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Is Patrick Graham’s Raiders defense turning the corner?

In last 6 quarters, Las Vegas allowed only 1 touchdown while nabbing 4 takeaways

Green Bay Packers v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders safety Tre’Von Moehrig, left, gestures the two fingers to represent the second of linebacker Robert Spillane’s two interceptions on Monday night.
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

When Josh McDaniels said “Sometimes (turnovers) come in waves, and we’re just waiting for our wave” two weeks ago, it sure sounded like a desperado line from the Las Vegas Raiders head coach. That was before the Silver & Black matched up with the Los Angeles Chargers for a Week 4 division tilt and the Raiders were one of two teams without a defensive takeaway.

But since McDaniels said that, the Patrick Graham-orchestrated Raiders defense nabbed it’s first interception of the season against the Bolts before getting the hat trick of picks in the Monday night win over the visiting Green Bay Packers. Four interceptions later, it sure sounds like McDaniels — and Graham, who echoed the head coach and said “trust the process” — are proven right: Takeaways do come in waves.

Safety Tre’Von Moehrig got the team’s first takeaway of the year with an interception of Justin Herbert in Week 4. That was followed by linebacker Robert Spillane’s pair of picks this past Monday and bookended by cornerback Amik Robertson’s game-saving interception to seal the Raiders’ win. In the last six quarters of football, Graham’s defense allowed only one touchdown while intercepting four passes. Quite an impressive performance considering where the team had been and signs the Raiders defense is turning the corner.

“Guys seizing the opportunity,” Graham said during his mid-week press conference, when asked if there was something that clicked on defense the last two games. “They work on it in practice, they work on it in the meeting room. It’s just constantly working through the process, constantly working through the process and then trying to find a way to get your reward on Sunday or Monday. And last week we had a good opportunity to do that and we took advantage of it, and now we’re starting the process now for New England.”

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson, left, leaps to intercept the pass intended for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson to seal the win for the Silver & Black on Monday night.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders leapfrogged from the league basement in interceptions to the middle of the pack and tied with five other teams who have four interceptions on the year. (The New York Giants, the other team that had zero takeaways two weeks ago, picked off two passes in their Week 5 loss to the Miami Dolphins, for reference.) In terms of takeaways overall, Graham and his unit has plenty of work still to do and can give doubters plenty of reason to pause on the Raiders defense turning the corner.

The four interceptions represent the total number of defensive takeaways the Raiders have. While other squads have forced fumbles and recovered them, Las Vegas has not, thus the team is ranked 23rd in the league. To give you depth on this item, the Buffalo Bills lead the league in takeaways with 13 followed by the Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Pittsburgh Steelers who each have 11. The bottom feeders in this category are the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings with two and three, respectively.

Taking all that into consideration, it’s difficult to ignore the shift the much-maligned Raiders defense has made in the second half against Herbert and the Chargers offense and then Matt LaFleur’s Packers offense. The team allowed nine touchdowns before going head-to-head with the Los Angeles and Green Bay and only allowed four since.

“Really proud of our defense. They’re making progress every week,” McDaniels said after the team’s victory over the packers. “It’s a low scoring game and sometimes you might get frustrated or what have you, but they don’t. They just go out and play, and I think that’s a mark of a team that’s got great leadership on defense.”

Without question, edge rusher Maxx Crosby is that great leader as the heart and soul of the defense. The 26-year-old is playing at an elite level at rushing the passer and stopping the run as he’s racked up five sacks and 28 total tackles as he’s seen double teams and chip blocks, constantly. He has eight tackles for loss, 14 quarterback pressures to go along with eight hurries. He’s backed by linebackers Spillane (team-leading 42 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions) and Divine Deablo (41 total tackles, one sack) who are splitting time as the middle linebacker depending on alignment and formation.

Green Bay Packers v Las Vegas Raiders
Maxx Crosby plays like a man possessed and his fellow Las Vegas Raiders teammates can’t help but marvel at it.
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Even as injuries are taking its toll and forcing key players to miss games (like slot cornerback Nate Hobbs) or see a diminished snap count (like rookie cornerback Jakorian Bennett), other defenders have stepped up.

Case in point: Robertson. He’s gone from three snaps in Week 1 to zero the next two weeks to playing 91 and 100 percent of the total defensive snaps against the Chargers and Packers and produced. Along with the game-saver interception, Robertson has been targeted 10 times and allowed only three catches (30 percent completion rate) for 39 yards, according to Pro Football Reference.

“Definitely. Just being ready whenever my number is called, that’s who I am,” Robertson said when asked about preparing the same way whether he’s starting or not after the team’s Monday night win. “I believe in my ability; I know I can make plays on the inside and on the outside. I just look for the opportunity to be on the field each and every weekend. I just got to keep going and take advantage of my opportunities.”

Like Graham said, seizing the moment and making the most of opportunities.

Las Vegas needs to get more pressure and sacks from other defenders — namely on the edge across from Crosby and from the interior defensive line — but considering No. 98 is the Raiders’ lone consistent pass rusher, how they’ve limited two offenses is incredible. Without question, the team must continue to do so, especially against the incoming New England Patriots, a team that’s struggled far worse offensively (ranked 32nd in the league in total points scored at 55) than McDaniels’ orchestrated group (Las Vegas is 29th in total points with 79).

Giving up more than one touchdown to Bill Belichick’s listless group would be detrimental to the Raiders defense finally turning a much-needed corner.

“We’re going through New England right now and just making sure they understand who we were about the play,” Graham said when asked about carrying Monday night’s energy into this Sunday. “So, it’s always some excitement in terms of being proud of them reaping the benefit of all the hard work they put in. So again, we’ve got a tough matchup this week against New England, and we started the process already in the meeting room. I’m just always excited. I find pleasure in that, them getting the topic we’re talking about and seeing them execute.”