After playing top-notch defense for seven weeks and ranking alongside the 49ers and other teams, the Raiders defense seemed pretty solid.
But in Week 9, the defensive compass went awry.
They’d been blown out by the Eagles (who have also blown out nearly everyone since), Jets, Chiefs and Chargers since. What happened was the result of thin depth, and probably a few players reading too many press clippings.
They need help everywhere, but need to prioritize.
Bulking up a defense is generally the best way to get a team above .500 — generally.
The Jets have done it semi-successfully, and both the Chiefs and Panthers have done it well. Tampa Bay acquired two big names during the offseason, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, with no such luck.
Lets look at what the differences were:
Kansas City Already had Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe, signed Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson and Quentin Demps. Put a heavy emphasis on winning the turnover battle.
Carolina Already had Luke Kuechly (drafted in 2012), drafted Star Lotuleilei and Kawann Short, signed Quintin Mikell, put a heavy emphasis on not turning the ball over.
New York Traded Darrelle Revis for a first round pick, restructured two large contracts, drafted Sheldon Richardson (drafted Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011), Dee Milliner and Geno Smith. Have turned the ball over 29 times, only forced 10.
Tampa Bay Signed Goldson to a big deal, traded a first round pick for Revis and his large salary, drafted Mike Glennon, Jonathan Banks and Akeem Spence. Have turned the ball over 18 times while forcing 29 turnovers.
Looking at the information above, we ask ourselves whether there’s a magic formula. Sure, there looks like there might be. It’s time. How much of it that the opposing quarterback has to throw, specifically.
What stands out a little more, is the service time of the defensive fronts, and the ferocity of each team’s pass rush. Kansas City invested little money into their secondary, while developing a great pass rush. Carolina did the same thing.
The Jets have a young pass rush and one of the best run-stopping units in the league, while Tampa invested heavily into their secondary. The Chiefs and Panthers are 11-4 respectively, while the Jets are 7-8 and the Bucs are 4-11.
So what does all this mean?
It means the Raiders might want to invest a sizable chunk of the $60 million in cap space into their defensive front, along with some draft picks.
It might be tempting to look at some of the bigger names, but the most successful franchises have always used this formula. In cases like the 2011 49ers and 2013 Panthers, it’s taken the team from worst, to first.
Here are some names that the Raiders might want to target during the offseason:
Henry Melton (DT) He won’t come cheap. He might get the franchise tag again. But if Melton hits the market, the Raiders should be jumping in joy. The interior pass rush has been invisible this season, and may be the key to making the playoff next season. Melton makes linemen scream.
Michael Johnson (DE) Johnson is a high reward, slightly risky, type of player. He’s only got three sacks this season, though it may not be a true reflection of his talent. Give him solid interior support, and you’ve got yourself a prize.
Brian Orakpo (OLB) He’s the only reason Washington has any sacks this season, basically. That’s all there is to it.
Brandon Spikes (ILB) Similar story to Orakpo. After countless defensive injuries, he’s become their top run-stopper. His coverage skills could always improve, but he’s got what it takes.
Charles Tillman (CB) Like a number of players on this list, Tillman’s season has been dampened by injuries. When healthy though, he is one of the most physical edge defenders in the league. With 42 forced fumbles over 11 years, Tillman could provide some special help — and may be able to convert to safety.
Sam Shields (CB) Shields is the type of guy that hasn’t gotten the love he deserves. A guy who has seen a lot of action as teams attempt to cut deficits through the air, he should have no problem making a difference.
2014 NFL Draft
There are a number of standout players in this year’s draft. Headed up by Jadeveon Clowney, the list of linemen is the deepest of any position on defense.
There’s Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt (defensive end) and his partner in crime Louis Nix (defensive tackle).Timmy Jernigan, who is Florida State’s defensive anchor, stands the possibility of slipping out of the first round.
Of them all, Nix might be the most interesting. Sure, Clowney will probably take the NFL by storm. And sure, he’s a once in a generation player.
But Nix has no character issues, (Clowney has been open about taking plays off) and has stopped the run like nobody’s business. Not to mention he’s put up averages that almost mirror Clowney’s, though he had season ending surgery in November.
It’s probably fair to mention that Clowney has been blocked more than any defensive end in the NFL, though it’s also worth mentioning that he recently received a ticket for going 110 mph in a 70 mph zone.
In an area like the Bay Area, Clowney could get himself into trouble. Just ask Aldon Smith.
Tuitt is a player that might be equally effective given the right help. A large man, standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 312 pounds, Tuitt has everything a defensive coordinator could ask for. He’s even fleet of foot, considering his massive size.
No doubt one of those guys will fall in the draft, and the Raiders will be in a premium position to capitalize.
If the Raiders choose to add another linebacker in the first round, the choice is clear.
UCLA’s Anthony Barr recorded 10 sacks and 63 tackles this season, 20 of those tackles for negative yardage.
He’s an unholy specimen of man, six-foot-four and 235 pounds, with speed to boot.
In the second round, CJ Mosely (Alabama) and Khalil Mack (Buffalo) might be there. Christian Jones of Florida State definitely will be.
If you’ve read me much, you’ll notice that I’ve taken kindly to several Seminoles. It’s not that I watch them exclusively, root for them, or any of that. It’s that they are that good. They’re in the BCS Championship for a reason, right?
There are some notable corners available in the draft, though Oakland just drafted DJ Hayden with the 12th overall pick.
In fact, two of their first three picks were defensive. Not to mention offensive tackle Menelik Watson was taken in the second round, the mirror of a defensive tackle. Oakland remains in terrific position to solidify their defense through the draft.