After a crazy game and a couple weeks that had more twists and turns than a Christopher Nolan movie, Linebacker Watch returns. It’s worth acknowledging that this week will focus more on the Thursday night game as opposed to the preceding Sunday. The reason being the Raiders largely trotted out units that only featured one linebacker. These “6-1-4” lineups were largely due to both injury and ineptitude at the team’s weakest position, but also often left either a tight end or running back completely uncovered. However, with the signing of former 49er NaVorro Bowman, the Raiders have switched back to a more conventional scheme featuring three linebackers on the field.
The man of the hour for the Raiders defense, he played 60 of 62 possible snaps after having joined the team only three days before their next game. That feat alone is incredible, but it is made even more amazing by the coaches showing their trust in him as the defensive “green dot”. That is to say it was his responsibility to relay the play call to the rest of the team and boy did he make a difference. On the final two third downs faced by the Chiefs offense he recorded a crushing hit on former teammate Alex Smith forcing him to throw the ball away, and held down the middle of the field. He also led the team with 11 tackles on the day. It wasn’t all perfect but he clearly gave the defense a spark and identity, PFF graded him at 82.0 overall which was good for fourth highest on the team.
While statistically Bruce Irvin did not have a big day, overall he was solid. He avoided making costly penalties and was generally around the football and was a big reason why Kareem Hunt didn’t destroy the Raiders on the ground. He set the edge, stayed in his gap, and even got some pressure on Alex Smith. It wasn’t a flashy game for him but it was solid enough to get the job done. The week before was bigger week for him as he was able to get into the backfield and notch a sack and a TFL and was generally one of the better players on the field for the Raiders. While that should be a consistent thing it hasn’t been to this point in the season, but it seems as though he is heating up.
While he is still a growing young player, he is undoubtedly the sore thumb in this group at the moment. He tries hard but can often be seen looking around for instruction and frequently late on play diagnosis. Many of his tackles come four or five yards up field usually after he has been blocked but then recovered. While such grit is a valuable trait it is more valuable to not be blocked at all. Morrow has also been spotty in coverage for every play he makes in coverage; he also miscommunicates a pass-off which has led to some wide open backs. Not all of that is his own fault as the coaching staff has done him few favors and he should probably not be playing this much. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Raiders shift to a 5-2-4 and feature Morrow as a run-down backer. Overall he is what he is for now but it will be interesting to see him develop.