ALAMEDA – The Raiders defense ranks among the NFL’s worst in yards allowed after eight games. There are, however, signs of life.
Their yardage totals went down in four consecutive weeks, with a season-best 270 over essentially five quarters in a 30-24 overtime victory at Tampa Bay. That’s only 23 yards less than the Denver Broncos average, but defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. sees it as a step in the right direction.
Not great, but better.
The Raiders have gotten by thanks to solid third-down defense and frequent, timely takeaways. They’ve been plagued in other areas where Norton saw improvement against Tampa Bay -- consistency and preventing the big play.
The Raiders only allowed two “explosive” plays – passes of 20-plus yards, runs of 10-plus – and were steadier against the Buccaneers.
“It’s a matter of really limiting those explosives, playing and executing ball for the entire game,” Norton said Thursday. “Not having times where we kind of let up a little bit, but at the same time, really seeing them execute for the entire five quarters. They’ve really set a high standard. Now it’s about being consistently playing at that high standard.”
Norton’s defense is premised on making things simple to play fast and not giving up the big play.
The Raiders defense had to hunt and peck at positives early on. Now there are broader strokes to be proud of during a continued work in progress.
“We’ve been seeing some good things on film, but only in segments,” linebacker Malcolm Smith said. “Now we’re starting to see things we’re practicing well show up more consistently on game day.”
Look, the defense knows too many flags are flying their way, including two for having 12 men on the field against Tampa Bay, on third down no less. Those pre-snap penalties and substitution errors won’t fly, and the coaches won’t dwell much on them after initial corrections.
At 6-2, they’d rather focus on positives.
The Raiders are executing better, and the yardage totals have dropped. If those totals improve and the defense’s third-down defense continues, this unit should improve.
“It’s kind of what we’ve expected, you know?” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Doing some good things and there’s still some things to clean up there as well. But, yeah, coverage is tighter. We’re much more sound, not letting anything get behind us.”
The Raiders still stepped up in the clutch against Tampa Bay, with three straight three-and-outs to close the win and a yardage total finally deemed respectable.
“When I heard 270, it was very pleasing,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “We’ve been averaging a lot more than that. It just shows that we have the guys we need to compete at a high level. As long as guys do their assignment and we leave it out on the field for each other, you see the results.”