No other team was more active than the Oakland Raiders this past offseason.
It’s what has culminated them into a virtual tie for the AFC West crown at a record of 4-2 and a fast-rising squad that’s poised to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Most of their money was invested into signing Bruce Irvin, Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith—an average of $23 million goes to them this season. Karl Joseph, their 2016 first-round pick, was also added onto the team’s defense to aid the loss of long-time defensive back Charles Woodson.
And yet their defense, with all of its potential and talent, is ranked dead last in the league. It’s also an area where Oakland’s playoff longevity, or mere berth, could come to a screeching halt.
How bad is the Oakland ‘D’? Through the first six games of the season, the Raiders are allowing 6.9 yards per play to opposing offenses, which is pacing to be the worst for that category since the merger, per the AP’s Josh Dubow.
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) October 17, 2016
Although Oakland is receiving great praise for their quick turnaround—and let’s face it, 4-2 is a big turnaround—and despite the winning and impending forecast, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s job has been scrutinized, top players are underachieving, and the consistent failures on defense continue to emerge.
“It’s clear that we’re not operating the way we need to operate to play really good defense,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “It starts with the communication aspect. From sideline into the huddle, from the huddle amongst each other out there, and sometimes those problems are more difficult at home than they are on the road, for defense.”
Del Rio also reassured that the leadership on defense has been “pretty solid,” and that there’s no cause for concern. So, what ultimately seems to be the issue for Oakland’s defensive woes? It could be that they need just a player back.
That player being defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., who can’t return off the PUP until Week 9 against the Broncos.
Edwards Jr. hasn’t played or practiced since he injured his hip in the preseason opener against the Cardinals, and his absence on that defensive line hasn’t been felt more than it currently has.
He is, however, eligible to participate in practice now. First step Del Rio is hoping Edwards Jr. can accomplish is being able to do some running.
“I hope that he can begin running on the side,” Del Rio said. “He hasn’t done that yet. We think he’ll begin to run on the side this week. We’ll bring him into practice as soon as he’s cleared.”
Showcasing a disruptive rookie campaign, which was eventually cut short via a neck injury, Edwards Jr. is the type of talent that can clog up the middle and put pressure on the quarterback—something that’s been surprisingly lacking. One player doesn’t make a team, but one player can make a difference.
With Irvin and Khalil Mack occupying roles of knocking down signal-callers and pressuring the backfield, it’s bewildering to think this is where Oakland is severely insufficient. The Raiders have a total of eight sacks on the year, which sits them 28th in the NFL.
Red flags abound after reading that stat.
When Edwards Jr. is in the lineup, he can open the playing field for both Irvin and Mack to get that much-need pressure. Unfortunately, at the present time, there’s nobody even coming close to the contributions Edwards Jr. can provide, which is affecting their dynamic duo.
Given this is the second injury Edwards Jr. has endured in a year, the Raiders will surely exercise caution when it comes to rushing him back.
With how their defense is performing, though, it may make this a more rash decision.