Raiders’ offense being slowed by own defense

Updated November 22, 2017 - 9:45 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — There is an irony to it all.

Much of this offseason was devoted toward the Raiders sharpening what already had been a productive offense. In the spring, the front office invested in veteran additions across every position, be it running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook, tackle Marshall Newhouse, wide receiver-returner Cordarralle Patterson or reserve quarterback EJ Manuel. Quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson also were signed to summer extensions.

The Raiders worked to build an offense that opposing defenses would have difficulty containing.

Indeed, their own defense has.

The team’s offensive numbers are down in many respects. Scoring is down. Yardage is down. Individual marks, all and all, are down. This downturn, however, largely is a product of the defense’s faltering, offering some perspective to the Tuesday dismissal of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

This isn’t to say Norton deserves all the blame; there is plenty to be shared.

But any fair discussion of how the Raiders’ offense has fared statistically this season requires attention toward the defensive struggles. The two are intertwined.

“We’re not getting enough opportunities offensively due to ineffectiveness defensively,” coach Jack Del Rio said Wednesday, part of an opening statement to a news conference in which he discussed Norton’s firing. “We’ve got to get the ball back for the offense. We’ve got to force turnovers, get off the field on third down. That’s what it is.”

Mainstream numbers are easy to cite.

The Raiders average 326.5 yards per game, ranked 21st in the NFL. They averaged 373.3 last year, good for sixth. The team averages 20.4 points, tied for 20th. That is down from seventh-best 26 points in 2016. Therefore, last year’s offense is significantly better than this year’s.

But those figures tell a fraction of the story.

Through the first 10 games, the Raiders have had 107 offensive drives, fourth-fewest in the NFL. At this same time last year, they had 121, tied for fourth-most.

The Raiders have run 591 offensive plays, second-fewest in the NFL. They finished 2016 with 1048 plays, which was 11th-most. This team is on pace for 946, more than 100 fewer.

It would be one thing if Oakland’s offense was failing to sustain drives or score points in the red zone.

The group, though, boasts a 40.8 third-down conversion rate, which is ninth-best in the NFL — and sufficiently better than last year’s 21st-best mark of 37.7 percent. The Raiders also have scored a touchdown on 61.9 percent of red-zone trips under offensive coordinator Todd Downing. That is tied for fourth-best in the NFL. Last year’s mark of 57.1 percent was 14th-best.

Then, there’s the defense.

It cannot get off the field.

The Raiders have allowed 46 percent of third-down conversion attempts, worst in the NFL. They’ve forced a three-and-out on 17.6 percent of drives, second-worst in the NFL. They’ve allowed nine touchdown drives that spanned at least 10 plays, tied for second-most in the NFL. They are the only defense in league history not to record an interception through the first 10 games of a season. Previously, the longest such streak was six games.

Del Rio offered another stat Wednesday to depict why the Raiders find themselves at 4-6.

“I think when you look at the biggest indicator, to me, it’s the turnover ratio,” Del Rio said. “Last year, we were plus-10 at this point. Right now, we’re minus-nine. Nineteen turnover differential. That is probably the biggest indicator about winning and losing in the National Football League.”

The Raiders have forced an NFL-low six takeaways in 2017. Their 30 takeaways in 2016 were second-most.

Quarterback Derek Carr is focused on what the offense can control.

“We need to hold up our end of it as an offense. That’s what I’m concerned about,” Carr said. “When we get a chance to score, we have to go do it. Just talking to our guys on the other side, they tell us, ‘Man, we got your back.’ Just like we tell them we got their back. It’s just one of those things that it works together. Like I️ said (to reporters last week), stats sometimes are misleading because of a lot of different things.”

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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