It hasn’t always been pretty, but it hasn’t been the defense that has let the Silver and Black down the most in the first quarter of the 2017 NFL season. The Raiders have allowed seven touchdowns in the first four games. Three of those scores came in that abysmal performance against the Washington Redskins on Sunday Night Football in Week 3.
This defense’s strength is still in the pass rush. Defensive end Khalil Mack has been absolutely outstanding in the early part of the season. Even when his team isn’t playing well, the guy always finds a way to deliver. He is by far and away the Raiders’ best player. We’re lucky to watch greatness in effect every fall Sunday for the foreseeable future.
The Raiders are still very young and weak at linebacker, but we have seen signs of promise with that group. Cory James has been mostly solid in the first quarter. Rookies Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow have been good in defending the run and the pass, respectively. The ceiling is certainly finite with that group, but it’s exceeding expectations, albeit clearing a very low bar to begin with.
When looking at the defensive line and the secondary, those two groups have been too inconsistent. Working in rookies like Eddie Vanderdoes and Treyvon Hester has been a work in progress on the defensive line. Nose tackle Justin Ellis has been the best of the bunch in the trenches. Some weeks, the Silver and Black can stop the run, others they can’t.
The secondary has been horribly banged up. Oakland’s first two picks in cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu missed almost all of the preseason due to injury. Melifonwu has been placed on IR with an injured knee. Conley has been in and out of the lineup with shin splints.
Add in that Sean Smith is dealing with off the field issues and David Amerson has already had two concussions and this secondary can’t keep the same guys out there each week. That being said, assistant head coach John Pagano has been keen on getting these guys to communicate better on the gridiron.
Overall, the defense has exceeded expectations so far. Having a consistent pass rush and better awareness on third-down defense has been a huge plus. Oakland may only be average at best on defense, but it’s nice to see the team not be a complete eyesore on that side of the ball with the exception of Mack. Let’s see if they can keep it up and build on a respectable first quarter of ball.