The Raiders defense is playing with its hair on fire. Reasons be damned!
Whether or not this effort lasts in the final four games, what can’t be denied is Oakland is playing with more gumption under new defensive boss John Pagano. Indentically, the Raiders showed glimpses of spirited efforts under former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., leaving many to ponder if head coach Jack Del Rio, a defensive-minded boss, was truly orchestrating the defense.
In two games with Pagano conducting, Oakland is playing faster and with more aggression. The pass rush has been hitting home masking the porous coverage behind it. Linebacker Bruce Irvin, in particular, as benefited from Pagano’s penchant to make edge rushers fierce with three sacks and two forced fumbles in two games. Khalil Mack racked up two sacks and a forced fumble in the same span while Denico Autry generated three quarterback takedowns.
“Man, 52 (Mack) and 51 (Irvin), two of the best in the game, two of the best pass rushers,” said Giants quarterback Geno Smith after Sunday’s 24-17 win by Oakland. “They really got after it today … you know I was actually caught getting ready to throw a pass into the end zone. I felt we had a pretty good look. Unfortunately (Mack) got there and got the ball out.”
Irvin — who appeared thoroughly incensed by the dismissal of Norton (who coached him in Seattle) — pinpoints another change to the catalyst of defensive resurgence — NaVorro Bowman.
“I mean, it’s obvious, Irvin said. “ The guy flies around, takes control of the huddle. You see the difference, how the defense was before he was here, and to now. He’s a great competitor, a great leader, and I’m just happy to have him.”
“Talk about going out there and starting fast, that’s what you want,” Irvin said. “We always try and take it personal. We try and take the fight to them. I think we did a really good job of doing that today.”
Determination is something the Raiders direly missed and must keep in a brutal four-game final stretch.
Designing plays for Cordarrelle Patterson. No. 84’s uncanny speed was on full display on a bubble screen he took 59 yards in the fourth quarter. The game-breaking footwork set up the game-sealing touchdown. Yes, the Raiders missed 15 (Michael Crabtree) and 89 (Amari Cooper), but that doesn’t mean offensive coordinator Todd Downing shouldn’t keep incorporating 84 into the game plan once the top-two receivers return.
Using the Power I formation. Marshawn Lynch broke through for a 51-yard tone-setting touchdown on 3rd-and-1 after Derek Carr audibled to a power run out of the formation. The Power I gives Oakland a multitude of options, but more importantly, it lets the Nation of Domination offensive line do what it does best: Maul those in front of them.
Clive Walford involved. Reports of poor blocking limited the tight end’s snaps, but with Jared Cook hobbled, the third-year man showed off his route running and hands. The former third-round pick still has the required tools to be a reliable weapon for Carr.
Jalen Richard as the punt returner. A myriad of fumbles have sapped Rocket’s ability to make plays in the return game. Fortunately, for Oakland, none of the cough-ups fell to New York on Sunday. Perhaps it is time to get Patterson on punt returns to give him more touches or even core special teamer Johnny Holton.
Lackluster play calling and execution. The Raiders let the Giants hang in way too long. Oakland could not muster much after Lynch’s 51-yard TD as play calling and execution netted nada. With the Raiders in must-win mode to make the playoffs, the lull in chain-moving and scoring offense needs to stop.
Reggie Nelson as the starting safety. While he still has the heart and want, the veteran team captain no longer has the wheels to keep up. As a result, the body always goes before the heart. Unfortunately, a step slow has dire consequences for an Oakland defense that cannot afford to be late on any play. nelson, in a word, slow.
Regardless, Oakland needs to win out to not only punch a playoff ticket, but also win the AFC West. Such a proposition would have been nonsense just two weeks ago.
“Worry about what we can control,” Irvin said. “Stack these wins up. We’ll see how the cards fall at the end of the season… that’s been our approach the last two weeks and it’s paid off so hopefully we can continue to keep it like this.”
With this in mind, the Raiders sit in a much better spot than many originally envisioned a month ago. Without delay, the Raiders need to capitalize. To put it another way, game plans must be crisp and execution level increases. By all means, Oakland can win this division. For this reason, the next four games could define the McKenzie/Del Rio Era.