After a rather eventful first four weeks, the Raiders look ahead to welcome Baltimore to O.co. Be that as it may, the first four games serve as a reminder that there are no givens or knowns in football. Prosperity and defeat remain separated by the thinnest of margins. For the Oakland Raiders, this rings painfully true. Sitting at .500 is not where they envisioned the first month of the season. Surprisingly, the defense is a reason that Oakland is 2-2.
Defensive Line Grade: B-
Granted, Khalil Mack will excel no matter who surrounds him. Yet, Mack continues to actually improve. Entering 2017, the known possibility of double teams exists for him. However, that does not deter Mack’s play. While he may not always get home, quarterbacks feel him lurking near. In addition, Mack excels at stopping the run as well. Most edge rushers will look at the run as an inconvenience, Mack jumps into the fray to make the stop.
For the first time in what feels like years, Mario Edwards appears healthy. Edwards gives the Raiders defensive line actual balance on the outside. Couple with Mack’s four sacks, Edwards’ three gives opponents a new concern.
On the interior, teams continue to gash the Raiders. Rookie Eddie Vanderdoes flashes but needs to maintain consistency from snap to snap. Jihad Ward remains an enigma, while Justin Ellis can’t generate any meaningful push.
Linebackers Grade: C
In an offseason of available free agents signing with other teams, Reggie McKenzie stood pat with the players on the roster. Cory James impressed with the ability to slash, get skinny through blocks and live in the backfield. As a result, his 32 tackles and 4 TFL pace the defense.
In contrast, Marquel Lee appears to overthink and suffers from paralysis by analysis. Lee must trust his instinct and attack the line of scrimmage.
Bruce Irvin appears to awaken from his early season funk. Irvin tallied a sack Sunday in Denver and looks active on the edge and in the run game. Oakland needs Irvin’s attitude, playmaking and nose for the ball on every down.
Secondary Grade: D-
In sixteen quarters, the Raiders do not have a single interception. Karl Joseph remains the lone bright spot in a troubled secondary. Joseph’s blitzing and willingness to thump ballcarriers gives the back four an aggressive playmaker. For his teammates, the talent exists but the results are not.
David Amerson’s nightmare start continues. First, Jermaine Kearse torches him twice. Then, Washington spots him and makes him pay deep. Now, he could miss time after suffering his third concussion.
On the other side, Sean Smith cannot get right. In other words, covering tight ends vertically or a receiver horizontally is too difficult of a task for him. Smith, in the middle of a court proceeding looks a step late and indecisive.
After excelling early, rookie Gareon Conley missed time with a shin injury. When healthy, Conley gives Oakland a glimpse into the future. With long strides and ball skills to boot, Conley needs more field time, and less training table time. The best ability remains availability.
Reggie Nelson appears to have entered the twilight of his career. The foot speed is not quite there and the burst is gone. Yet, Nelson is a willing tackler and provides stability.
In essence, the front seven keeps the unit afloat. If the defensive tackles can collapse the pocket and not strictly rely on Mack and Edwards, the holes in the secondary can be concealed. Believe it or not, Ken Norton’s defense allows less than 20 points per game. If the offense wakes up and the defense plays to that standard, the Raiders could figure in the playoff hunt.
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