Nov 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) is gang tackled by the Oakland Raiders defense in first quarter during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Last year, the Raiders defense was, in a word, disappointing. Finishing the season ranked 22nd in total defense and 29th in scoring defense, they gave up an appalling 5.7 yards per play and recorded 22 takeaways, tied for 1oth-lowest in the league. The Raiders were especially weak against the pass, giving up nearly 4,100 yards and 33 TD passes. While the team managed a respectable 38 sacks and managed to pressure QB’s consistently throughout the year, this alone was not enough to slow down Peyton Manning (640 yds, 7 TD’s in two starts) or Nick Foles (406 yds, 7 TD’s in one start)…or Jamaal Charles (8 rec, 195 yds, 4 TDs in Week 15 alone). In order for the Raiders to be competitive, this unit will need to improve dramatically for 2014.
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The 2013 Raiders defense was hampered by several factors. First: injuries to key players without the depth to compensate. Tyvon Branch, the Raiders starting strong safety since 2009, was injured week 2 and never returned. First round draft pick DJ Hayden was injured after getting burned several times in the Raiders’ week 9 loss to Philadelphia, and never returned. Defensive end Jason Hunter missed three games due to injury, and linebacker Kaluka Maiava missed seven. This being the NFL, however, teams can expect to miss key players to injury throughout the course of a 16 game season, and most NFL teams build rosters with this in mind. But with nearly $50M in dead money against the cap last year, GM Reggie McKenzie was unable to add the type of quality backup or situational players necessary to compensate for injuries. Along with a lack of depth, the Raiders simply did not have the necessary talent at key positions. Corners Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and (before his injury) DJ Hayden struggled in coverage. Brandian Ross, who did most of the filling in for Tyvon Branch, was solid in the run game but also struggled in pass coverage, which limited what Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver was able to do with his creative blitz packages. Miles Burris was victimized in the late-season game against Kansas City, often finding himself trying to pursue speedy Jamaal Charles in coverage.