Raiders, Paul Guenther optimistic defense will see significant upgrades

Raiders, