The Oakland Raiders have a history of being the defensive team that gives opposing offenses nightmares due to their ability to control the line of scrimmage.
In recent years, that has not been the case. The Raiders went from being the 6th ranked defense in the NFL in 2010 to the 24th defense in 2013. In the 2010 season, the Raiders’ defense matched their opponents in touchdown differential, whereas in 2013 they gave up 17 more touchdowns than their opponents.
It seemed that Oakland was lacking the necessary leadership, experience, and push on the defensive line. It is apparent which team controls a football game just by watching which team controls the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. In 2013, it appeared that the Raiders’ defensive front was getting blown off the line a majority of the time. One stat that proves that point is their sack differential: in 2010 they led their opponents by 3 sacks and in 2013 they were beat by their opponents by 6.
That has to change if the Raiders’ defense wants to be successful in the 2014 season. I believe the defense will see some improvement based on the moves General Manager Reggie McKenzie made to get the Raiders defense back on track. McKenzie acquired two Super Bowl champion defensive ends, former Pittsburgh Steeler LaMarr Woodley and former New York Giant Justin Tuck. With the addition of these two seasoned veterans, the Raiders are bringing much-needed leadership, experience, and proven results to the defensive line.
McKenzie clearly didn’t think that was enough because he made sure to re-sign defensive tackle, Pat Simms, and draft linebacker Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo in the first round. When interviewed by Raiders reporter Eddie Paskal about the first-round draft pick, Simms said, “He’s an athlete and a freak. We just need to put him in the right situations and he’s going to be hell.”
Khalil Mack will be joining a solid linebacker crew composed of the two Raiders tackle leaders, linebackers Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett. Roach and Burnett both recorded 83 solo tackles last season, which isn’t outstanding, but it shows serious potential for a breakout season. And the formula for a breakout tackling season is being surrounded by other Pro-Bowl defensive players like 8-time Pro-Bowler Charles Woodson, 2-time Pro-Bowler Justin Tuck, and 2009 Pro-Bowler LaMarr Woodley.
When it comes to the defensive backs for the Oakland Raiders, McKenzie made another positive move with the addition of former San Francisco 49er cornerback, Carlos Rogers. Rogers was a Pro-Bowler in 2011 and an NFC Champion with the 49ers in 2012.
Woodson and Rogers could work great together in the defensive backfield. However, Woodson has to stay healthy going into his 17th season at the age of 37. Without Woodson, Rogers could find himself surrounded by inexperience—D.J. Hayden is going into his second season with 25 tackles under his belt, while Tyvon Branch only recorded 5 tackles last season.
Overall, I think Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders made the necessary moves to build a playoff caliber defense. If the Raiders can put these newly acquired defensive players into action they should get back to that 2010 playoff caliber defense.