Raiders

Raiders' leaky defense has no answers for Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Raiders' leaky defense has no answers for Aaron Rodgers, Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers might be the most talented quarterback of all time. Green Bay’s signal caller certainly is in the conversation, a first-ballot hall-of-famer capable of making any throw at any speed.

He’s most always awesome, but rarely better than he was Sunday in a 42-21 victory over the Raiders, who could not slow him down despite their best efforts. Rodgers finished the day completing 25-of-31 passes for 429 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He also ran for another score.

“He’s one of the best of all time,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He made a couple of great audibles. He made a couple of great throws. He’s tough as hell, man. We hit him a few times and it didn’t bother him one bit. He did a great job, but we have to play better defensively. There’s no excuse giving up big plays like that.”

The Raiders gave up a ton. Nine, in fact, went for 21 yards or more. Three of them were touchdowns. Talk about explosive. 

Gruden’s right. That’s inexcusable.

Defensive linemen will say they didn’t get enough pressure up front. They hit Rodgers hard a few times, but Rodgers largely had time to slice and dice the secondary. The defensive backs say they have to cover better, communicate better and focus better.

They weren’t interested in a simple tip of the cap to someone who’ll one day wear a gold jacket. They looked inward and believe deep down they should’ve done better.

“He’s a great quarterback and was able to will his team to a win,” safety Karl Joseph said. “He’s so smart. He’s quickly able to see what defense you’re in. He can read your cards and make the smart decisions. He can run and create and buy time and can make all the throws.

“He is a great quarterback and runs a great team, but I think we beat ourselves today.”

Most every cornerback was victimized at one point, but Gareon Conley had a particularly frustrating day defending the run and pass. Without watching tape it was tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong allowing so many big plays.

“It was a combination of things,” Joseph said. “We just have to play better overall as a unit.”

The Raiders were upset by the result but promised to be resilient and grow from this defeat. They’ll have to do so quickly with DeShaun Watson and the Houston Texans coming up next week.

[RELATED: Rodgers had historic day in dismantling Raiders' defense]

“It’s frustrating because we know we have talent in the secondary and the front seven,” safety Erik Harris said. “We just have to eliminate explosive plays and have better eyes on our man. The biggest disappointment is that we did things that were uncharacteristic. Whenever you lose a game like this you have to examine why did that and why we were playing like we know we can.

"Everybody’s positive in the locker room. We’re going to learn, improve and do better next week.”

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players

The Raiders signed several free agents we can immediately insert into the starting lineup. Put Nick Kwiatkoski at middle linebacker and Cory Littleton at weakside linebacker right now. Go ahead. Use permanent ink.

Those guys shouldn’t leave the field. Unless something goes really wrong, they won’t have to compete for spots. Last year’s starting linebackers no longer on the roster.

There are others, however, who will battle incumbents for playing time, starting spots or for prominent a role in a rotation. The Raiders upgraded their roster several times in free agency, and definitely increased the level of competition on the roster. That will happen again after the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Raiders have two first-round picks and five selections in the first 91.

Before that happens, let’s take a look at how some of the new free-agent additions will impact longer-term Raiders heading into the 2020 seasons.

DT Maliek Collins

The former Dallas Cowboy isn’t here to take Maurice Hurst’s job. It’s entirely possible, even likely, they play together in obvious passing situations as the team’s most athletic interior rushers.

Who pairs with Johnathan Hankins on rushing downs and in the base package is a bit up in the air, and Collins could take that job if he earns it. He played 763 defensive snaps last year, including 271 against the run. The Raiders typically have four defensive tackles on the roster and P.J. Hall makes that group right now, but Jon Gruden threw a shot across his bow in a meeting with reporters at the NFL combine. He’ll have to step up to fend off challenges from Daniel Ross, whom Rod Marinelli worked with in Dallas, and anyone else who comes via the draft.

Collins is a solid player, especially rushing the passer and fending off double teams, as this ESPN graphic shows:

Collins is going to play a lot, meaning others may play less with a new guy in the group.

