MEXICO CITY — Back in April, when things were all rosy and positive and sports books across Nevada were taking large amounts of money on the Raiders to win the Super Bowl, defense was a popular theme around the franchise.
Having not believed off-season free agency offered enough value on the that side the ball, general manager Reggie McKenzie chose to draft a significant amount of it.
He believed it the best way to improve things.
Hold that thought.
He will likely be thinking the same thing next April.
The same issues that challenged the Raiders in a wild-card playoff run a year ago are the same ones that have, for the most part, delivered a 4-6 record this season.
They were front and center and all sorts of glaring Sunday, when the Raiders were overwhelmed and outclassed by the Patriots in a 33-8 laugher before 77,357 at Estadio Azteca.
The Raiders agreed to exchange a home game for returning to the high plateaus at the center of Mexico for a second straight season, but understand this: They could have played here or in Oakland or on the 62 acres of dirt and rock where the team’s stadium in Las Vegas will one day stand, and it still would have proved a New England rout.
Tom Brady, who completed his first 12 passes and threw for 339 yards yards and three scores, would have beaten them atop the Pico de Orizaba volcano or on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Raiders had no chance.
Brady finished 30-of-37.
The guy was cheered like Chicharito.
It was silly, really.
Did we mention the Raiders were coming off a bye?
“Not good,” Raiders safety Karl Joseph said. “We got embarrassed.”
The Raiders in 2016 ranked 24th in pass defense, allowing averages of 258 yards per game, a staggering 7.9 per reception and surrendered more 20-yard pass plays than Bill Belichick owns hoodies.
The dire numbers led to McKenzie drafting a cornerback (Gareon Conley) in the first round and a safety (Obi Melifonwu) in the second. In all, McKenzie choose six defensive players over seven rounds.
Conley never got going, battling arguably history’s most nagging shin injury that limited him to two games and seven tackles before being put on injured reserve and shut down for the season.
Melifonwu? The safety had played just seven defensive snaps before Sunday due to injury and, for some unknown reason, coaches chose to start him at cornerback in place of the injured David Amerson.
Predictably, Melifonwu lacked the foot speed needed to hold up on the outside and was burned for a 64-yard touchdown by Brandin Cooks.
“We need more production out of the (cornerbacks),” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’re willing to try just about anything, and we talked about being lean there and needing more production from that spot. (Melifonwu) is a talented kid and it was probably asking a little too much.
“We’re going to rotate those guys. We have got to do that until somebody starts playing well enough to stay in their full-time. “We’re not playing really well on the back end.”
Mexico City also has a lot of people and it’s hard to breathe here.
I’m not sure what cornerback Sean Smith, who has actually played better of late, thought of being passed over for the start by a rookie safety. I’m not sure it matters what Dexter McDonald thought, given how badly he performed in Miami two weeks ago.
Those in the secondary showed little instinct during the game, but most set world records for speed in departing the locker room after it.
There’s not much to say at 4-6, anyway.
It doesn’t help the side of the ball boosted in free agency hasn’t at all lived up to expectations, an offense that failed again Sunday making any significant difference. The Raiders can’t come close to winning a shootout right now when its defense struggles to this degree.
They just can’t execute nearly well enough.
It will make for an interesting time in April, when McKenzie will undoubtedly need to address some of the same weaknesses — cornerback, safety, pass rush — as he did last spring, because if you didn’t think the Raiders are still incredibly poor defensively, Chicharito Brady drove the point home in a ridiculous manner.
“No excuses,” said Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman. “You have to be 100 percent physically and mentally against (Brady). We’re asking some guys to do things they’re not accustomed to. But great players learn from their mistakes.”
On a positive note, the Raiders will have an entire film’s worth of those to study.
Karl Joseph said it right.
From the beginning, this was no está bien.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.