In 2016 the Raiders offense ranked 7th in the NFL with 26 points per game while the defense was 26th in the league, giving up 24.1 points per game. It was pretty apparent this offseason that the Raiders needed to correct this disparity by bringing in new talent on the defensive side of the ball.
GM Reggie McKenzie used the Raiders first three draft picks on defensive players hoping to close the gap between the production levels of the teams offense and defense. The first two of those picks have dealt with injuries and could still be dealing with one to 2nd round pick Obi Melifonwu.
First round pick Gareon Conley has returned from his shin injury and hopefully adds talent to a defense that has thus far underwhelmed in the preseason.
Cornerback Sean Smith has been inconsistent at best since signing as a free agent during the 2016 offseason while back up cornerback TJ Carrie seems to have taken a step back this preseason. Plays like this one where Smith is beaten by a double move have become common place, it is only a poor throw by Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton that prevented a touchdown here.
The strength of the Raiders defense is in their pass rush and the best way to unleash it actually may be their offense. With the additions of weapons like Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook to and already potent Raiders offense, it figures be among the best in the NFL this season. This could be the advantage the defense needs to be at their best.
Raiders EDGE players Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are an elite duo and quite possibly the best tandem in the NFL. Putting opposing offenses in obvious passing situations give them more opportunities to impact the game.
So far this preseason the Raiders offense has looked unstoppable. The points they are able to generate will force the opposing teams into a shoot out which will play into the Raiders hands in the form of turnovers.
Big plays of their own and the ability to strike from anywhere on the field should take pressure off of the defense and hopefully allow them to attack rather than react. If the preseason is any indication the defense will have plenty of leads to protect.
The defense was opportunistic last season and consistently found ways to force turnovers when the team needed it most. And with the way the defense looks so far, they may well need those turnovers once again.
Khalil Mack was the Defensive Player of the Year but it was fellow EDGE Bruce Irvin who led the NFL with 6 forced fumbles. Getting sacks/fumbles can really shift the momentum in a game.
The Raiders defense will be looking to create turnovers to balance out some of the big plays they will certainly give up. If they can come up with some of the takeaways they forced last season, the defense will do enough to build upon the 12-4 regular season record the team had.
Unleashing their pass rushers while minimizing “read and react” times in the game will allow their players to play fast and free to pin their ears back and attack. An attacking defense tends to have more success. Opposing teams struggling to play catch up with the Raiders’ vaunted offense means big more plays for EDGE defenders and increased opportunities for critical turnovers for everyone.