The more things change, the more the Raiders run defense remains the same.
John Marshall was supposed to be able to devise a scheme that would slow the Houston Texas and their new found ground game. That didn’t happen.
Richard Seymour was brought in to help improve a run defense that has been languishing near the bottom of the NFL for nearly a decade now. He has yet to make a difference.
Kirk Morrison was traded to make room for Rolando McClain because the rookie from Alabama was thought to be a better run stopper. That has yet to be seen.
Despite all of the strides Tom Cable’s Raiders have made this season, the Achilles heel of this franchise remains the run defense. The Texans even spotted the Raiders one whole quarter without Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher and all that did was delay the inevitable.
It is becoming clear that there is no reliable role in which to use Michael Huff. The Raiders have given him every opportunity to shed the bust label and all he does is continue to miss open field tackles, take bad angles and overplay against the run. Huff is not the biggest reason why the Raiders gave up 249 yards on the ground in a 31-24 loss in front of the smallest crowd in Oakland in over 40 years. But he certainly is not looking like a part of the solution either.
What is truly disheartening is that in the past this game would have been out of reach. With Bruce Gradkowski guiding the Raider ship the offense still put forth an effort that nearly resulted in a come from behind win.
Many of the miscues that have haunted the Silver and Black were cleaned up during Sunday’s contest. The offense converted 42% of their third downs and even won the time of possession battle. Perhaps the most amazing stat of all, there were just two penalties called against the Raiders, resulting in a mere 23 yards.
There is still much work to be done in other areas. Turnovers were certainly a factor in the outcome. The offensive line remains inept at protecting the passer as Gradkowski was sacked four times even having to leave the game at the end of the first half.
Still, it is the run defense that is holding this team back from being truly competitive in the National Football League.
From Zach Miller’s 11-catch, 122-yard fantasy friendly performance to Michael Bush making an impressive effort in his first extended playing time of the season, there were nothing but bright spots to be found on the offense.
The defense, on the other hand, is a black hole. Nnamdi Asomugha not withstanding, almost no man wearing Silver and Black who played defense earned his paycheck this week.
Fixing this ever present problem is obviously much more difficult than it appears. Whether it is a schematic problem brought on by the insistence of Al Davis or if it is a personnel issue brought on by inferior scouting or coaching is irrelevant at this point. This team had all of camp to address these issues and four games into the season nothing has changed.
Whatever happens the rest of this season will be determined by how effective the Raiders are against the run. Defense might not be Coach Cable’s specialty but he’d better make it his business before Mr. Davis puts him out of business. Cable’s Raiders have sunk to the bottom of the AFC West and are now mired in a two-game skid with a date with the San Diego Chargers looming on the horizon.
It has been nearly decade since the Raiders have beaten the Chargers and almost the same time span since they’ve had a respectable run defense. Coach Cable may only have one week to undo a decade’s damage but he’d better make the most of his time. It could be all he has left.