“Try to look at your weakness and convert it into your strength. That’s success.” This quote from Zig Zaglar outlines exactly what the Raiders need to do to turn this season around. Unfortunately, Zaglar’s quote only focuses on one singular weakness. In addition, this Raiders team has two glaring defensive weaknesses. These weaknesses are the safety position. In addition, the group of individuals responsible for formulating a pass rush need blame. Since articles criticizing the Raiders lack of pass rush have become exhausted, it would seem there has not been enough attention called to the Raiders safeties.
Just from watching the 17-minute highlight tape of the Raiders/Browns game, it remains evident that the Raiders need help at safety. The safety should be the last line, or safety net, of the defense. However, in this last game alone, it would be hard to feel comfortable having to rely on the current players. When people think about safeties, they usually think of pass coverage. Nevertheless, the safeties not only disappointed in the coverage category, but in run support.
While safeties cannot stop every rusher that breaks through the defense, they need to at least assist in the tackling effort. Nevertheless, when rookie Nick Chubb rushed for two 40+-yard touchdowns (63 and 41 yards, respectively) almost untouched, the Raiders safeties whiffed on tackles. Moreover, getting caught up in the wash far downfield, or tracking Chubb failed.
The Raiders safeties also struggled in pass coverage as well. Typically, the safeties will cover the part of the field inside the numbers. Yet, that part of the field remained open for much of the game. Baker Mayfield had no trouble completing passes in that area and was able to help Browns TE Darren Fells make Reggie Nelson and Erik Harris look foolish on a 25-yard pass that Fells was able to run another 25 yards all the way to the endzone, seemingly untouched.
Unfortunately, the Raiders problem will not vanish due to a simple coaching adjustment. Despite recording an interception, it appears Reggie Nelson’s prime is far behind him. At 35 , Nelson would not be the oldest Raider safety to succeed. Charles Woodson excelled later in the NFL. But, unfortunately, Nelson was not blessed with Woodson’s longevity. While Nelson is not the sole bearer-of-blame, he did rank 78th among safeties in coverage last year
The biggest problem the Raiders safeties face is age. Reggie Nelson, Erik Harris, and Marcus Gilchrist are all 28 or older (Karl Joseph is 25). While 28 does not seem old as Patrick Peterson and Xavier Rhodes are both 28, the Raiders safeties lack range and speed. Unfortunately, trading them is not an option as they all lack any redeemable trade value. The strangest part about this whole ordeal is how the Raiders did not seem to find any problem in their safety corps during the draft.
One way the Raiders could improve their safety play would be improving their pass rush. The Raiders endure criticism over their lack of pass rush. Improving this would give opposing quarterbacks less time. In return the safeties would look better due to the quarterback not having enough time to check every option twice.