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Raiders should be targeting a starting linebacker in a trade

Updated October 28, 2019 - 7:23 pm

Jon Gruden told the media Monday that the Raiders will be looking for linebacker help before Tuesday’s 1 p.m. trade deadline.

That much was obvious in their 27-24 loss to the Texans.

And it shouldn’t just be for another special teams-first linebacker to replace Justin Phillips, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in the game.

If the Raiders are serious about contending for a playoff spot — and they should be because this team is good enough and within striking distance — then they need to be targeting a starting linebacker to replace Nicholas Morrow.

It’s through no fault of his own, really. When the season started, the 2017 undrafted free agent was behind Vontaze Burfict and Marquel Lee. When Burfict was suspended for the rest of the season and Lee suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve, Morrow was forced into action. The Raiders can’t wait until Week 13, which is the earliest Lee can return to play.

Who could be available for the Raiders? Two proven NFL starters come to mind, starting with Lavonte David of the Buccaneers. He should absolutely be the No. 1 target.

Tampa Bay, at 2-5, should be sellers at this deadline. David, 29, is one of the best 4-3 middle linebackers in the game. He is due about $5 million for the rest of the season and has one more year left on his deal at $10.75 million. David is worth it, and then some. He would make the Raiders much stronger up the middle and give them another needed playmaker in the front seven.

If the Raiders were looking for a cheaper alternative, Elandon Roberts of the Patriots could be available. He started 25 games the previous two seasons and has been a part of two Super Bowl winners, but is only averaging about 15 snaps per game this year in the Patriots’ very deep linebacking corps. Roberts has started in the middle for the Patriots and is well-suited for the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme.

Whoever it is, the Raiders badly need to upgrade Morrow’s spot. Out of the 50 NFL linebackers graded by ProFootballFocus.com, Morrow’s overall grade of 29.1 was the lowest in the league. On Sunday against the Texans, PFF had him missing three tackles and allowing seven receptions on 10 attempts. Those numbers are fairly accurate — Morrow basically looked lost the entire game.

On the fifth play, Morrow fell for a play fake — this would be a running theme — and tight end Jordan Akins was wide open for a 7-yard gain.

The biggest play on Houston’s first scoring drive happened because Morrow overpursued on a run fake to his left and lost track of tight end Darren Fells, who went for 23 yards. The touchdown to running back Duke Johnson to finish the drive was scored when Morrow was too aggressive in his coverage of Johnson and fell down. That led to an easy 12-yard pitch and catch from Deshaun Watson to Johnson.

In the second half, Morrow missed two tackles against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and contributed to the Texans’ two biggest plays on their final scoring drive.

On third-and-7 with 8:46 left, Morrow was in perfect position to take down running back Carlos Hyde as he took on a poor lead block by Akins. But Morrow stopped moving his feet and Hyde easily broke the arm tackle and went for 10 yards.

On the next play, Morrow stayed on Akins in pass coverage. The play was actually a run, and Hyde ran right by Morrow for a 9-yard gain.

And when the Raiders were trying to get a stop with 2:38 left, Morrow had Hyde dead to rights in the backfield, but he came in out of control and Hyde broke Morrow’s arm tackle for a 20-yard run.

Two plays later, with the Raiders out of timeouts at the 2:23 mark and desperate for a stop on second and 7, Morrow got caught up with Texans tackle Dan Skipper, was late releasing into coverage and wasn’t able to help in coverage against Fells, who broke loose from safety Karl Joseph for a 9-yard gain that iced the game.

Morrow didn’t appear to be the primary coverage player on that play, but he could have helped if his awareness was better.

The Raiders can’t afford that type of coverage in the second half of the season if they want to make the playoffs. Finding another starting linebacker at the trade deadline is imperative.

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Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at gbedard@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.

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