ALAMEDA -- The Raiders gave up 42 points to the Indianapolis Colts last week. They were gutted on the ground and dissected through the air without putting pressure on Andrew Luck.
It was a mess. It also was nothing new.
The Raiders are next to last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 31.1 points per game. They are next to last with six takeaways. They’re dead last stopping the run, dead last in total quarterback pressures.
They give up 407 yards per game and are on the field way too much. That’s why 28 points and a solid offensive effort was squandered against the Colts.
This season is full of poor defensive showings, but the Indy game shows things aren't getting any better.
“We’ve got to play better. What we showed on Sunday was unacceptable,” Guenther said. “I told you a few weeks back, I’m not used to giving up 42 points. This is new to me.
"The players have to understand that we have to play better team defense, we have to stop the run better. It’s not a missed assignment issue. It’s more of a physical issue.
"We lost leverage in coverage several times. We’re supposed to be outside leverage of a guy. The guy beats you on an outside route and that stuff can’t happen. I showed them those plays, and I said until we fix this stuff, we’re going to continue to get it. To me, who we’re playing against is the least of my concern.”
That last sentence referred to the question that spawned this answer, about the prospects of facing backup 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens on Thursday night when the Raiders travel to play their Bay Area rival.
Guenther’s point: The Raiders must focus inward, must fix fundamental problems first before anything else.
The Raiders have several defensive issues, from tackling to proper coverage technique, though a non-existent pass rush is the biggest.
The Raiders have 56 total quarterback pressures through seven games, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, which is the NFL’s worst total by a country mile. The Detroit Lions rank 31st, and they have 100 pressures thus far.
Trading Khalil Mack obviously hurts this effort. So does Bruce Irvin’s decreased role and unsteady production. So does the defensive line’s rookie influx, where Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall and Arden Key all play significant snaps.
Guenther and coach Jon Gruden point to terrible run defense as a reason why quarterbacks aren’t pressured. Pass-rushers need reps and opportunity. Steady rushing doesn’t allow for that.
That’s true, though there’s another problem point. There isn’t enough raw talent to get after the passer. Key is a quality player who needs seasoning. Irvin has three sacks but is not an every-down defender anymore. The Raiders don’t have many other true edge guys capable of disrupting from the outside. Hurst and Hall are like Key in that they’ll need experience and development to create steady inside pressure.
Guenther orchestrated plenty of good defense during his years running Cincinnati’s unit. He had Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap then. He doesn’t have those established pros now.
He has to get the best from the guys he has on the roster now.
“It’s not like Bruce Smith and Reggie White are going to walk off the bus and dress up as Raiders,” Guenther said. “You just keep working with them. To the guys we have, I said nobody is showing up here and the trade deadline is gone, so you don’t have to worry about that. We’ve got what we got on this team right now. We have to improve and improve quickly.”
Guenther has used the same trusted system used for years. It works, with the right pieces in place. Guenther admits he has had to call things a bit different to maximize talent on the roster.
“We’ve done some different things here than I’ve done in Cincinnati, based on the guys we have,” Guenther said. “At the end of the day, when they’re in a three-receiver set, there’s only so many different alignments you can line up in and coverages you can play. It’s pretty stagnant across the board in the league. Certainly, we’re trying to find guys that fit, and if we can’t find them, we adjust the plan accordingly with the guys that fit it.”