The Oakland Raiders Retaining Ken Norton Jr. Is A Mistake

Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. encourages the defense before the start of the game against the New York Jets at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. encourages the defense before the start of the game against the New York Jets at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders made some recent decisions regarding the coaching staff. One of which includes retaining defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., which is a mistake.

In 2015, the Oakland Raiders defense was given a relative pass. Coupled with the Raiders being a very young team and Ken Norton Jr. getting his first gig as a defensive coordinator, the expectations were not too high. Oakland finished as a relatively middle of the pack defense, and were expected to progress the following year.

Coming into 2016, there was major hype surrounding the Raiders defense, and rightfully so. The Raiders invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball, re-signing David Amerson and adding Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, and Reggie Nelson via free agency. Reggie McKenzie also used their first three draft picks on defense, selecting Karl Joseph, Jihad Ward, and Shilique Calhoun.

With all of those added pieces, Pro Football Focus had the Raiders with the 5th ranked front-seven, and the 9th ranked secondary in the NFL coming into the 2016 season. With all of that said, the Raiders defense had no excuse to not be a top 10 unit.

After the conclusion of the 2016 season, the Raiders finished 26th in the NFL in total defense, giving up 375.1 yards per game. They had the 24th ranked pass defense, allowing 257.5 yards per game and the 23rd ranked run defense, surrendering 117.6 yards per game. Norton’s defense ranked 20th in points allowed, giving up 24.1 points per game, and they finished dead last in sacks with only 25 on the entire season.

This defense also made nearly all the quarterbacks they faced look like they like pro bowlers. In the two weeks without Derek Carr, the Raiders defense gave up a combined QBR of 73.85 to arguably two of the worst starting quarterbacks in then NFL in Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler. Over the final three games of the season, the team did not record a single sack. Not one.

You can present all sorts of different stats that would not go in Norton’s favor, but at the end of the day, this Raiders defense simply never looked prepared. Along with giving up the most 25+ yard plays in the NFL, there were communication issues far too many times. Examples of this include 12 men on the field penalties occurring a handful of times, and in some instances, only 10 men on the field, which led to easy touchdowns for the opposing teams. That is unacceptable.

Now, no one ever likes to point fingers, but in this case, someone needed to be held accountable. On Tuesday, it was reported that Norton Jr.’s services would be retained and the “fall guy” was defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson.

Not only was this an egregious decision, but it will make us all question Jack Del Rio’s ability to objectively review his coaching staff. Yes, Del Rio let Bill Musgrave walk for the second time, but these were two completely different circumstances. In fact, it makes the decision to keep Norton even more questionable considering Musgrave led a top 6 offense, while Norton led a bottom 6 defense.

With defensive coordinators like Wade Phillips and potentially Vic Fangio out on the market, it really makes you scratch your head and wonder why the Raiders would not even consider upgrading.

I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but maybe the Raiders upper management is penny-pinching, and they feel that Norton is the cheaper alternative, instead of signing a big name such as Wade Phillips. If this logic is true, this would be something to keep an eye on when the Raiders get into contract extensions with other coaching staff members, as well as players.

The NFL is the win-now/results business. Ken Norton Jr. has not impressed in his short time here, but one thing that Norton can hang his hat on is how in favor he is with his players. Bruce Irvin took to Twitter recently to voice his support of Norton.

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Irvin was also quoted as saying “The system has been proven the s*** works! I know that first hand everyone must buy in.” Although Norton has the support of his players, the numbers do not back up Norton Jr.’s case to keep a spot on the Raiders coaching staff.

At this point, Raiders fans will have no choice but to support Norton, as he is slated to be the defensive coordinator for at least another year. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, this Raiders defense will improve next year, and we will all look like dummies who wanted Norton fired. Or this Raiders defense can take a turn for the worse, and will continue to be the dumpster fire that it has been for the past year.

Either way, if this defense can just be slightly above average, the sky is the limit for this Raiders team. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.