Raiders defense receives eye-opening 'reason for optimism' from PFF

The Las Vegas Raiders defense took a major leap forward last season and could be even better with Antonio Pierce at the helm.
Antonio Pierce & Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Antonio Pierce & Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders. / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Don't look now but the Las Vegas Raiders defense is getting some hype. For two decades, the team's defense has mostly been a disaster with just a couple of decent seasons mixed in. The defense hasn't been anywhere close to great in a long time.

However, that could be changing with Antonio Pierce as head coach and Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator. The two led the Raiders to a top-10 scoring defense last season and was arguably the best defense in the NFL once Pierce replaced Josh McDaniels.

Outside of Raiders Nation, there isn't much talk about just how good the defense is but they're finally starting to get their flowers. Dalton Wasserman of Pro Football Focus recently went through and gave a "reason for optimism" for all 32 NFL teams. For the Raiders, he stated that they have the most underrated defense in the NFL.

"Fortunes changed immediately for the Raiders last season when Antonio Pierce took over as the head coach," Wasserman wrote. "He knew his first task, of course, was to fix a defense that posted the fourth-worst EPA allowed per play through the team’s first eight games. Pierce commandeered an immediate turnaround that was, at times, startling to watch.

"From Weeks 9 through 18, Las Vegas’ defense ranked ninth in overall grade, fourth in run-defense grade and fifth in EPA allowed per play. Maxx Crosby is perennially great, but major contributions from Malcolm Koonce, Jack Jones and Robert Spillane, among others, gave the Raiders new life on defense. There is hope the team can compete for a playoff spot this season despite a questionable quarterback situation."

Wasserman didn't even mention that the team added star defensive tackle Christian Wilkins to the group.

Raiders defense has some swagger

For the first time in a long, the Raiders defense has a lot of swagger to it. Pierce deserves a lot of credit for that but so does Maxx Crosby and Jack Jones. They play with a ton of energy that is clearly infectious.

The Raiders' defense was able to fly under the radar last season because nobody expected them to be any good. They were very much an offensive team under McDaniels. Unfortunately, the offense wasn't any good so they had no choice but to embrace a defensive culture once the coach was fired.

The offense could be an issue in 2024 but the Raiders may have a top-five defense by the end of the season. For now, it feels like the players aren't running away from the hype and are ready to put the NFL on notice this season.