Raiders

Raiders hope additions, wolf-pack mentality improve pass rush in 2019

Raiders hope additions, wolf-pack mentality improve pass rush in 2019

NAPA – After signing with the Raiders in March, linebacker Brandon Marshall watched film of last year’s defense extensively in an effort to better learn his role for the upcoming season. Most of it wasn’t pretty, but Marshall quickly identified one glaring weakness that set the unit on a downward spiral.

“We had 13 sacks last year,” Marshall said. “I don’t care what DBs you have. Those guys can’t survive if the pressure’s not there. We have to create more pressure up front. We have to stop the run and play tighter coverage. We have to form an identity on defense.”

Marshall listed four ways to improve the defense, but the top priority’s crystal clear. The Raiders must get better rushing the pass. The 2018 Raiders didn’t have enough talent up front or enough options at a position where rotation is key. Fresh bodies are needed to rush the passer, which requires maximum effort on every play.

Take a look at the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line during their currently dominant era, or the Seattle Seahawks before that. They had guys moving in and out.

Last year, the Raiders line was fixed. With Khalil Mack traded and Bruce Irvin falling out of favor and eventually being cut, the Raiders didn’t have much.

“We had a base [defense line] and a nickel line, and they were the same guys,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “Now we have guys who can roll in fresh off the bench, playing 25-30 snaps pre game and give you good reps. We’re not having everybody playing first, second and third down. The more you can bring in waves of rushers, the better you’ll be.”

Maurice Hurst was one of those linemen weathering a difficult 2018, and one of the few able to generate pressure on the quarterback. There’s a different feel in this camp, with several expected to join the fight.

“I think we have a legitimate two deep right,” Hurst said. “We’re all helping, and we’re all going to play important roles going forward.”

Guenther will experiment with combinations up front this summer, but early bets are lining Josh Mauro, Johnathan Hankins, Justin Ellis and Clelin Ferrell up in the base defense. The sub packages will mix, but Ferrell, Maurice Hurst and Hankins/PJ Hall could be staples in the nickel, with Arden Key and Maxx Crosby coming in to help.

A truly dominant, Mack-esque pass rusher isn’t on this roster – in fairness, we have no idea what Ferrell will be in the short or long term – meaning sacks will have to come from the entire crew. One player (or two) can’t always save the day.

[RELATED: Abram impressing with trash-talk ability]

A pack mentality will be key here, with contributions mandatory from last year’s draft picks (Hurst, Hall and Key) and this year’s crew, namely Ferrell and Crosby.

“There is that voice in your head reminded you that we didn’t do that well last year,” Hurst said. “That’s motivation for us as players, and it makes the D-line want to do better and push each other every single play.”

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 17-10 win vs. Bengals

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USATSI

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 17-10 win vs. Bengals

OAKLAND – The Raiders didn’t bring their best to Oakland Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. They weren’t bad, not by any stretch, but had to battle a bit to beat the winless Cincinnati Bengals.

The 17-10 final score is absolutely all that matters here. The Raiders completed a perfect three-game homestand and have won five of their last seven games to join the AFC’s playoff race.

The Raiders will have to be better down the road, as early as next week against the New York Jets, and they know that.

But they fought hard and got another win at home to keep this good thing going.

There’s plenty of time to look at the big picture. Here’s how the Silver and Black graded out on this particular Sunday in our weekly Raiders report card:

Rushing offense

Josh Jacobs didn’t like his performance despite gaining 112 yards on 21. His 4.9 yards per attempt were above his season average and he ate up ground in chunks, but the rookie rusher was bothered by a red-zone fumble even after the game. He should have been. That’s a no-no.

The Raiders didn’t get much from other Raiders runners, with a 3.3-yards per carry average on the whole. That came against the NFL’s worst run defense – the Bengals had given up 173 yards per game entering Sunday – which probably increased frustration that the Raiders didn’t go off.

Grade: C

Passing offense

Derek Carr had a solid statistical day, much like Jacobs. The Raiders quarterback connected on his first 14 passes and finished with 292 yards and just four incompletions. Darren Waller was heavily involved, with five catches for 78 yards after getting some one-on-one or man coverage.

Hunter Renfrow had five catches for 66 yards, but a pass intended for him got picked. That was Carr’s first interception since Oct. 20, but still cut deep. The pass protection was lacking at times, which kept the air attack from finding a solid rhythm.

