In the early hours of the NFL offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders were already making changes. Surprisingly, the team let defensive line coach Brentson Buckner go in order to bring in Rod Marinelli. Marinelli was on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but has more recently completed a seven-year stint as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator and line coach.
Buckner’s release was interesting, considering the team’s sack numbers increasing from 13 to 32 from 2018 to 2019. Quarterback pressures and sacks were certainly not the Raiders’ issue, as the team looked completely different in 2019, leading fans to think Buckner would be around for some time. What fans can learn from this transaction is simple: Gruden expects Marinelli to coach better than Buckner. Looking at the stats Buckner’s group put up (32 sacks, 4.7 yards per rush allowed), there is visible room for improvement, but the stats are not too shabby.
What Marinelli Brings
As expectations go, much can be learned from the Cowboys’ numbers last season. The Cowboys recorded 39 sacks and allowed 4.1 yards per rush. While the teams’ personnel are different, would it be crazy to think the Raiders could record similar numbers?
The biggest individual expectation for Marinelli should be addressing Clelin Ferrell. Throughout the 2019 season, Buckner and Gruden moved Ferrell to multiple different positions on the defensive line, leading to lower stats and frustrations regarding a wasted #4 overall pick from fans. Despite Gruden implying Ferrell would be able to stay at his defensive end position, it is perfectly reasonable to remain skeptical.That being said, using a former top-five overall pick as a utility defensive lineman is typically a terrible idea (unless of course, he was drafted as a utility player). Fortunately, Benson Mayowa and Maxx Crosby were able to pick up the slack left at the defensive end position, but this should be figured out by training camp.
It has been said, by myself and others, that the best defense against passing teams is a good pass rush. The Raiders upped their pass rush last season, as it was almost impossible to make it worse, but there are now higher expectations for the 2020 season. The Las Vegas Raiders have an impressive and fairly young defensive line. The 32 sacks the group recorded last year should be seen as a benchmark for every season as long as the corps stay together.
With a team on the come-up like the Raiders are, coaching changes can be risky. If this move does not go according to plan, the Raiders could be facing a setback, or worse, implosion. While Marinelli profiles as a proven coach, Buckner also proved capable. The Raiders’ front office has made more good decisions than not recently, here’s to hoping the trend continues.