Raiders defensive stats don’t look great. They’ve allowed 376 yards per game. Only two teams provide more. They give up 24 points per game, a sum ranked 21st in the NFL.
They’re No. 25 against the run and pass and dead last allowing 6.1 yards per play.
Those stats could be damning. Not for this group. The Raiders defense knows how to buckle down and perform in the clutch.
That’s especially true of late. The Raiders have allowed just 10 fourth-quarter points since the bye week. That’s a five-game stretch that includes three straight shut outs in the final period.
They’ve been good at the tail end of games all season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Raiders have outscored opponents 42-0 in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter. ESPN also reports that the 2006 New England Patriots and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went the whole season without allowing a point over the final three minutes, and both reached at least a conference title game.
That, as much as anything else, helps facilitate all these Raiders fourth-quarter comebacks. That’s complimentary football at its finest, and Raiders defenders know offense alone won’t cut it.
“We feel like it’s on us, that we have to close games out,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “If we don’t, it feels like we personally lost that game. Our guys do a great job of blowing up in key situations, getting off the field and sealing victories for us.”
The Raiders defense is especially good at holding late leads. Other teams get in obvious passing situations where Irvin and Khalil Mack can get after the quarterback and create impact plays. Irvin and Mack have combined for seven sacks and four forced fumbles in the fourth quarter. Safety Reggie Nelson also has three interceptions in the final period.
Clutch performance is obviously key, actions made easier because the Raiders remain fresh enough to remain impactful at the end.
“I think that the conditioning, the whole staff has done a great job of having the guys ready to finish strong,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “There’s a rotation that they’re on to make sure that their legs are really good toward the end of the game. The guys are really working well together as far as different guys playing. Then at the same time, execution; guys wanting to win, really putting it together and playing well as a team. I think the execution part of it, the communication part of it, guys really putting their will together to really finish strong has really been impressive.”
The Raiders have punctuated games well. They have 10 takeaways in the fourth quarter, and eight have resulted in points or a victory formation to help the Raiders consistently win games.
“The urgency picks up,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’re looking to play complementary football throughout 60 minutes, all three phases, but I think the key is to make the plays you need to make. Have situational awareness and make the plays you need to make in order to win the game. I feel like we’ve embraced that and have been successful with that.”