It’s time for the Oakland Raiders to fire second-year defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
When Ken Norton Jr. was announced as the newest defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders in February of 2015, the hiring was met with nearly universal praise.
A football lifer who had been on the staff of the best defense in football several years running, a popular name in the Bay Area and a generally well-renown positional coach, it makes sense why fans and media alike were excited about the move.
Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to believe that it has even gotten to this point. And that point should be the point of no return — for Ken Norton Jr., at least. It’s time for the Raiders to part ways with their defensive coordinator.
Through six weeks, the Raiders are allowing an astonishing 444.8 total yards per game, most in the NFL by roughly 25 yards per game. They’ve allowed more than 400 yards in five out of six games this year.
This stat, courtesy of Josh Dubow via pro football reference, is hard to look at:
Allowing an average of 6.9 yards per play is hard to fathom, but everything about what this defense has done (or hasn’t done) is hard to fathom.
312.7 of the yards per game being surrendered are through the air, which is also the worst in the league. The run defense hasn’t been much better — 130.2 yards allowed per game, ranked 30th.
The Chiefs just ran the ball 40 times for 183 yards and 3 TDs. Embarrassing.
Oakland has allowed an average of 27.2 points per game, ranked 24th. They are ranked 28th in sacks, with 8 and they have yielded the third most 1st down conversions, with 137 on the season.
They’ve been strong in the turnover department, tied for 10th in interceptions and tied for 1st in forced fumbles, but the defense is near the bottom of any possible defensive category that exists.
Before I go on, I just wanted to say that I really can’t stand firing coaches, even coordinators. Going through what seemed like an annual coaching carousel the last decade-plus was miserable, and it’s the ultimate sign of a dysfunctional franchise.
So I always like to give coaches as much leash as is reasonable, but enough is enough. We saw plenty in 2015, as the Raiders were ranked 22nd in total defense. But the defense wasn’t nearly as talented, and it was his first year in the scheme.
But this season, Norton no longer has a built-in excuse. He isn’t given the benefit of the doubt anymore. Especially with the influx of talent — Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson.
To have those players join the team, and to still somehow be worse, is hard to do.
But beyond everything that has been mentioned so far, the biggest reason why Norton Jr. should be let go is because of his unwillingness/inability to make adjustments.
Week in and week out, there are very little changes with the defense. And there are virtually no in-game adjustments to speak of. The team will come out in the second half, and be doing exactly the same things as they did in the first half.
The writing might be on the wall for Ken, as his boss, Jack Del Rio, blamed a little “blame game” after the loss to the Chiefs. When asked if it was Del Rio who was calling plays:
“No, Kenny’s got the headset.”
Which on the surface, maybe isn’t so bad. But accountability for the performance of the team falls on the shoulders of the head coach. For Del Rio to not take the blame and to instead deflect, or not even deflect, but to point directly to someone, is telling.
If Norton Jr. were to be let go, it’s likely that Del Rio would assume responsibility of the defense for the rest of the season. But both Marcus Robertson or Jethro Franklin could be named interim, and both are well-respected coaches.
So it’s time — the Raiders need to fire Ken Norton Jr. and be done with it.