Oakland Raiders: What have we learned after seven weeks?

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Oct 25, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) is congratulated after an interception during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports


This is clearly a defense without an identity, and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is still getting the feel for the system in the process of building a cohesive unit. Norton Jr. is doing a great job as a DC, but figuring out the identity of this defense is difficult through the often maddening but all too necessary process of trial and error. They are developing into a more consistent and aggressive unit as the season goes on, and a weakness is becoming a strength.

I have no conspiracy theories about the coaches trying to mislead what this defense was going to be. The defense needed help after last season.  There were some bright spots on the defense going into the off season in Khalil Mack, Sio Moore, and Charles Woodson. There was plenty of optimism surrounding D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie. So much that McKenzie opted to give the reins of the secondary to them.

Then, Reggie was able to pickup these notable players:

  1. Aldon Smith
  2. Malcolm Smith
  3. Dan Williams
  4. David Amerson
  5. Neiron Ball
  6. Mario Edwards Jr

Improving the front seven was certainly a focus of this phase of the rebuilding process. Reggie may have put a little too much faith in the secondary he started building through the draft, so he had to bring in David Amerson who has been a great addition to the team.

Aldon Smith has been the highest profile signing for the Raiders, partially due to his freakish ability on the field and partially due to his off the field issues the Raiders feel they can help with. Earlier today it was released that Aldon is in Reggie’s long-term plans for the team going forward.

If I’m looking at the Aldon Smith signing in the most positive light possible, given the number of games he’s missed due to being suspended so much he is basically a five year veteran with the wear and tear on his body of a 3rd-year player.

It’s no secret, I have a man crush on Malcolm Smith. He’s my kind of player, he works hard, he’s smart, and he plays with a lot of controlled intensity. I’ve watched him for years here in Seattle, and he was one of my favorite signings of the offseason.

Now, given a shot to be a leader Malcolm has started taking over as the signal caller for the Raiders linebacking corp. I think he’s been one of the first additions to find his role on the defense, having such a long history with Ken Norton probably helps.

Dan Williams is another player like Rodney Hudson. He’s one of the best at his position in the league, but he’s not a flashy guy so he got overlooked in free agency. Many people considered him Reggie’s “consolation prize” for not landing Suh, or Knighton, but in the end I think the Raiders got the best fit for the team, and a player who isn’t going to derail the future of the team by taking up a majority of its salary cap.

Edwards Jr. and Ball are both rookies who are finding their place on the team. With Justin Tuck out for the season, Edwards Jr has been seeing a lot more time.  He has all the skills and versatility to play any position on the D-Line, the reps he’s getting this year will only help build a foundation for his future.

Ball may have been a missing piece in the mid-level pass coverage of the team, prior to getting injured early against the Chargers he played a stellar game against the Broncos when called upon on passing downs to drop back into coverage. He is expected to return soon.

Six games in, what have we learned about this defense? The biggest thing I’ve noticed is simply they are improving steadily. They are trying things out, not afraid to alter the scheme from week to week to see what works until they develop their true identity. The fact that they have been showing steady improvement is a great sign for the future. Being able to adapt is the key to longevity in football.

Look at other defensively dominant teams, they always try to stick to the same scheme and eventually they get figured out. The most recent example is the Seattle Seahawks. Last year in the Super Bowl the Patriots exposed how to defeat their unstoppable defense, with short quick strike passes over the middle to chew up yards.

Speaking of the Patriots, the reason they are always contenders and successful is because Belichick isn’t afraid to turn his game plan on its side in order to gain an advantage. Look at their game against the Jets, Brady took 54 passing attempts and lead the team with four rushing attempts. Right now, Ken Norton has the opportunity and players with enough versatility to develop a defense that is versatile enough to adapt over time, and should be able to match up with any offense in a year or two.

The big focus for next year should be adding talent to the secondary. Obviously. The corners are young, and are improving every week, but that position could use a shake up much like the receiver position did last year. Carrie, Hayden, Thorpe and Amerson are all capable players, but none one of them have yet to show that Alpha Dog mentality you need to be a true top tier corner.

Getting in a true shutdown corner would alleviate the others, and elevate their play simply by not having to cover the teams number one receiver. Plus, as hard as it is to believe at this point, Charles Woodson isn’t going to be able to play forever. His replacement needs to start getting groomed.

Next: What Have We Learned: What's Next