Usually I like to reserve this spot for specific players or coaches. Sean Smith made the list last week, and he certainly could be on here again. But when an entire group of men have performed as poorly as the Raiders defensive unit has, they all need to be held accountable.
Since a Bruce Irvin strip-sack of Drew Brees on the first series of the year, the Raiders defense has managed exactly one sack, and only a handful of QB hits. Khalil Mack — who I will address later — has been virtually invisible.
Linebacker play has been poor. Ben Heeney is having the problems we all worried about. He’s struggling to get off blocks and when he does, he takes poor pursuit angles to the ball and misses tackles. Malcolm Smith has been decent in run play, but is routinely burned by tight ends over the middle.
Irvin and Mack have been lining up almost exclusively at DE, which may be a residual effect of Mario Edwards Jr’s absence. Splitting them out to LB at times and actually using the personnel to mix up looks would be refreshing. It would make almost too much sense. It’s been a bit baffling at times.
Denico Autry, Jihad Ward, “Jelly” Ellis, Big Dan Williams and Stacy McGee have all been various levels of disappointing in the middle. There has been absolutely zero push up the middle toward the QB. The Falcons, when not running off-tackle, had no problem pushing the middle with Alex Mack and company.
The Titans boast a formidable run game, even with Pro Bowl guard Chance Wormack on IR. DeMarco Murray and big rookie Derrick Henry had their way with the Raiders first-team D in the preseason, and QB Marcus Mariota is athletic and accurate.
Mariota has completed 67.6% of his passes this season, and he showed in the preseason he can run the option as well as throw the deep ball. He’s versatile and dangerous, and the Raiders need to be aware of him at all times.
The Raiders front seven has been bad, but not nearly as bad as their secondary. In particular, two new additions — Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith — appear lost and out of sorts in DC Ken Norton Jr’s defensive scheme. Consequently, the Raiders are last in the NFL in pass defense, with 808 yards and 7 TDs given up in two games. Ouch.
Smith has been routinely burned and just hasn’t found his bearings. Give credit to the man for standing up and taking accountability and then putting his name on a promise to do better. But those words will ring hollow if Tajae Sharpe gets loose or Murray or Henry bust a run through a missed tackle.
The lack of pass rush has put pressure on coverage, and the lack of coverage has put pressure on the pass rush. Neither unit is helping the other so they are both suffering.
This defense is under pressure to contain the running game. The Titans must feel supremely confident they can pull out the passing game at any time if they need it. So expect them to try and establish physicality early with Murray and Henry and if it works, Mariota can do just about anything he wants from there.
It’ll be a long day if this team doesn’t gel a little more and come out to play with some fire. For the first time in a long time the offense is frustrated as they continually ball out, while the defense lets them down. There is little passion or emotion on the defensive side, which again is baffling.
At this point they’re under pressure to show up and actually play football.