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Struggling Raiders defense looking for answers, consistency

Updated October 18, 2022 - 9:03 pm

By any measure, the Raiders’ defense has not performed at a dependable level through the first five games.

The 1-4 Raiders rank 28th in the league in average points given up per game at 26.0. They are tied for last in takeaways with three and rank dead last in defensive red zone efficiency, allowing opponents to score 14 touchdowns on their 17 trips to the Raiders’ 20-yard-line or beyond.

Their eight sacks are the second fewest in the NFL, and the 254 yards they are surrendering through the air is 24th in the league.

Aside from their run defense, which ranks fifth in the NFL at 103.2 yards per game, and the MVP-level play of defensive end Maxx Crosby, the Raiders’ defense has been a disappointment.

“I know the players that put it on themselves at times, but it’s my job to have us prepared to stop what we’ve got to stop,” said Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. “It’s my job to get them executing the way they need to execute. My answer won’t change on that. It’s always on me.”

No, the offense has not been perfect. But if you are looking for the main culprit for why the Raiders find themselves tied for the worst record in the NFL, the defense deserves more than its share of the blame.

More importantly, if you are looking at ways the Raiders can get their season back on track and put themselves in position to make a playoff run, getting the defense to play better football is priority number one.

“The beauty of this league and why I love the challenge of it is that nothing you did last year or even last week really matters,” said Graham, who spent a good part of the Raiders’ bye week dissecting what went wrong over the first five games and how to fix it.

On paper, the Raiders get a little bit of a break with their schedule. The next six weeks offer a lower level of competition compared to the first five games — beginning with Sunday’s home game against the Texans at Allegiant Stadium.

Although with the NFL scoring margin sitting at a historically low 8.9 points per game, nobody — and least of all the Raiders at this point — should be looking down on anyone on their schedule.

Especially with emerging cornerback Nate Hobbs landing on the injured reserve list with broken bones in his right hand. Hobbs, one of the Raiders’ best defenders along with Crosby and linebacker Denzel Perryman, represents a huge loss.

“Always next man up,” Graham said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.”

Forging a more effective path forward encompasses improving their pass rush, communication and tackling, and eliminating some of the mental errors that have resulted in big plays and touchdowns given up.

Like the four touchdowns they surrendered to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce after essentially shutting him out everywhere on the field but in the red zone. Kelce finished with seven catches for only 25 yards, but broke the Raiders’ back with the four scores.

It punctuated an ongoing issue for the Raiders, who have been a sieve near their goal line. It’s a bit of a surprise as the assumption was they were adding an asset in the red zone in Graham, whose New York Giants’ defense last year ranked fifth in the NFL.

“It starts with me,” Graham said, owning the Raiders’ woes thus far. “In terms of I’ve got to coach it better. In terms of getting the guys prepared better, I’m sure there’s a few calls I wish I had back.”

While Graham did his fair share of looking back during the bye week trying to get a better handle on things, he begins the week back to action looking ahead. The Texans ranked 10th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown scoring percentage, which has certainly caught the eye of Graham.

“We’re getting back to the drawing board, probably starting a little early on red area trying to get it fixed,” said Graham.

That goes for the whole defense,

“It’s going to start in practice,” Graham said. “I can’t stress that enough. It starts with practice and we’ve got to become more consistent out there on the field. Because there have been some good quarters of football. But again, nobody cares about that. “You’ve got to string together 60 minutes.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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