Last season the Raiders managed with 12-4 record despite having a defense that ranked 26th in yards surrendered and 20th in points. They were not great at stopping the run ranking 23rd in rush yards and were equally deficient in pass defense where they ranked 24th.
Most weeks the Raiders were able to overcome their lack of dominate defense because they were very proficient at forcing turnovers at opportune times. It wasn’t just Khalil Mack, fellow pass rusher Bruce Irvin led the NFL with 6 forced fumbles last season.
As a team the Raiders had a turnover differential of +16, helped by the defense coming up with 16 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles. So far this season the defense has forced just 2 fumbles and have yet to notch their first interception.
“We need to keep working.” Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie told our own Levi Damien after Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. “I think last year we were excellent in turnovers. Going into week six we don’t have an interception. The lack of turnovers has really hurt us in the game. We’re used to getting those turnover battles and winning them and capitalizing on them, giving our offense a couple extra opportunities to get on the field and play. That’s something that we need to continue to focus on week-in and week-out at practice.”
Five games in the defensive rankings is aren’t much different than last season — 23rd in yards surrendered and 16th in scoring. Surprisingly they are 18th against the pass considering the secondary’s seeming inability to match up with anyone.
They are actually not far from adding the turnovers to the mix.
This sack/fumble was overturned on review but shows just how close Mack was to causing a turnover. In a game that ended 16-10, one more possession could have turned this loss into a win for the Raiders. It isn’t a question of effort or desire from the players, sometimes you just get there a split second late.
Sunday against the Ravens it was yet another one-score game late in which the defense couldn’t make the stop.
“It really comes down to, you’re at a moment, you’re seven points [down], you just closed it to seven, you need a stop.” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. “You just closed it to seven, the fans are getting into it and the offense just scored, we’re seven points away after the way the game started. And we just have not made those plays at that moment to go snatch that win and that’s sitting right there, you know?
“You have to get a stop on defense, you have to get a turnover on defense, you have to come up right there and be opportunistic, get the ball back to the offense and continue to score. So, you know, it didn’t happen. The hunger for it; that’s there. It’s just a matter of making your plays. You get these opportunities. Would’ve, could’ve should’ve doesn’t get it done. You get these opportunities, you have to take advantage of the opportunities and make the plays that you have that are there to be made. You do that and then you’re a little happier on a day like today.”
While Del Rio’s frustration is understandable, it is worth pointing out that the defense almost accomplished that turnover he was talking about. On the second play of the Ravens drive reserve linebacker James Cowser almost turned the game in the Raiders favor.
Cowser punched the ball out to force a fumble but it went out of bounds before Raiders safety Karl Joseph could recover it. This is just one of those times that a different bounce or roll of the ball could have led to a completely different outcome.
Instead of having the ball somewhere around the 30-yard line with a little over 8 minuets to go, the Ravens went on to add another field goal leading to the final score of 30-17. They talk about football being “a game of inches” and the Raiders have been coming up a few inches short the last two weeks.
All of the optimism that came out of the 2-0 start to the season has been deflated. Dropping 3 straight games has fans, players, and coaches alike frustrated and searching for answers. If they can find a way to steal some possessions until the defense can get it together, the playoffs may still be a possibility. Thus far it has been the Raiders on the wrong side of the momentum changing plays.
Like this fumble recovery by Ravens corner Jimmy Smith on Sunday which he returned 47 yards for a touchdown on the Raiders’ third offensive play of the game.