Give Paul Guenther credit: He didn’t immediately jump on a plane back to Cincinnati when Khalil Mack departed.
For the Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator not to go ballistic and sound off during media sessions speaks volumes. When the best, most valuable chess piece on his board was sent packing, restraint remains quite a feat.
You cannot blame Guenther if he channeled Jim E. Mora (Playoffs!?) or lDennis Green at the podium when asked his thoughts on Mack .
That is not an ideal scenario for a first-year defensive boss — to have your supreme defender, you’re only legitimate and reliable weapon get deuced from the team. Imagine if your boss took away your best asset and said God speed … The undermanned Guenther should get a mulligan for his initial year in Jon Gruden, Part Deux.
Without a substantial and consistent harrier of the quarterback, the Raiders have watched second-rate signal callers rack up yardage and touchdowns. However, in that same span, there have been games where Guenther’s orchestrated defense stymied the better QBs.
That reciprocation is worth admission to year two of the Paulie G scheme. A scheme built on aggression and bully ball (look at the Indianapolis Colts as a baseline), Guenther doesn’t have the horses in the stable to run the kind of race he would like.
Yet, even in the darkest of times, there’s a glimmer of light; a reason for hope. Joseph acclimated to the Guenther scheme and provided much-needed attitude and ferocity as a backend enforcer. Second-year linebacker Marquel Lee is much better as an outside linebacker than manning the middle.And second-year cornerback Gareon Conley is sticking with wide receivers.
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Now, this isn’t to completely absolve the former Bengals defensive guru of all that ails the Raiders defense. Guenther’s steadfast belief and public backing of much-maligned veteran safety Reggie Nelson handicapped him as much as the Mack departure did. Nelson may have the brains, but he no longer has the legs. Meanwhile, young hammerhead shark Karl Joseph languished on the bench, relegated to special teams.
Sometimes, familiarity is a good thing. Nevertheless, familiarity breeds contempt too. And the contempt for Nelson was palpable amongst a passionate RaiderNation that hasn’t seen a quality defense since Willie Shaw (Stanford boss David’s pops) ran the unit in 1998-99.
It’s no surprise the Raiders sport the league’s worst defense in terms of points allowed (29.9 per game, 418 total). Guenther’s group has accounted for an embarrassing league-low 12 sacks. Get this: The next lowest team, Miami, doubles that total up to 24.
Trying to Work
Moreover, this is what makes the dismissal of Mack such a conundrum. No matter the reason — money, agent, lack of desire to be a Raider — it’s all moot. Mack has moved on to greener pastures and the Raiders possess three first-round picks in this April’s draft (No. 2, 24 and 26 if the season ended today).
That haul (a combo of the Raiders ineptitude, the Mack and Amari Cooper trades) can go a long way to filling a bare bones cupboard.It’s imperative head coach and de facto personnel man Jon
Gruden add more building blocks to the defensive side that features young defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and PJ Hall, young cornerback Gareon Conley and Joseph.