Grade: B-minus

Rushing defense

This is normally a team strength. Not on this day. The Bengals had 173 yards on 22 carries, for a whopping 7.3 yards per carry. Yeah. You read that stat line right. That normally means the Raiders lost a game. Not so here.

The Bengals still struggled on third down thanks to a terrible passing game. Joe Mixon gave the Raiders fits in last year’s matchup in Cincinnati and did so again Sunday, this time close to his Oakley home, totaling 86 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. This might’ve been the run defense’s worst showing of the season.

Grade: D

Passing defense

Ryan Finley struggled mightily in his second NFL start. The rookie completed just 13-of-31 passes for 115 yards and a Trayvon Mullen interception that sealed the Raiders' victory. The Silver and Black sacked him five times, including four from rookie edge rusher Maxx Crosby. One of them was a strip sack recovered by Maurice Hurst, though the Raiders gave the ball right back.

Newcomer Dion Jordan got in on the sack-tivity (get it?) in his first game as a Raider. The pass rush is starting to heat up now, with 10 sacks in the past two games. That’s a good sign for the defense as a whole, especially a secondary that is piecing a lineup together with Karl Joseph done for the season and Lamarcus Joyner out for the time being.

Grade: A

Special teams

Instead of kicking a long field goal late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders decided to punt to pin the Bengals deep for a final comeback attempt. Then A.J. Cole sent his punt into the end zone for a touchback. Not ideal, but not the end of the world. His 32.8-yard net punt average wasn’t great, and he put just one of five attempts inside the opposing 20. Daniel Carlson hit his only field-goal attempt, and it was a short one.

Grade: C

[RELATED: Jacobs hit hard by Tua injury]

Overall

The defense did more than enough to win. The offense feels like it didn’t do enough and still won. That’s the only important thing. Find a way to win a game. The Raiders did that for a third straight time thanks to more good coaching and enough good plays to beat the team on the other sideline. Do that enough and you’re playoff bound.

Grade: A

Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs unhappy with Raiders' offense in win vs. Bengals

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AP

Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs unhappy with Raiders' offense in win vs. Bengals

ALAMEDA – Raiders running Josh Jacobs had 112 rushing yards on 23 carries on Sunday against Cincinnati, the fourth time the rookie hit triple digits this season.

Jacobs couldn’t have cared less.

Quarterback Derek Carr completed his first 14 passes and hit on 24-of-29 passes for 292 yards and a triple-digit passer rating.

That stat line was met with a shrug.

The Raiders will gladly take a 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but they openly acknowledged an underwhelming offensive performance that must be improved against better competition.

“We could have had more,” Carr said. "Honestly, that's how I feel. I left the game and I get our stat book and I looked at it and I was like, 'They look pretty, but I could have played better.' I'm hard on myself. … I think that's the standard that Coach Gruden puts on me.”

Jacobs felt the same way, disappointed to leave plays unmade despite several highlights during the game.

“We left a lot of points out there as an offense,” Jacobs said. “I missed a couple holes. Honestly, It wasn’t a great game for me. I had 100-and-something yards or whatever, but there’s a lot to improve on.”

The Raiders offense had been humming. The unit had scored at least 24 points in six straight games over a 4-2 stretch. The unit was balanced, steady and impactful against some solid teams, creating the expectation that the Raiders should go off against a Bengals team ranked 22nd against the pass and dead last against the run.

That didn’t happen. The Raiders weren’t bad, either. Not by a long shot. They converted half of their third- and fourth-down attempts. They accumulated 386 yards of offense and had nine explosive plays of 20 yards or more.

They misfired a few times, which bothered both Carr and Jacobs after this win. Jacobs fumbled in the red zone – that’s a major no-no – and Carr threw his first interception since Oct. 20 when Bengals safety Jessie Bates III cut off a pass intended for Hunter Renfrow.

“[Josh] never wants to put the ball on the ground,” Carr said. “I threw an interception, he fumbled. If Coach is going to put the ball in our hands every single play, one of us, then we need to be better."

[RELATED: Jacobs hit hard by Tua injury]

This was a day where the Raiders held Cincinnati to 10 points, and just a field goal after the opening drive. After having to win so many high-scoring games, the offense didn’t have to do much in this one. They were productive but not efficient enough scoring, and the Raiders playmakers believe it didn’t do well enough even though the box score looks good.

“I'm never into fantasy stats or my stats or anything like that,” Carr said. “I'm into doing whatever Coach Gruden wants me to do at a high level. I didn't do that well enough today.”