Raiders

Help wanted: Raiders defense must improve 'at all levels'

Help wanted: Raiders defense must improve 'at all levels'

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season, with the talent required to make a playoff run. Not, however, without their MVP. Quarterback Derek Carr’s broken fibula brought the season crashing down, with the Raiders losing both games played without him. The last was a playoff flop at Houston that closed proceedings for good.

While few teams could absorb a franchise quarterback’s loss, especially with the timing of Carr’s injury, the MVP candidate covered up some weaknesses general manager Reggie McKenzie hopes to fortify this offseason.

Fixing a flawed defense tops the agenda.

“We’re just going to have to improve in every area,” McKenzie said a few weeks back. “We’re going to have to figure out the players, number one. We’re going to have some free agents and we’re going to have to overcome some injuries that we had late, but we should be okay with that.

“We feel like, at each level, we need improvement. That’s D-line, linebackers and the DB’s. We need to get better at all levels. We really do. I don’t think we’re locked in anywhere as far as position.”

That’s especially on the interior. Let’s take a look at some areas where the Raiders need an upgrade.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The Raiders struggled getting solid push up the middle from their defensive tackles. While that position group was hampered with Mario Edwards Jr. out 14 games with a hip injury, more is required from the interior pass rush.

The Raiders had a league-low 25 sacks, and 19 of them came from edge rushers. That has to change, which head coach Jack Del Rio made clear shortly after the season.

“The interior pass rush, it’s critical for us to get that going. We were not nearly effective enough. I think Stacy (McGee) had the 2.5 sacks in there and Mario, we got Mario back late and he wasn’t a huge factor. (Jihad Ward) wasn’t a huge factor, Denico (Autry) played with that wrist all year and he wasn’t (as effective).

“I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push. That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”

Defensive tackle could be a target in free agency or high in the NFL draft. There could be some turnover as well. Dan Williams’ salary could be trimmed without penalty, and McGee is an unrestricted free agent, and Ward might be better suited developing as a rotational player.

INTERIOR LINEBACKER

Expiring contracts leave the Raiders with a skeleton crew at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker, positions generally posted in the middle of the field in coverage and against the run. Ben Heeney (recovering from ankle surgery) and Cory James are the only options under contract. Perry Riley and Malcolm Smith started there, and both guys are set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Riley could be brought back to add a veteran presence in the middle. Coaches like Smith, though he may have played too key a role in recent seasons. He could return or the Raiders could look for an upgrade in search of speed and sure tackling at that spot.

EDGE RUSHER

Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were obviously strong getting after the quarterback, but there was no support behind them. Depth is needed at this spot. Shilique Calhoun wasn’t effective enough as a rookie sub, though Aldon Smith could be a huge addition if he’s reinstated. He’s an excellent pass rusher, and could help especially in sub packages. His reinstatement could come in March and would impact how the Raiders proceed in this area.

CORNERBACK

Many fans were disappointed in the return on investment from Sean Smith, but he wasn’t all bad and should benefit from offseason shoulder surgery and another year in the Raiders system. David Amerson wasn’t as good as 2015 following a contract extension last summer, but it’s reasonable to expect him and Smith to start outside again. DJ Hayden is a free agent and could be brought back, though TJ Carrie fared well despite a hamstring tear. One can’t have too many good cornerbacks, so a draft pick is certainly possible here.

SAFETY

The starting lineup seems set with Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson and 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph. Depth is required, especially if Nate Allen signs elsewhere in free agency. A versatile player could help in the back, and Nelson’s replacement could be groomed right away, with the Pro Bowler playing next season at 34 and in a contract year.

Raiders vs. Cardinals live stream: Watch 2018 NFL Week 11 game online

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USATSI

Raiders vs. Cardinals live stream: Watch 2018 NFL Week 11 game online

The Raiders have had to make changes all week due to poor air quality in the Bay Area. What effect that has will be determined soon when they play the Cardinals Sunday in Arizona. 

Is this the week the Raiders get their second win of the season? How much will the absences of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant hurt the offense? Can Derek Carr out-play rookie Josh Rosen?

We're about to find out.

Here's how to watch Sunday's Raiders-Cardinals NFL game online. 

Start time: Sunday, Nov. 18, at 1:05 p.m. PT
TV channel: CBS
Raiders live stream: fuboTV -- Get a free trial

Raiders' Week 11 prep still impacted by poor air quality from Camp Fire

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AP

Raiders' Week 11 prep still impacted by poor air quality from Camp Fire

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders downgraded their practice to a walk-through for the second consecutive day because of poor air quality, again moving off-site to work indoors at a local sports complex.

While anyone in Silver and Black is careful to point out that inconveniences brought about by thick smoke in the Bay Area are inconsequential to the lives, homes and other property lost in the Camp Fire itself, the Raiders are at a disadvantage while preparing for Sunday’s road game against the Arizona Cardinals. 

They haven’t conducted a full-speed practice since Wednesday, and even that was conducted in poor air quality. Conditions have worsened dramatically over the past few days, with unhealthy conditions for even normal, healthy adults.

Had a home game been scheduled for Sunday, the NFL surely would’ve moved it to another location. The Environmental Protection Agency gave air quality an unhealthy score of 159 before the previous game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The EPA’s air quality score in Oakland was 256.

Smoky air drove the Raiders indoors, where they got in reps but none at full speed. They don’t have the space or quality surface to do real football work, but the Raiders are making do.

“We’re practicing in an indoor ice rink that was [converted] to a soccer field,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “We didn’t have much room to get the splits and get the routes run. We’re not going to make any excuses. We’re not the only people dealing with adversity right now.”

That last part is true, but this week’s prep wasn’t complete, and it could impact their ability to earn the season’s second win against a beatable opponent.

“The practices have impacted us. You need to see things at speed to generate timing," Gruden said. "Switching stunts in a walk-through in an indoor facility is one thing, in a controlled fashion. Switching them on a practice field at full speed is another. Timing out routes, seeing it at speed. That’s why you see a lot of indoor facilities around the league. It gets bad outside, they go inside. Fortunately for us, we were able to find a place to get some work in.”