Oakland Raiders 1st Quarter Defensive Awards
John Doublin – Oct 5, 2012
The Oakland Raiders "new era of excellence" did not get off to the start fans wanted to see. A 1-3 record and two dismal performances in Miami and Denver have caused Raider Nation to question whether or not Mark Davis made the right decision in hiring Reggie McKenzie to run the team.
The offense has been one-dimensional, to say the least. Carson Palmer has been outstanding and is virtually carrying the team with almost no help at all. The new Zone blocking scheme, (ZBS) has turned one of the most effective and explosive rushing attacks in the league into the worst ranked running game in the league after four games.
The defense hasn't fared much better, to be honest. Oakland's defense got off to a solid start against the Chargers, but have since fallen apart due to injuries and players having to learn a new system. The secondary is missing the two starting cornerbacks and teams are attacking through the air with great success.
With all that said, who are the Raiders' defensive players that have performed well despite the poor record? Who is the most improved player? Who is the biggest disappointment? Who is the Raiders' 1st quarter defensive MVP?
Biggest Disappointment: LB-Rolando McClain
McClain was being touted by coaches and teammates all during training camp as a "man of fire." He was allegedly making plays, flying to the ball and learning the new defense at a remarkable rate.
Apparently, those reports were filed too soon!
Watching game film reveals McClain missing assignments, hesitating to fill his gap, (when he even bothers to do so at all) half-heartedly fighting off blocks, jogging around lost and altogether giving up on plays.
There is evidence of these things in every game this season.
Whatever the reasons, McClain is supposed to be a professional and his lack-a-dazical attitude and half effort is inexcusable. Maybe it's time to see what Travis Goethel can do in his place. It's clear Goethel is a talent and size drop-off compared to McClain, but he'd be a drastic improvement in effort and "motor."
Knowledge, scheme, reads and technique can be coached—effort and desire cannot. Goethel has five times the "motor" McClain does, and can learn the scheme, reads and technique.
Rolando: Step up, or step off!
Most Improved: LB-Miles Burris
Burris is a rookie, so there is no comparing his performance from last year to this year. However, if you watch tape of Burris in the first preseason game and compare it to film from the regular season games against Pittsburgh, Miami and Denver, it's like you're watching two different players.
Burris has gone from hesitant, lost rookie, to a gap-filling, tackling machine!
There were numerous times during preseason in which Burris got schooled by more experienced opposing players. He over played play-action and missed tackles on a regular basis. Against the Chargers in Week-1, Burris was better, but inconsistent. He made some plays, but blew some assignments as well, (especially in coverage). Against Denver however, he was constantly found in position and making tackles.
His game has become more well-rounded and complete. Should Burris continue to grow at his current rate, the sky appears to be the only limit for the young man from San Diego State.
MVP: LB-Philip Wheeler
No surprise here. With the defensive line generating virtually no pass rush or penetration and the cornerbacks dropping like flies, Wheeler has been "doing his thing" and flying to the ball, covering tight ends and making plays all over the field.
Wheeler is tied for the team lead in tackles with Tyvon Branch at 56, but he has more solo tackles and also leads the team in forced fumbles with two, one of which changed the outcome of the Steelers' game.
There is much more to Wheeler's impact than tackles though. He has been showing leadership by example. All he seems capable of doing is playing at full speed on every, single play.
Many naysayers claimed that cutting Kamerion Wimbley was a mistake and replacing him with Wheeler was a huge step back. Those naysayers are looking at a single stat, not the whole picture. There is a LOT more to playing outside linebacker than simply being able to rush the passer.
Wimbley is a great pass rusher, but far below average against the run and downright terrible in pass coverage. Wheeler isn't a great pass rusher, but he's more than solid against the run and is perhaps the best cover linebacker the Raiders have employed since Thomas Howard, who like Wimbley, is a one-dimensional player.
Assuming he continues to grow and gets some help from the defensive line with a pass rush and the secondary with more consistent coverage, Wheeler could find himself in the NFL Pro Bowl at the end of the year.
The "new era of excellence" still has a long way to go. There are depth issues all over the team and coaches are working hard to undo everything the players had learned up to this point and reinstall their philosophies and ideas. Once all the right players are in place and the schemes are fully installed, the defense will improve dramatically.
Until then, there is no room for guys "dogging it" and taking plays off...especially the player that is supposed to be the "franchise defender" and leader of the defense, the middle linebacker.
Perhaps McClain could take a lesson from the other two guys on this list and learn to play with some fire and pride. Wheeler and Burris give it their all on every down; McClain appears to give nothing.
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