OAKLAND -- Jack Del Rio is considered a defensive mind, and after two weeks of the current Oakland Raiders season, his mind has mostly been occupied with how much blame he needs to take for the hot sloppy mess that is his own defense.
So he did what coaches do after watching his team get waxed, buffed, polished and put in the front window by Atlanta Sunday. He took the blame for not coaching his defense up, while making it pretty damned clear that his team’s four-figure failure has been mostly a multi-headed mental error – a mega-confused hydra, if your bent is toward Greek mythology.
But on the likelihood that it isn’t (I mean, when was the last time you invoked Zeus in everyday conversation?), let’s haul out the season numbers now that they have been burnished by the Falcons’ 35-28 victory in what could be this team’s next last home opener ever.
- 1,035 yards allowed, last in the NFL.
- 69 points allowed, next to last.
- 808 passing yards allowed, last.
- 8.02 yards per play, last.
- 131.4 opponent passer rating, way last.
- 54 first downs allowed, 30th.
There are other more involved metrics that will explain the conundrum as well, but what we have here is your basic team that cannot yet be trusted to stop people in vital times or in benign ones. They’ve scored nine offensive touchdowns and are lucky in many ways to be 1-1.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Raiders on losing end of shootout with Falcons]
Thus, when Del Rio said after being asked whether his defense’s issues were physical or mental, he said, “A lot of mental. A lot of mental, which I take full responsibility for. We have to make sure we’re teaching it better and make sure our guys understand what we’re asking them to do . . . It’s nowhere near the standard I expect us to play at. It’s not near what it needs to be.”
The message he sends here is clear. Either this is a bad coaching/teaching staff, which he surely is unwilling to concede, or too many of his players, most notably in the secondary, aren’t grasping what they’re teaching, and the punishment is clear. They get torn asunder, as the Brits like to say.
One play Del Rio referenced was a third-and-3 for the Falcons at their own 20 with 1:56 left. Mohamed Sanu was left absurdly open on a short pass over the middle for 15 yards and essentially robbed the Raiders of a chance to get the ball with decent field position with 1:40 to go rather than the :02 with which they had to work.
Or, as you might remember from the five-lateral nothingburger the Raiders tried to build, the :02 with which they had to not come close to working.
“It’s a mental error that allows an easy completion on that third down,” Del Rio fumed. “You have to have tight coverage in that situation. If they make a great throw and catch, so be it. At some point you have to make a play if you’re going to win the game.”
And the message from the first two games is that the plays are all being made on the offensive side.
“I think there’s a lot of different things that will come off as alibis, and I’m not really in the mood to sit here and try to give any,” Del Rio said. “We need to get certain things done in order to be effective on defense.
Del Rio admitted he called some defensive plays on the last drive, which is indicative at the very least of his frustration, and when asked about the lack of pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, he said, “I’ve always said that good team pass defense is good rush and coverage. I feel like the rush is ready to go. We’re not getting enough coverage.”
That, too, is a message straight to the roster that too many details are going wanting, too many tackles are inadequately applied (maybe they’re watching that NFL Heads Up video package), and too many coverages (both the defensive backs and linebackers, since Atlanta tight ends Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo caught 10 of 13 passes for 180 yards and a score) are too soft and/or undisciplined to be effective.
The Raiders’ next two opponents are the modestly offensive Tennessees and Baltimores, so we will know more about whether the Raiders are just susceptible to above-average passing attacks, or whether this is a fundamental problem that will be addressed but never quite repaired.
But Jack Del Rio knows what he’s after, and what he is likely to be after this week is all things defense. He isn’t the type to enjoy shootouts every week with firing a few shots back.