary.,” said Del Rio. “The front line, even if you have a front line that is full of holes, the back end has a chance to cap the play before it goes explosive. Runs that get out big time, typically have to do with a missed tackle, poor leverage, missed assignment, something along those lines. In the back end, obviously balls go over the top of your head, missed tackles, missed assignments lead to long passes as well. That’s just the way it is. DB coaches will talk about it all the time like, ‘We’re the ones when you’re playing out there on that island, there is no hiding from it.’ You’re there, that guy gets behind you somehow, and everybody in the stadium can see it. There’s really no sugarcoating that.”
“I talked about it a little bit yesterday after the game. I thought it was a little bit of a microcosm of the year . . . there were some leverage issues, misplayed balls that end up going big. A run that’s bottled up that works its way around the perimeter, a ball down the sideline, just a couple things where big plays got away where it mars what otherwise was really pretty darn good.”
Adding a good corner in free agency would go a long way to helping solidify the secondary.
2. Interior defensive line
I’ve been harping on this for quite some time. The interior defensive line must take top priority for an upgrade or several upgrades this offseason. The Raiders had the third fewest sacks I the league this season, with outside pass rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin putting up 18.0 of the team’s NFL worst 25 sacks on the season.
“I would say in particular, interior pass rush is critical for us to get that going,” Del Rio said. “We were not nearly effective enough. I think Stacy [McGee] had the 2.5 sacks in there and Mario [Edwards Jr.], we got Mario back late and he wasn’t a huge factor. ‘Haddy’ [Jihad Ward] wasn’t a huge factor, Denico [Autry] played with that wrist all year and he wasn’t… I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push. That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”
All season, Del Rio was shuffling interior defensive linemen trying to find a combination that worked or someone who stood out as that player who can be an every down guy. Two players Del Rio didn’t mention were Dan Williams and Justin Ellis, who are the team’s nose tackles. They too were inconsistent in stopping the run.
The overarching issue here is no one commanded attention from the opposing offense to free up the outside pass rushers or to take advantage of single blocking.
Getting a top free agent defensive tackle and/or draft pick would make a lot of sense for the Raiders.
3. Wide receiver
This area is more about the performance of the two starters than anything. First was drops, which had Michael Crabtree ‘lead’ the league.
“I’m not sure what the [drop] numbers are yet. I haven’t looked at the final tally, but I would say that there are more than I’m comfortable with, more than we should have. You can add that to the list of things we’re talking about here, areas that are obvious areas that must improve.”
As for the other starter, it had to do with Amari Cooper’s production waning for a second straight season. After week eight when he set a career high with 173 yards receiving, Cooper didn’t break 80 yards in a game the rest of the way, averaging under 46 yards per game.
“Not sure about that,” Del Rio said of Cooper’s dwindling late season production. “Last year, I think it was clearly involved with his foot. Don’t believe he was dealing with a similar type of injury. Whether it’s, as we evaluate ourselves and go back and look at it, whether it was what they were doing to us or what we weren’t doing to provide those opportunities for him. Which was it? Was the guy he was going against good enough to get him slowed down? Was it scheme? Was it design on our part? Those are all things we have to look at in detail after the season.”
It speaks volumes about just how good this offense was considering both Crabtree and Cooper had over 1000 yards this season despite their issues.
This is to say nothing of the rest of the receiving corps not doing a whole lot. Seth Roberts took a step back in his production (397 yards), as did Andre Holmes (126 yards). Though Holmes showed great value on special teams, an upgrade at receiver could be in the cards.