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2020 Raiders on track for fewest sacks by a defense since 2018 Raiders

The Raiders wanted to fix their pass rush in the 2019 draft and even with Maxx Crosby, they haven’t

Buffalo Bills v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders are not last in sacks this season. That distinction belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have six over seven games, while the Raiders and Tennessee Titans each have seven in seven. The Carolina Panthers have eight sacks in eight games. All four teams represent an answer to the question, “Can you draft for immediate pass rush help?”

Well, yes and no.

The Raiders are not last in sacks but they do have the distinction of being the only team that only has one player with more than one sack; Maxx Crosby has four and the rest of the Las Vegas defense has combined for three. Cornerback Nevin Lawson has one, journeyman defensive end Chris Smith has one, Maurice Hurst and Carl Nassib have combined for one.

Clelin Ferrell, the fourth overall pick in 2019, has zero. He’s played in 296 snaps and of those, 150 were pass rushing snaps. Ferrell has nine pressures, including seven hurries and two knockdowns.

256 players have at least one sack this season. Ferrell is one of nine defensive linemen who have at least 150 pass rushing snaps with zero sacks. The others include: Jadeveon Clowney (of the aforementioned Titans, who also recently released Vic Beasley after paying him $9 million on a one-year deal) and rookie Derrick Brown of the aforementioned Panthers. Carolina’s Stephen Weatherly is also on the list.

The Raiders selected Ferrell over Josh Allen of the aforementioned Jaguars. Allen has two sacks in five games this year but had 10.5 as a rookie. Jacksonville also pick K’Lavon Chaisson 20th overall in the recent draft and he has one sack, while 2018 first rounder Taven Bryan has shared one sack with another player.

Another player that the Raiders passed on in the 2019 draft was Brian Burns, who had 7.5 sacks as a rookie with the Panthers and who has three sacks this year. Carolina’s also gotten three sacks from Marquise Haynes, but nobody else on the defense has more than one, including high second round pick Yetur Gross-Matos.

Las Vegas isn’t alone at the bottom, but they are at the bottom. As pass rushing is concerned, this is not new territory for Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther.

Two years ago, the Raiders finished with 13 sacks in 16 games, the lowest total of any team in the previous decade. The next-closest team had 19 sacks, which was the 2015 Atlanta Falcons, and they went to the Super Bowl the following year. The only team in the last 20 years with less than 13 sacks in a full season was the 2008 Kansas City Chiefs, who had 10. The next year they picked defensive end Tyson Jackson third overall, one of the least effective pass rushers in top-five history.

Ferrell doesn’t want to lengthen that list. And Gruden, Guenther don’t want to find out that 13 sacks was not “as low as they could go.”

In 2009, the Jaguars had 14 sacks as a team. The next season, they spent their first four picks on defensive linemen: Tyson Alualu, D’Anthony Smith, Larry Hart and Austen Lane. That was Jack Del Rio’s answer to the pass rush situation. How often do these pass rushing “answers” ever work out or is it an organizational problem, not a personnel and talent problem per se?

Crosby is the only pass rusher of note on the defense and even he has not been without his limitations. What could Crosby do on a better defense? Unknown. But outside of his sack total — which is find but not spectacular — Crosby’s been underwhelming and realistically he’s much closer to Ferrell than expected: 17 total pressures to 11 total pressures.

Crosby is one of three players in the entire NFL, along with defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Larry Ogunjobi, to have zero QB knockdowns on at least 150 pass rushing snaps; Crosby has more pass rushing snaps than both of those players. Crosby’s pressure rate is 9.3%. The massively disappointing Clowney has a pressure rate of 9.4%.

Obviously, Crosby is not the issue. Not even Ferrell is the issue. Even having one off year as a pass rushing unit is not an issue. But showing up twice in three years as a historically bad pass rushing unit would be concerning for any franchise. As we’ve seen, throwing picks and money at the problem (Nassib, Maliek Collins, Arden Key, Hurst, Johnathan Hankins being other players who have been added and didn’t help) isn’t an immediate solution.

What will help the defense between now and next season? How about between now and next week? That’s what Gruden will have to figure out.