How are the Raiders managing defensive expectations?

Are the players, or their coaches, feeling any sense of pressure?
Las Vegas Raiders OTA Offseason Workout
Las Vegas Raiders OTA Offseason Workout / Ethan Miller/GettyImages
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In the last 10 years, the Raiders’ defense has been their weakest link. Multiple times they have finished with the dead-last ranked defense, and not once had they been in the top 20. Until last year. Now, suddenly, after a nine-game stretch at the end of last season, which coincided with Antonio Pierce taking the reins as head coach, the defense has expectations. Not only are they supposed to improve, but many want them to be among the best units in the entire league and be the anchor of this year’s team. 

However, as high as expectations are internally and throughout most of the league, PFF’s Dalton Wasserman said in a recent article that the Raiders still have the most underrated defensive unit in the NFL. He points out that we had the fourth-worst EPA in the league as a unit before AP took over, and we finished as the fifth-best during Pierce’s interim tenure. This turnaround is immaculate.

Part of it is the relationship between AP and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, some of it is bringing the juice and making the game more fun for these guys, but to me, a lot of it had to do with recognizing what personnel should be playing. Guys like Malcolm Koonce saw their roles increase and they made the previous staff look inept. Jack Jones was given another chance and not only did he cut into Marcus Peters’ reps, but he revitalized and reinvigorated the defensive backfield. 

This unit has a tremendous mix of veterans and young, emerging players, as well as a few players who have NFL experience but are just now tapping into the players they can be.