Carl Nassib

The Raiders reportedly are paying the edge rusher handsomely, securing his services with a three-year, $25 million contract with $17 million guaranteed. That sum suggests a starting spot, but that shouldn’t be assumed.

Maxx Crosby will anchor one end on all three downs, and the Raiders expect to get better production from 2019 No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell on the other side. The Clemson product was solid against the run and knows he must be better rushing the passer. He vowed to come back a brand-new play in Year 2, and his work ethic and drive could bring about a production jump.

Nassib could fit in as a situational pass rusher on third down, possibly taking snaps from Ferrell in those situations. He can be a standup rusher as well, possibly playing some strongside linebacker if required considering he has some coverage experience. Time will tell on that.

Nassib’s a significant upgrade over Benson Mayowa in run defense, so he could play more often if he earns additional responsibility. Nassib is capable of playing all three downs, giving the Raiders an option should Ferrell’s second season not go as planned.

Jeff Heath

The Raiders have an experienced, solid option to start at free safety. That’s a role Erik Harris played in 2019, and he certainly won’t hand over that job without a fight. It could turn into a full-scale position battle if another safety isn’t added in the draft, as those two could fight for the right to pair with Johnathan Abram in the middle of the secondary.

It looks like a fair fight and could be a close one this summer.

The Raiders could use an extra body at safety, considering Abram, Harris, Heath and Dallin Leavitt are the primary options there. At this point, the position group doesn’t seem set.

Nelson Agholor

The Raiders will upgrade their receiver corps in the NFL draft. They just have to. If a top option is added, that won’t impact Tyrell Williams’ gig. He should start in 2020 and play a ton if he’s healthy.

Agholor could step in if the rookie(s) underwhelm in the preseason, but Zay Jones is the incumbent most impacted. Jones never gained Derek Carr’s trust in 2019, and Agholor’s addition could push him to the No. 5 receiver spot or off the roster completely if he doesn’t perform well in the preseason.

[RELATED: Raiders bet big, 49ers surprise among NFL draft bold predictions]

Marcus Mariota

The veteran quarterback isn’t on this list because he’s in a real competition to take Derek Carr’s gig. Derek Carr is the starting quarterback. Marcus Mariota is the backup. The position group is deeper, but Carr is the guy familiar with this offense. The Raiders are surrounding him with talent that will allow Carr to thrive in the team’s first season playing in Las Vegas.

Mariota should push Carr and help him in the meeting room and on the practice field and could get more quality out of him.

NOTE: Eli Apple isn’t mentioned because he’s currently set to take a starting spot from Daryl Worley, now an unrestricted free agent not expected to return. It’s also believed the Raiders will address the cornerback spot in the draft and create competition there. We’ll address Apple’s role closer after the draft.

NFL free agency: How Raiders stack up with Chiefs, AFC West rivals

NFL free agency: How Raiders stack up with Chiefs, AFC West rivals

NFL free agency hit like a tidal wave last week, as some of the league's best players headed for news homes with better paychecks.

The AFC West was at the forefront of the dealing as the Raiders, Los Angles Chargers and Denver Broncos do whatever they can to close the gap between themselves and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

So, as NBC Sports Bay Area Raiders insider Scott Bair and I discussed on the latest edition of The Raiders Talk Podcast, let's grade how each AFC West team did and see where the Silver and Black now stack up against their rivals.

Raiders

Additions: Marcus Mariota, Jason Witten, Cory Littleton, Eli Apple, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jeff Heath, Carl Nassib, Nelson Agholor, Maliek Collins, Daniel Ross and Nick O'Leary.
Subtractions: Tahir Whitehead, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley

The Raiders' defense got a lot better with the addition of Littleton and Kwiatkoski, two three-down, play-making linebackers who can cover tight ends. Littleton, 26, is a great athlete, a sure tackler and adept at rushing the passer. Those additions were made to help combat Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce who has been a nightmare in the pattern. The addition of Apple, should he become consistent, gives the Raiders a physical corner to put on the likes of Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to try and slow down the track team in KC.

