The disguising of scheme and intricacy of Patrick Graham’s defense dwindled the last few weeks. This was in the hopes of taking the complexity out of things, yet, the vanilla alignments and formations the Las Vegas Raiders deployed defensively didn’t have resounding results.
Instead, for much of last Sunday’s game against the dilapidated Indianapolis Colts, it was the Silver & Black defense that looked discombobulated. None more so than three occasions:
- Losing all sense of gap integrity which allowed Colts running back Jonathan Taylor to gallop for an untouched 66-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
- Indianapolis quarterback Matt Ryan and his 37-year-old legs dusting the Raiders defense for a 39-yard scramble.
- Rookie linebacker Darien Butler’s inability to fall on top of and recover a fumble forced by fellow rookie cornerback Sam Webb with 5:58 left to play in the fourth quarter.
The latter two coming on the Colts’ drive that culminated in a 35-yard go-ahead touchdown from Ryan to wide receiver Parris Campbell to put Indianapolis up 25-20 for good.
As the Raiders prep for a Week 11 matchup of the bad — at AFC West foe Denver Broncos — the focus remains on the fundamentals.
“It comes down to running, tackling, block destruction, trying to cause turnovers,” Graham said during his mid-week media engagement. “There’s a lot of stuff to improve upon right now. But the focus has to be on, defensively, tackling, defeating blocks, defending the deep part of the field.
“Nothing new there because if we just have incremental improvement there, then the results change. So, that’s a big focus for us and then just getting better at that.”
It’s hard to argue that the attention to detail is certainly missing and that doing the small things right lead to big rewards. Graham’s Raiders defense isn’t keen on tackling properly. Las Vegas is 15th in the league in missed tackles with 44, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR), which puts them in the middle of the pack in whiffs.
But what exacerbates Las Vegas’ defensive issues are other categories like sacks (the team is dead last with a total of 10, seven of those coming from edge rusher Maxx Crosby alone), pressures (PFR charts the team with 54, ranking 29th in the league) and interceptions (three total for the 29th league ranking).
Takeaways are a rarity for this Silver & Black defense, so much so, the team is dead last with six takeaways — the trio of picks and three fumble recoveries — according to The Football Database. Flip it to the Raiders offense, however, and that group has given away the ball seven total times (five interceptions thrown, two fumbles lost), tied for lowest giveaways in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles. That gives Las Vegas a -1 turnover differential.
For context, the league-worst turnover differential is -12 by the New Orleans Saints (seven takeaways to 19 giveaways) and the league-best is +13 by the Philadelphia Eagles (20 takeaways to seven giveaways). For Week 11 purposes, the Broncos are 0 in the differential with six takeaways and giveaways. For AFC West purposes, the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs boast a -4 turnover differential (eight takeaways to 12 giveaways) and the Los Angeles Chargers sport a +2 mark (12 takeaways to 10 giveaways).
Despite Denver’s 3-6 mark — only one win better than Las Vegas — this isn’t a game the Raiders can take lightly despite beating the Broncos once this season. Sure, Denver boasts the league’s worst offense — 131 total points scored with the next lowest being the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 140 — but so did the Colts and that breed of horsemen trampled the Silver & Black.
“The Broncos, they present some challenges. Their offensive line, I know they have some moving pieces around there, but they got good players there,” Graham said. “And then the quarterback is mobile, and he could get out get out of situations. So, it starts with working hard and trying to find out where the weaknesses are, and then trying to put our guys in the best spot and work the techniques for the individual battles. So, that’s where it starts.
“The thing you got to stick to is just the fundamentals of the game.”
Ditto for a Raiders offense that hasn’t been able to take advantage of defensive stops or having the ball on the final possession for a game-winning drive. Mental lapses beset Las Vegas’ offense with penalties and negative yardage, something Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi beckons his group to avoid.
“Again, fundamentals. Focus on fundamentals and making sure that we’re doing the right thing, whether it’s hand placement, or it’s doing our assignment the way it’s supposed to be done,” he said. “But you’re right; penalties and falling behind the sticks is something that we have to try to avoid to stay in positive plays and produce scoring drives. Obviously if you fall behind like we did on the second drive of the game, it’s not going to result in good opportunities.”