In what started as a year where the Oakland Raiders defense looked promising, it will end with the defense regressing down the stretch of the season. The Raiders were playing better football earlier in the year, but during their current three game losing streak, the team has looked lost, especially on defense.
The late season defensive struggles come down to talent. General manager Reggie McKenzie used this season to clear as much of the cap as possible. Oakland has close to 50 million dollars in dead money because they got rid of some many underperforming players this offseason. McKenzie cleared away Michael Huff, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain, and Carson Palmer. Very few of those guys had any impact with other teams this season.
McKenzie then built the defense with one year and a few two year contracts. He got some value out of those deals especially with linebackers Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett, who have been the backbone of the defense. Cornerback Mike Jenkins has played well at times but was victimized by the Jets Sunday. Tracy Porter has had his ups and downs this season. The defensive line was a massive concern before the season started. They produced some early in the season, but have fallen off considerably. Defensive end Lamarr Houston is far and away the most talented player on the defensive line and he has five sacks. The next best sack number on the defensive line is Vance Walker with three.
Oakland's defense, like so many in the NFL, is built around getting pressure on the quarterback. The Raiders do it with the blitz. Both defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and head coach Dennis Allen have struggled to dial up plays when the Raiders need them. In the Tennessee Titans loss, the Raiders dropped back on the final play and gave up a touchdown; instead of being who they are and bringing the blitz. The defense has been unable to make any quarterback uncomfortable in the last several weeks.
Because the Raiders defense had a good stretch of games, they fooled people into raising expectations. The fact of the matter is McKenzie signed these guys as a stopgap or as an audition for the future. Most of the players on the defense are retreads that weren't brought back to their former teams or guys that teams were willing to part ways with. The talent is the issue and that cannot be an excuse next season when the Raiders are flush with cap room.
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