Grade: A-minus. The Raiders got loads better on defense. While they whiffed on Byron Jones and Chris Harris, they still made wholesale improvements and the additions at linebacker should allow them to better defend the Chiefs -- in theory.

Denver Broncos

Additions: A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey, Graham Glasgow, Melvin Gordon, Nick Vannett, Sam Martin Jeff Driskel
Subtractions: Chris Harris, Joe Flacco, Conor McGovern, Will Parks

I really like what the Broncos did on defense. They traded for Bouye, giving them a No. 1 corner and a healthy Bryce Callahan should help them lessen the blow of losing Harris in the slot. They then somehow got the Titans to trade them Casey, who still is a productive player.

Adding Glasgow is a good addition to what was a suspect offensive line last year. There's still no reason why they should have given Melvin Gordon $8 million a year, when they have Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Gordon looked slow, unathletic and couldn't hold onto the ball last season. Maybe I should try out for the Broncos?

Grade: B. I love the defensive additions and if Bradley Chubb returns healthy this will be one of the better defenses in the NFL. They didn't get another receiver opposite Courtland Sutton and appear to be convinced Drew Lock is the guy. Best of luck.

Kansas City Chiefs

Additions: Mike Remmer, Antonio Hamilton
Subtractions: Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Ogbah, Stefen Wisniewski

The Chiefs' roster is stacked and they know the bill for Mahomes is coming due soon. They lost one corner in Fuller and the other starting corner Bashaud Breeland currently is a free agent. That's a big issue for a defense that started to come on toward the end of the season. 

But they franchise-tagged Chris Jones and were able to retain Mike Penne and Anthony Sherman. They'll have a decision to make with Sammy Watkins, who currently is the highest-paid player on the roster, but the champs did well to keep most of the group together.

Grade: B-minus. Losing both starting cornerbacks hurts. But they still have Mahomes and the most dynamic offense in the league.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for 2020 NFL Draft]

Los Angeles Chargers

Additions: Chris Harris, Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Linval Joseph and Nick Vigil
Subtractions: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Thomas Davis, Russell Okung, Derek Watt, Travis Benjamin and Adrian Phillips

The Bolts were wheeling and dealing. They waved goodbye to franchise quarterback Philip Rivers and took a swing at Tom Brady. They missed. So they currently are planning to go into the season with Tyrod Taylor as the starter. It's not great. They should give Cam Newton a call whenever they can get him in for a physical, but that could take some time due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Adding Harris and Joseph to a defensive unit that already includes Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Casey Hayward means this could be one of the best units in football if healthy.

They also franchise-tagged Hunter Henry and kept Austin Ekeler around. It's a complete roster except for the most important position in sports.

Grade: B-plus. This has room to go up if they sign Newton or give the keys to Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. Taylor is a solid NFL backup quarterback. But this roster is loaded and that defense has the parts to at least combat the best weapons the Chiefs have. Just have to find a quarterback.

The AFC West is one of the deepest divisions in the NFL.

The three teams chasing the Chiefs each made moves to try and stake claim to the No. 2 spot in the division and a shot at the wild-card spot.

The Raiders did well to bulk up their defense and surely will add more important pieces come draft time. Their offensive line when healthy can hold up against the best rushers in the division. With improved quarterback play from Derek Carr or a relief appearance from a reborn Marcus Mariota, the Raiders have the pieces to be the second-best team in the AFC West. They still are a couple of leagues behind the Chiefs, but that will happen when you are chasing a generational talent who has yet to enter his prime.

I expect the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos to beat up on each other in what looks like a relatively even AFC West after the Chiefs.

The Silver and Black are on the rise. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have a clear plan and are executing it, choosing to play the long game in a multi-year rebuild. They've checked some boxes and have more holes to fill -- most notably wide receiver and cornerback -- but I expect them to compete for eight or nine wins and a wild-card spot if things go right.