The defensive line seems to be a major weakness for the Oakland Raiders, but to say that a majority of the players need to go would be an overstatement. In fact, I’d actually keep almost every player on the roster. I’d just the add a couple run-stopping defensive tackles, and pray for the healthy return of Tommy Kelly. Gerard Warren is a good addition to the Raiders third down passing attack, along the side of Warren Sapp, but he’s no good on running downs. Besides, is Sapp even going to be a Raider next season?
To start with, Gerard should return in a back up role, and third down pass rusher, Sapp should be cut or take a pay cut, and Terdell Sands needs to accept the fact that he’s going to be a rotation run stuffer, but we might not know if he’s a bust until he has a man of similar attributes playing next to him. So that would have us looking at Kelly next to a proven run stuffing defensive tackle, with help from the other men mentioned. But what would be interesting to me is if the Raiders are able to get two run-stuffing DT’s, move Kelly to end, with Burgess on the other side. That line would be able to attack the run, and release the linebackers and defensive backs to be able to play their positions, and not worry about needing to stop the run as often. With Kelly’s ability to stop the run, and rush the passer, and with the size he has (6′ 6″, 300lbs), he’s able to move inside and outside, releaving other starters, destrupting opposing blockers. And that’s why his health is my major concern of the offseason (torn-right Anterior Cruciate Ligament) for the Raiders D-line’s, and actually the future of this franchise.
In the 13 games the Raiders have played this season, they’ve only held 3 teams from gaining over 100 yards rushing. Last Sunday was no different. Not only did the Green Bay Packers rush for over 100 yards, they also helped the Raiders continue a different trend. Ok, now try to stay with me- of the 10 games that the Raiders have given up over (most of the time well over) 100 yards rushing, 7 of those games were tainted even more by the fact the Raiders gave up one run over (most of them well over) 40 yards. I remember them all, and most notably Larry Johnson’s 54 yard scamper in Oakland that put the Chiefs in position to get the game-deciding touchdown, LaDanium Tomlinson’s 40 yard run in San Diego that pushed the Raiders out of contention for that game, and Selvin Young’s 40 yarder that set up a deciding score for the Broncos in Denver.
Now I know the Raiders need a little help behind the D-line, but I still have to put the majority of the blame on them. When Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard go to plug running lanes, they’re finding no lanes to fill, and instead get met by a storm of blockers. An NFL linebacker is supposed to shed blocks from opposing offensive linemen at times, but not as much as Morrison and Howard are. Their main job is to sniff out where the play is headed and go after the ball carrier, but by the time they figure out what the play is, there’s a blocker in their face. Bottom line, the Raiders D-line isn’t absorbing the blocks by the linemen in front of them. Every time an opponent snaps the ball, the Raiders line tries to push towards the quarterback, but instead of attacking the blocker in front of them, they’re just trying to get by them. That’s just straight pathetic. That means if the opposing team runs the ball, every linemen has to stop, and change their direction towards the actual play. They’re a line of pass rushers, but have only one good pass rusher (Burgess).
But back to the big plays real fast- if you give up big run plays like the ones mentioned above, then it’s probably because too many blockers were let past your side of the line. Warren Sapp had 10 sacks last season, and was upset because he wasn’t invited to the Pro-Bowl, but the DT position isn’t about sacking the quarterback, it’s about stopping the run. The Raiders need men who want to stop the run more than they want sack the quarterback- humble men that don’t need the spotlight and that only want to destroy the man in front of them.
I expected the Raiders run-defense to be better with Sands and Kelly, but due to Sands underachieving, and Kelly’s season ending injury, the run D has been abysmal. Derrick Burgess has been playing injured for the better half of this season, and though he only has 5 sacks, he’s still getting double teamed, and he’s still playing hurt. Chris Clemons looks like a clone of Burgess, but a clone like in that movie Multiplicity. If you haven’t seen the movie, the movies describes cloning like a copy machine, the copy looks good, but never as good as the original. Clemons has the chance to do some good stuff in the future; I’m just hoping he doesn’t finish the season so well that the Raiders can’t afford to re-sign him. Clemons doesn’t have a secured spot on next year’s roster, but Jay Richardson does.
Richardson was another player (like Zach Miller) that the Raiders drafted with great skills, but a lack of strength (20 bench press reps, 27 or more is a good set for a DE) and quickness (5 flat 40). I doubted Richardson a lot more than Miller, but it was because you need to be strong to shed blockers, or you need to be quick to get by stronger men, and Richardson is neither. He just puts himself in a position to make a play on every down.
Tyler Brayton will never live up to being a first round pick, but he plays hard every down, and I’m hoping he’s willing to get paid a lot less than he earned during his first couple of years, because it’s truly all he’s worth.
The Raiders D-line needs some help, but it’s hard to know how much. Sapp could leave, Kelly could have a slow recovery, and Clemons and Brayton could leave for more money than the Raiders are willing to pay. Then you’re looking at a whole new group of linemen. I think this is the one area in the off-season that could see a lot of changes, or very little at all.