When the Oakland Raiders showed Ken Norton the door, the hope existed, that John Pagano would fix the defense. For the most part the group looks sharper. That leads into next year when Pagano takes the reins for an entire season. If the Raiders made the move sooner, they could sit better than a woeful 6-8. Pagano brings actual knowledge coupled with energy to the unit. Heading into next year, Pagano will use the last two, meaningless games of 2017 to assess talent.
In Norton’s ten games of 2017, the Raiders collected six turnovers. By all metrics, that number does not qualify as poor. NFL defenses cannot perform that way for long stretches without any lapse in coaching. Since Pagano assumed the duties, Oakland forced eight in four games. Critics will say that the Raiders faced subpar competition. Oakland plays whom the schedule tells them. As a result, the takeaways are valid.
When Norton roamed the sidelines, he looked more like a cheerleader than a coordinator. The Raiders never adjusted after halftime. In that case, the team remained stagnant for four quarters. Under Pagano, the defense throws in a wrinkle or two often. For example, lining up Mack and Irvin on the same side in passing situation. No team can successfully block both and will need to choose. Dallas chose and failed. Tyron Smith or not, Pagano fearlessly attacked the Pro Bowl line. In reality, these are changes that Norton should have made, but never did.
As the season winds down, Pagano heads into the offseason with a clue of who the key players are. Mack, Irvin, and Autry give the Raiders the beginning of a potent pass rush. If Reggie McKenzie can sign capable free agents and draft wiser, the Raiders can make noise in 2018. For the first time in over a decade, Oakland employs a defensive mind that schemes to talent. By the same token, players bought in. Long-maligned Sean Smith raised his level of play. While he may not return, Pagano reached him. If he does that, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.
In essence, the 2018 Oakland Raiders already has an edge over this year’s version. John Pagano will bring an aggressive, thoughtful gameplan to the field. In addition, grabbing new talent to bolster the defense will greatly help the Raiders return.