There are many reasons why the NFL season is 16 games and not just one, but the main reason is the changes that occur throughout the season. Through one game, the Raiders were looking impressive. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski had just slowed down one of the most dynamic running backs in the league in Christian McCaffrey and the Raiders seemed poised to shut down the run every week. But, the injury bug struck Kwiatkoski and he has not been seen on the field since Week 1 against the Panthers. Against the Bills, he returns to tally three tackles.
Cause for Worry
Cory Littleton, Kwiatkoski’s fellow free-agent linebacker, has not shined as bright. Littleton has come out to say he needs to be better and the stats support his claim as he leads the team in missed tackles (7) and is the lowest graded starter on the Raiders defense. However, backup linebacker Nick Morrow has also missed five.
Last season, the Raiders rostered four total linebackers to start the year before losing Vontaze Burfict due to a targeting suspension. But, even with the Raiders signing the two best available linebackers in the free-agent pool, the Raiders’ linebacker corps appears to have taken a step back. Throughout the first four games of the NFL season, the Raiders keep missing tackles in bunches. It is not entirely surprising that a team that ignored the linebacker position over the years would struggle coaching up this group of players. Still, that said, the linebackers have disappointed more than last season.
These are not complaints about difficult things to stop, like shifty, pass-catching backs. Yet, just the bare minimum of football: tackling. I receive text messages from my father, who watches football as often as Larry Fitzgerald drops passes, severely questioning the tackling. That in itself was hurtful and telling, but this has been a season-long problem. While defensive backs use shoulders to tackle and struggling to wrap up, the linebackers failed to make contact with ballcarriers.
Finger of Blame
At some point, the finger has to be pointed at a higher-up; this is deeper than just a player issue. David Lippincott is the Raiders’ linebackers coach. The unit usually does well with the limited talent he has typically been given. However, with unarguably the most talent during his tenure with the Raiders, Lippencott struggles. The Las Vegas Raiders boast than enough talent at the linebacker position to be successful. While it is easier to point fingers at like Littleton, this is starting to feel like a coaching struggle.