The Raiders pass rush has picked up its pace and productivity in recent weeks. The Silver and Black have eight sacks during their two-game winning streak, a significant increase for a team that was dead last in that category a fortnight past.
“It’s definitely been what we’re looking for,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “The guys are cutting it loose and playing a little more aggressively.”
There’s credit to share. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Denico Autry are doing their thing. New defensive play-caller John Pagano has used disguise and player movement to create confusion and favorable matchups.
Del Rio also gave gold stars to a beleaguered group.
“When there is a little tighter coverage, you start holding it a little bit and then the sacks come,” Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “I think they go hand-in-hand. I think you see the uptick in sacks, I think you see players having tighter coverage and doing a better job.”
That’s impressive considering those covering the most. TJ Carrie, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald have manned the cornerback spot the last month-plus, while David Amerson nurses an ailing foot. First-round pick Gareon Conley is on injured reserve after having surgery on his shin. Needless to say, this isn’t the group the Raiders planned to roll out.
They’ve been doing better, albeit against bad Denver and New York Giants teams the past two games. McDonald in particular stood out, with just three catches allowed for 14 yards on six targets. He also had two passes defensed.
Smith missed a tackle that turned a short pass into a 29-yard gain -- he gambled trying to break up the pass -- but it was his only catch allowed.
Cornerbacks can help the pass rush by preventing separation an extra second or so, enough time to allow pass rushers to get home. Good things happen when Mack and Irvin are around the quarterback. Both guys had strip sacks against the New York Giants in key moments of a seven-point victory.
“We pride ourselves on getting turnovers,” Irvin said Sunday night. “We didn’t have many early, but they’re starting to come. We have three in two weeks. They say turnovers come in bunches, and we have to keep pushing for them.”