Raiders Defensive Midseason Grades
Andrew Flores – Nov 14, 2015
When you watch the tape you see defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has his players buying in and playing with passion. The Raider’s defense has done a good job of swarming to the ball throughout the season. The defensive ends have been impressive, but they still are not playing to their full potential. From a coaching standpoint one of the glaring weaknesses I noticed was that the coaches allow the opponents to dictate the matchups and they will need to do a better job of adapting as games progress in the future. In the game against the Steelers Pittsburgh was able to move Brown to avoid our best corners in Hayden and this was one of the keys to Brown’s success. Brown is an elite receiver and I am not trying to take away from his success, but the Raiders should have let Hayden shadow Brown all game. As a final note I would state this unit has been better than expected, but still has room for improvement with that said as they continue to gel this unit will only improve.
Khalil Mack: Mack is still learning how to play defensive-end from a technical standpoint nonetheless he has been excellent at pressuring the quarterback this season. Mack will need to develop more pass-rush moves in order to reach his full potential. In the 4th quarter against the Browns, Mack executes a beautiful spin move and gets a crucial strip sack that forces the Browns to settle for a field goal. In the game against the Chargers, Mack uses his speed to harass Rivers forcing him to throw it away. Finally in the game against the Jets, Mack makes a crucial play sacking Geno Smith near the end of the 4th quarter.
Aldon Smith While he hasn’t had the impact some fans might have expected, when you study the tape you see a player that is getting better each and every week. This is to be expected as Aldon needed time to really acclimate with the Raiders and get into football shape. In the most recent game against the Steelers, Smith really started to come on as he made plays throughout the game. He plays a run perfectly and drags DeAngelo Williams down after a short gain. Then on the next play Aldon is able to get to Roethlisberger and hits him as he is letting go of the ball. Aldon Smith eventually gets the sack in the 4th quarter forcing a punt.
Mario Edwards Jr.: Edwards has been the most impressive of the bunch. While he was not welcomed warmly by Raiders fans as many felt that he was over drafted. He was extremely talented and from a pure talent basis the argument could have been made that Edwards was a first round prospect. But there were questions about his commitment and many felt Edwards had underachieved in his time at Florida State. Analysts assumed Edwards was selected with the aim of grooming him and developing his talent. This all makes his play this season that much more impressive. In watching the tape Edwards really stood out because he is relentless, and he really punishes opponents with his hits. In the game against the Jets he gets excellent penetration helping Williams as they make a key stop. Then in the 3rd quarter he makes a heads up play on 3rd and 1 and prevents Geno Smith from scrambling to get the 1st down. Finally in the game against the Steelers, Edwards is relentless and hurries Roethlisberger a few times.
Dan Williams: Dan has been dominant. In the game against the Ravens on 3rd and 1 early in the second quarter Joe Flacco attempts a quarterback sneak, and Williams is able to anchor the defensive line he is able to prevent the Raven’s from getting the interior push they need to secure the first down. In the game against the Broncos in the 3rd quarter on 2nd and goal Williams is able to make a crucial stop and the Broncos end up settling for a field goal. In the Jets game on 3rd and 2 Williams is again able to anchor the defensive line and makes a crucial stop forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal.
Justin Ellis: In the game against the Bears, Ellis is able to push through the interior of the offensive line stopping Forte at the line of scrimmage. In the game against the Jets, Ellis displays good awareness when he chases down running back Chris Ivory. In the game against the Steelers, Ellis is able to really push the pocket and actually pushes the offensive lineman into Roethlisberger forcing an incompletion. While teams were able to run well against Ellis, he did make some nice plays and that factored into this grade.
Curtis Lofton: Lofton has been solid stuffing the run, but has struggled when asked to cover opponents. In fact when I went back to watch the defense it looked like Lofton was tasked with covering Crockett Gilmore on the Raven’s first touchdown. Later in the 2nd quarter Lofton again is unable to cover the tight end and the Ravens gain 38 yards while Woodson was unable to make the tackle, Lofton’s coverage here is an issue. As the season continued this became an all too familiar narrative.
Malcolm Smith: Smith is a playmaker he currently leads the Raiders in tackles but that really is just the tip of the iceberg as Smith has 3 sacks and an interception. Smith has become a leader for this Raider’s defense and actually helps make the on-field adjustments for the defense. He is all over the field for this Raiders defense and has become an excellent starter for the Raiders. Take the interception against the Chargers this play really personifies Smith because it is a play that happens as a result of Smith’s hustle. Smith plays with this hustle in every game and he makes plays in games as a result of it.
DJ Hayden: When defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. praised Hayden earlier this season there were many who disagreed with his comments. But watching the film I cannot help but agree that Hayden has been progressing nicely for the Raiders this season. In the game against the Ravens on second and goal in the first quarter, Hayden covers Steve Smith perfectly. Hayden stays with the veteran while keeping his eyes on the quarterback and when the ball is thrown Hayden is able to jump up and knock the ball away never giving Smith the opportunity to make the play. The next play the Raider’s defense again holds and the Ravens settle for a field goal. Later in the 3rd quarter Hayden again makes a play. When Hayden leaves the game in the 3rd quarter the Ravens take notice and Steve Smith takes advantage of it, this really is telling. In the game against the Browns on the second drive Hayden shadows Benjamin and almost picks off McCown. In the game against the Chargers Hayden is able to shadow Allen perfectly and then make the interception. Throughout all the tape I could not help but notice that Hayden has improved tremendously as a tackler this season.
David Amerson: Amerson has been a revelation with the Raiders the former second round pick was cut by the Redskins after week 2 and the Raiders signed him to bolster a secondary that was weakened by injuries. Amerson actually played well in week 3 despite it being his first week with the team, and then in week 4 Amerson made some nice plays. In the 2nd quarter on a 3rd down Amerson shadows Demaryius Thomas and hits him as soon as the ball hits his hands making a crucial third down stop for the Raiders. In the game against the Jets Amerson rocks Geno Smith in what is an attitude play. Finally in the game against the Steelers Amerson is able to make some plays against Antonio Brown breaking up some passes and intercepting a pass. Amerson plays with a certain swagger and has been impressive at times but it is noteworthy that teams seem to target him. While he has improved since his time in Washington Amerson still struggles and seems to give up too many big plays.
Neiko Thorpe: Thorpe was thrust into a starting role as a result of Nate Allen’s injury. He has played admirably while there have been growing pains he does an excellent job of staying with the opposing receiver. In the Baltimore game near the end of the second quarter Flacco test’s Thorpe taking a shot into the end zone. Thorpe engages in a hand battle with the receiver and as they reach the end zone he displays excellent awareness turning around and preventing the catch.
TJ Carrie: Carrie has played exceptionally for the Raiders despite being forced into a new position and having to really learn on the fly. In the game against the Browns with a little more than 2 minutes remaining the Browns take a shot downfield and Thorpe gets roasted, but Carrie does an excellent job of coming across the field and almost ends up getting the pick. At times Carrie has been burned in coverage and it may take him some time to get used to playing corner on a full time basis. Carrie has played well this season but still has plenty of room for improvement.
Charles Woodson: Woodson has been invaluable to the Raider’s defense. His leadership is something irreplaceable. But his play has been as good as his leadership Woodson is still playing with just as much fire as he did in his first season while he may not be as fast as he once was Woodson has aged like a fine wine. He has seemingly improved with age and has been a crucial part of the Raider’s success. In fact in the game against the Browns Woodson is able to make a game saving interception sealing the Raiders’ victory.
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