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Raiders-Lions Week 8: A focus on the fundamentals

Las Vegas’ defense should make proper tackling a priority and not trying to punch the ball loose

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Chicago Bears
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Marcus Peters, right, seen here breaking up a pass, attempted to force fumbles instead of sure wrap-up tackles against the Chicago Bears last Sunday.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The lack of takeaways for the Las Vegas Raiders defense led to the coaches and players putting a focus on punching the ball out this season. But that focus has taken away one of the most crucial parts of playing defense in the NFL: Tackling.

The most egregious example of this was cornerback Marcus Peters’ attempting to go for the ball instead of a textbook wrap up tackle of the ballcarrier against the Chicago Bears. The play in particular was a 3rd-and-1 situation with 9:13 left to play in the second quarter. Chicago ran an outside run with wide receiver Tyler Scott on a jet sweep. As he came around the corner, Peters found himself one-on-one and Peters attempted to slap or punch the ball free and Scott merely side stepped him for the first down.

Here’s two views of the play — an overhead and a close up:

Suffice to to say, but that’s almost conduct unbecoming of a veteran NFL defender. Raiders defensive boss Patrick Graham was asked about the instance during his mid-week media availability and where the accountability for the lack of fundamentals comes from.

“There are several plays, whoever it is, that we want back. Whenever the result is what it was, 30-12, there are a lot of plays that everybody wants back,” Graham began. “There’s calls I want back, so to single out one person with the result like that, I’m not with that. That’s just not me. It’s a collective, there’s 11 people playing defense and we got to play with great effort each play, that’s part of a good defense.

“We got to be able to tackle, we got to be able to stop the run and minimize the passing game. And I got to do a good job of putting those guys in the right spot, but that’s not my program.”

Graham side stepped that question like a pro like Scott did to Peters and the Raiders defense. According to Pro Football Reference (PFR), Peters missed four tackles against Chicago and was the far and away leader in that dubious distinction. Fellow cornerback Amik Robertson was tagged with two missed tackles while linebackers Divine Deablo and Kana’i Mauga were charted with one each, for a team total of eight.

On the year, PFR charts the Raiders with 43 missed tackles. That tally is the 11th-highest in the league with the Houston Texans atop the bunch with 60 total missed tackles. The Dallas Cowboys have the least in this particular category with only 20 missed tackles.

Las Vegas Raiders v Chicago Bears
The Las Vegas Raiders defense, seen here on the bench against the Chicago Bears, got ran over last Sunday. This Monday night, the Silver & Black have a chance to rise to the occasion against the Detroit Lions.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

As such, a return to the foundational fundamentals for the Raiders defense must be a priority and the fruits of that labor need to show up against the Detroit Lions on Monday night. If not, it may be anther painful primetime outing for the Silver & Black. And Graham noted the fix to Las Vegas’ tackling issues is underway.

“Go into practice, when we start practicing tomorrow, just in terms of angles, closing the angles, getting under control, wrapping up, basic fundamentals, and just practice it a lot because we have to deal with it this week with Detroit,” Graham said. “A lot of skilled players who are dynamic. I think they might lead the league in run after contact, or yards after contact, yards after catch, whatever it is. So, we got our work cut out.”

On his part, Graham dismissed the notion that rule changes and the emphasis on player safety that resulted in lessening tackling in practices is a cause for the sudden lapse.

“Well, all 32 teams are dealing with the same situation. So, the point of us as coaches is to be able to adapt to the rules and adapt to what we got to get done during practice and the process in terms of how we do that,” Graham noted. “And the process, we practice the drills we do, we practice our angles when we get the team periods, and practice together as a team so nobody’s getting hurt. But that’s the main thing.”

While he wouldn’t single out Peters or any other defender in terms of accountability, Graham did say “I” when on his players not being in proper position or taking good angles.

“I got to do a better job during the week of just getting the guys in the right position to be able to get the guys down. And then just keep going through the process of tackling,” Graham said. “It’s something that you got to keep working on, it’s one of the core fundamentals of football, especially defensively. So, you just got to keep working on it every day and finding different ways to do it, and just work the process.”

Work the process or work in progress, that’s an apt way to describe the 3-4 Raiders. The team is one win away from getting back to .500 and also one loss away from joining fellow AFC West cellar dwellers.