Raider Nation was pumped to watch the first game action in months. There were plenty of encouraging signs in this game especially on the defensive side of the ball. Paul Guenther’s unit was clearly more cohesive than the teams of the recent past. A feat in and of itself when considering the many different blitzes and coverages they executed.
A pair of rookie defensive lineman got their chance to show the NFL they belonged. PJ Hall made a couple of big league plays at defensive tackle notching a sack and pass deflection. Maurice Hurst meanwhile got into the backfield and applied pressure but will need more consistency before he can produce as a run defender.
No rookie played better than PJ Hall in this game, perhaps no defensive lineman for that matter. PJ Hall didn’t take long to prove naysayers wrong; who thought a small school prospect, not even invited to the combine, was worth a 2nd round pick. Hall simply pushed people around on Friday night and despite playing in a lower level of college competition, looked very comfortable in his first NFL action.
Interior Pass Rush
How about that for your first NFL snap? Welcome to Oakland PJ Hall! Wearing number 92, Hall first showcases his explosiveness by selling a hard get-off and gets the guard on his heals. But PJ Hall is also very coordinated, evidenced by his ability to seamlessly blend upper body and lower body movements together en-route to a 3rd down sack.
Here’s another example of how PJ Hall’s game translates to the NFL. This time Hall is doubled, he immediately gets his eyes on the QB and times a perfect leaping pass deflection. Having a 38 inch vertical leap helps when you want to jump but a lineman has his hands on you.
But don’t miss Maurice Hurst, wearing number 73, applying the pressure. Hurst lines up at 3 technique and drives hard up-field swiping away the guard’s hands for a quick win. The type of interior pressure shown here combined with Mack and Irvin running around the corners would be hard to stop.
Stopping the Run
Hurst gets close again but this time its against the run. Hurst punches the near shoulder of the guard and fights through the down block from the tackle. He is able to squeeze through and cause disruption on the run play. He can improve by staying on his feet and getting in on that tackle for a loss next time.
Hurst gets doubled in both of these plays and the result is not so encouraging. Hurst’s pad level and anchor strength are clearly in need of improvement. Number 73’s game at this point is much better suited to shooting a gap from the backside than splitting a double team at the point of attack. Hopefully Hurst grows in this area and in the meantime Guenther can scheme him into favorable positions until he gets stronger.
Hall meanwhile allows his aggressiveness to get the better of him on both of these reps. Number 92 gets too far up-field in each play to make a difference. Once Hall starts to diagnose these plays quicker, he should be able to sink his weight and fight against pressure.
The almost opposite result occurs when PJ Hall is doubled on the next drive. Hall is lined up at the 1 technique, shaded on the left shoulder of the center. Hall explodes out of his stance and stalls the two offensive linemen in their tracks. Again showing great coordination and power, Hall adjusts his feet to gain leverage while simultaneously bench pressing two separate 300 pound men in each arm. If not for a poor LB fill by Kyle Wilbur this would have been a goal-line stop.
Hall and Hurst are competing at different DL positions. Hall played the majority of his snaps at 1 Technique (shaded on center) while Hurst played at 3 Technique (shaded on guard).
PJ Hall proved he belonged on the Raiders roster not just from a physical standpoint but also showing quick mental processing. Hall can improve his pass rush arsenal and learn other moves. There were too many reps where he was ineffective rushing the passer and it looked like he was using the same bull-rush or pull-through again and again.
Hurst also showed burst and good hand use as a gap penetrator. His ability to get into the backfield has been his calling card. Hurst can improve his pad level and play strength so the offense can’t so easily pick on him with double teams.
These young defensive tackles should improve with the help of this coaching staff and be ready to make an impact in Guenther’s DL rotation. The best teams have 3 or 4 interior rushers who can come in and make a difference throughout the game. The Raiders will need both linemen to produce on Sundays in order for this defense to truly turn the corner.