‘Key’ to Raiders defense has yet to turn the ignition
Defensive tackle Maliek Collins is struggling to find his footing with the Raiders through three games.
During training camp, Raiders coach Jon Gruden referred to defensive tackle Maliek Collins as the key to the team’s defense. So far, that key hasn’t been able to fit in the ignition.
The defensive tackle has just two tackles and has yet to be a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage. Pro Football Focus has scored his play at 43.4 out of 100 for the season, which ranks 112th out of 119 interior defensive linemen in the league.
He does have a slightly better grade (52.0) in pass rush than he does against the run (40.6).
Gruden said he met with Collins, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Cowboys, on Monday.
“He’s going to play better,” Gruden said. “I think he’s trying to do too much right now. I think he’s trying his best. I really like his effort. We expect a lot more obviously and I’m confident we’ll get that from him.”
Gruden said he thought the defense played extremely well in the first half Sunday against the Patriots. The second half, though, was a different story. “I’m disappointed in the outcome of the game and particularly some of the big runs that hit us in the second half.”
Collins is far from the only problem for a defense that was gashed for 250 yards on the ground. Johnathan Abram took quite a bit of criticism for some missed opportunities to tackle ball-carriers in the open field.
The first problem, according to Gruden, is that running backs shouldn’t be getting to the second level of the defense untouched.
“We can’t let these runners get up on our safeties one-on-one,” he said. “The runners get paid too.”
Still, Abram must learn to balance his aggressiveness and unbridled enthusiasm for making big hits with an understanding of the importance of needing to make the sure play.
“You rewind it and say, ‘Man, he should make that tackle or the angle wasn’t appropriate,’” Gruden said. “There’s a time and a place for going for the big hit and there’s another time and place for just coming to balance and trying to make an open-field grass tackle. That’s something we need to work on.”
In the end, the entire defensive unit has to share in the responsibility for what went wrong on Sunday.
“Number one, we obviously missed some tackles,” Gruden said. “When you miss tackles, that’s a hard thing. Yards add up. Number two, we had some guys out of their gaps. We lined up wrong one time and had a couple times where we didn’t get in our gaps appropriately on blitzes. When you make mistakes in a one-gap defense and miss a few tackles, the yardage can add up. That’s what happened yesterday.”
The decision by the Raiders to not place offensive tackle Trent Brown and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski signaled the potential they could return within three games.
That would mean there is a chance one or both could play Sunday against the Bills.
“I am hoping so, but some of these injuries are hard to be exact on in terms of the timetable, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Gruden said. “Both men are improving and we need them back in the lineup. We are missing some key ingredients to the stew right now.”
Another of those ingredients, backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, is eligible to come off injured reserve and begin a 21-day evaluation period. Gruden said the team is close to beginning that process.
Tanner Muse is also eligible to come off injured reserve, though his activation isn’t as imminent.
The Raiders are also awaiting word on their two rookie receivers. Henry Ruggs, who missed Sunday’s game, and Bryan Edwards, who was hurt during the loss, are both still being evaluated with leg injuries.
“We are concerned about both those guys, but I’ll remain confident until further notice,” Gruden said.
Practice squad addition
The Raiders added wide receiver Robert Davis to the practice squad on Monday.
Davis was a sixth-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2017 and has played in regular-season games with the Redskins and Eagles.
He had one career catch for each team, with both going for first downs.
The 25-year-old played at Georgia State.
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