In 2017 the Oakland Raiders pass defense was ranked 26th in yards allowed, 18th in touchdowns given up, 31st in completion percentage of opposing QB’s (68%. Ouch!), 28th in yards per completion, 24th in sacks, and dead last in interceptions with just 5 on the entire season last year. Clearly, they were beyond awful and desperately in need of improvements.
Considering those numbers a top priority in free agency and the draft should have been to upgrade the secondary. They replaced the cornerback trio of Sean Smith, David Amerson, and TJ Carrie with a stockpile of questionable cornerback talent and signed veteran journeyman safety Marcus Gilchrist. But that hardly seems like enough fix the monstrosity that was last year’s pass defense.
In lieu of adding young, proven talent to the secondary the Raiders have decided to instead bet on the pass rush making the difference. They focused heavily on pass rush in the draft, adding two interior pass rushing linemen in 2nd round pick P.J. Hall and 5th rounder Maurice Hurst, and an outside pass rusher in 3rd round pick Arden Key.
Besides their draft picks the Raiders have moved Bruce Irvin from linebacker to defensive end where he played very successfully in college. He believes this move will finally allow him to capitalize on his underused pass rushing skills.
The draft focus on the defensive line and adding Key along with moving Irvin to defensive end are all moves that should maximize Khalil Mack’s elite pass rush ability as well.
The Raiders are obviously betting on the improved pass rush being the biggest factor in how to improve their passing defense. The idea being that the less time the defense gives the opposing QB to throw, the less pressure off the secondary.
It’s certainly possible it wasn’t as much the players as much as it was the scheme that was the problem. The Raiders have an entirely new coaching staff coming in. New Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther is an experienced coach who is coming from having led a talented Cincinnati defense for years. He had nothing to do with the Raiders 2017 and maybe his scheme won’t be as easy to exploit.
The Raiders also have their top two picks from last year in CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu who were essentially red shirted last year after both missing nearly the entire season with injuries. One or both of them will need to step up for this secondary to see improvement.
Still, the Raiders defense is going to need their pass rush to be amazing next year to avoid another repeat of their awful performance in 2017. The pass rushers in the front 8 are numerous and impressive, they will be the motor that runs this Raiders defense.