Oakland Raiders Week 9 Primer: Immaculate Destruction

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November 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) tackles New York Jets running back Chris Ivory (33) during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A Defense to Reckon With

I can literally rant and rave about how exceptional the offense was in this game for probably another 10,000 words. Suffice it to say, Derek Carr was truly exceptional in this game along with the offensive line and Latavius Murray. What was most inspiring to see were the little things that each group did.

Carr did not take a single sack, but he stood in the pocket and delivered exceptional passes while getting drilled. On other plays, he also made sure to not put the ball in a place where it could be intercepted. The offensive line, especially the right side, destroyed the second level of the Jets’ defense giving Latavius gaping holes on belly runs to blow through the line of scrimmage untouched.

On the other side of the ball, the Raider defense was also exceptional. Against the run, the Raiders held one of the league’s best run offenses to next to nothing. Chris Ivory ran for 17 yards on 15 runs. Let that sink in. The pass defense was also very solid. Yards given up are entirely irrelevant when judging the success of this pass defense.

Schematically, the Raiders do not care about giving up short completions. In fact, they expect plenty of short completions to be given up, but they have the cornerbacks to ensure the short completions remain short and the group limits yards after catch.

The catch facing the Raiders pass defense is that they will allow short completions and tackle well. They will guard well against the deep ball, and if teams try to attack deep, there is a very good chance the duo of Mack and Smith will mess up whatever you are trying to do. The only long reception the Raiders gave up was a corner route to Marshall over Amerson in which Marshall clearly pushed off and committed an obvious offensive pass interference.

There were several individual efforts that stood out, but the two players who made the most impactful steps were two young defensive linemen. First was rookie second round pick, Mario Edwards Jr. Although he did not record a sack, he nearly had two.

Most importantly, he played the nickel one technique very well and has given the nickel defense the ability to protect the defense from the run. It was tough to lose Justin Tuck, but Edwards is a clear upgrade over him. His ability to push the pocket by getting under the blocker across from him and then shedding that blocker is very crisp for a rookie.

Next to him in nickel situations was Denico Autry. Earlier in the year playing next to Tuck, Autry was asked to be more stout at the point of attack, but now with Edwards next to him, he has the responsibility of penetrating the offensive line as fast as possible. This yielded a tremendously timed sack when the Jets went to a deeper route concept and later in the game he jumped the snap so quickly that the center and guard did not lay a hand on him.

If I could pick out a single change that was most interesting in the Raider defense, it has to be the growing responsibilities of Khalil Mack. In this game, Mack was asked to cover backs and tight ends, rush the passer, play over the guard as an interior rusher, be a quarterback spy, and cover in short zone.

For a long time I found it difficult to really compare Mack to a current veteran player because of his diverse talents, but there is a comparison that is starting to stand out. Khalil Mack is Oakland’s Clay Mathews.

What makes Clay special is his versatility. He started off as a dominant pass rusher and run defender on the edge, but this year he is also being asked to play middle linebacker and all of the responsibilities from that position. Mack is also taking on a variety of roles.

When the Raiders need to make an adjustment to slow down an offense, it is Mack that is the chess piece that is moved. Late in this game, the Raiders went to zone defense and were only rushing four. After giving up points and not generating sacks, Ken Norton Jr had Mack playing as a spy to keep Geno Smith in the pocket. This yielded a sack for Mack and Hayden, and a huge hit by Armstrong on Smith. By using Mack as a spy, Geno Smith was forced to stay in the pocket and the pressure truly affected him in the fourth quarter.

Next: Week 9 Primer: Making it Three in a Row