The coach says it’s only a matter of “misfits,” but to the average football fan not trained in the clinical aspects of the science, it looks as if the Raiders’ run defense is just getting splattered this preseason.
A week ago Thursday in Green Bay, the Packers’ Eddie Lacy hammered it downfield on the opening drive. When the procession was over, both the football and the back sides of the Raiders’ defenders had reached the end zone, either in Lacy’s arms, in the case of the ball, or forcibly, in the case of the Oakland defenders, who were pushed into it by the Green Bay offensive line.
Of course, it was only the preseason. The Raiders finished in the upper half of the NFL against the run last year, didn’t they? And weren’t they supposed to be a little stronger this year? No worries, they’d fix it up.
Next for the Raiders were the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night in the teams’ third preseason game. The fix still was not in. Instead, the defense had more problems with “misfits,” according to coach Jack Del Rio.
I think, if anything, overanxiousness and kind of wanting to go make a play so badly that you’re leaving your gap or your responsibility, getting caught out of position, false-stepping, things like that are occurring. It’s not a lack of desire.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, on his team’s run defense
First, DeMarco Murray took advantage of the Raiders’ defensive maladjustments and faulty alignments and people just not doing their jobs right, gouging them twice for 17-yard gains. The runs helped set up 10 Tennessee points before Murray’s day was done.
Enter last year’s Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, Derrick Henry, who looked more like the mythical John Henry of railroad lore. He hauled steel through the Raiders’ line nine times for 36 yards on a second-quarter drive. And it sure didn’t look like a misfit when he spiked past Raiders linebacker Cory James, or when he carried cornerback David Amerson for seven yards, or when the right side of the Tennessee offensive line collapsed the Oakland defensive front as if it had been tunneled by dynamite. It made Henry’s second-quarter touchdown on a three-yard run look like a breeze through the countryside of East Oakland.
Misfittings or whatever, the Titans’ first-team offense ran for more than 100 yards against the Raiders’ first-team defense in the first half. Coming off the first-team defense’s Green Bay performance, you’ve got to think the Raiders are a little concerned about stopping the run.
As history has proven, it is very difficult to win football games if you can’t keep the other guys from shining their shoes on your mustache.
Normally, the outcome of a running game comes down to the beautiful physicality of the sport, as it plays out in the trenches. Run defense comes down to brutality and intensity, which run hand in hand and are necessities in this line of work.
After the 27-14 loss to Tennessee, Del Rio sounded like a coach who knew it was only August, which it is, and that it is way too early – wrongheaded, even – to subject his defense to an extended existential analysis.
“Effort is really a skill that we develop,” the coach said. “Our guys play hard. I don’t think we saw any example of a guy not wanting to do the right thing. I think, if anything, overanxiousness and kind of wanting to go make a play so badly that you’re leaving your gap or your responsibility, getting caught out of position, false-stepping, things like that are occurring. It’s not a lack of desire.
“Our guys want to be really good. They’re hungry to play well. They’re playing hard. So no, we’ve just got to clean things up and they’ll be a whole lot better.”
The problem Saturday “was just more misfitting,” Del Rio said. He blamed “mental error, some of those things where your eyes aren’t right.”
This is a common problem in society. You meet a guy in church on Sunday and he looks solid enough, but the next thing you know, you’ve lost everything in a Ponzi scheme. That’s when your eyes really go bad.
As for what’s going right with the Raiders, you can start with the quarterback.
Derek Carr made a couple of throws Saturday you’d like to cork and save for the regular season.
In the first quarter, Titans defensive back Antwon Blake ran stride for stride with Michael Crabtree up the right sideline but really didn’t have a chance on the soft spiral that Carr dropped into the receiver’s hands for a 41-yard gain.
Then in the second quarter, the Titans’ Jason McCourty had Amari Cooper cornered in the end zone. But Carr flicked it a tad to the right where only Cooper could catch it, and the Alabaman slipped off the defender to bring it in a step short of the back line for a 29-yard touchdown.
Our guys want to be really good. They’re hungry to play well. They’re playing hard. So no, we’ve just got to clean things up and they’ll be a whole lot better.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, on his team’s run defense
Carr looks ready for a huge season. On a smaller scale, backup running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard seemed similarly prepared. They flashed speed and moves that will make either of them a nice addition to the Pro Bowl starter from last year, Latavius Murray.
The Raiders should score plenty of points this year. The question to their season, and to their chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, will be how many they give up.
Del Rio’s career has been made on defense. He said he takes it personally that, so far, his stoppers can’t get their fits together.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he told reporters. “I don’t have a good alibi. It bothers me.”