Probably the most exciting addition to the Raiders defense this offseason was defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. He is the first proven DC the Raiders have had in the Reggie McKenzie era. The problem since the season began is he just hasn’t had a lot of talent with which to work.
He had Khalil Mack, but the now reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Month was traded to Chicago. Now he is being asked to field a defense with no pass rush to speak of and 7 players 30 years of age or older including three players that are 35 years old — Frostee Rucker, Derrick Johnson, and Reggie Nelson.
On the other side of that, he is relying on rookies PJ Hall, Arden Key, and Maurice Hurst to step up along the defensive line.
The only unit that seems to have some good depth is the cornerbacks and they haven’t held up well with the rest of the defense not holding up their end.
“We got what we got, so we got to do the best job with what we got right now,” said Guenther. “I think if we can just diagnose the play a little bit sooner. I told the guys the margin for error for us is very minimal, so all 11 guys have got to do their job and their fit the right way and see it all through the same eyes and those things won’t occur. When we get out of place a little bit, the ball gets through there and all of the sudden we can’t get the guy on the ground. I think it’s like I said the margin of error is razor thin for us.”
Only once this season have the Raider held a team below 28 points. That was in Denver where they allowed the Broncos to drive for the game-winning field goal with the final play to set it up was a 26-yard completion to undrafted first year receiver Tim Patrick.
This team has seen several instances where they miss one tackle or make one bad angle and are gouged. There were several huge plays last week against the Browns both on the ground and through the air. The Browns had four plays go for over 40 yards. Three were for touchdowns, the other set up a touchdown.
Running back Nick Chubb along had two touchdown runs — one 63 yards and the other 41 yards. Then Antonio Callaway caught a pass and went for 59 yards to the one-yard-line (they scored the touchdown two plays later) and tight end Daniel Fells caught a 49-yard touchdown.
“The first long run, we had a blitz right into it again and we misfit it, we missed some tackles, the corner and the safety collided and there it goes,” Guenther continued.
He’s talking about that 63-yard Chubb run. It was Tahir Whitehead who missed the tackle near the line and Erik Harris who collided with Rashaan Melvin to eliminate the last line of defense.
Then it was Reggie Nelson giving up the catch to Fells and running himself out of the play and Harris missing the tackle as Fells rumbled for the 49-yard score. On the 59-yard touchdown catch, Gareon Conley simply got beat by Antonio Callaway.
Chubb got free again in the 4th quarter.
“The second long run we had a linebacker run free and scott clear to the running back,” Guenther continued. “To me if a guy gets through the line, the safeties, you know, an NFL safety is supposed to stop that for 12 yards, so we got a do a good job of hemming that up and not letting that get out.”
That play it was Marquel Lee who seemed to have the running back stopped only to miss the tackle. Then Harris missed a tackle and Marcus Gilchrist took a bad angle and Chubb was again gone for the long touchdown to put the Browns up 42-34 late in the fourth.
“I’m not used to giving up 42 points. The only time I gave up 42 was the ‘on to Cincinnati’ game in Foxboro and we ran into a buzzsaw that night, so I told those guys that my expectations are way higher than this. . . We can’t give up 60 yards on the grass because we can’t catch a player. It’s just a matter of angles, a matter of speed to the ball, and getting the guy on the ground.”
Essentially, there is no player to whom you can point the finger for the Raiders defensive deficiencies. You’d need to use all your fingers and perhaps a couple more because there is plenty of blame to go around.
The good news is the rookie defensive linemen are showing progress. Hurst and Key are coming off their best games and Hall is working his way back from his ankle injury. They are the best hope for this defense to show improvement. They won’t always be able to win off timely takeaways like they did last week. It will take some good old fashioned stops to get it done. And that means LATE in the game, not just in the first quarter.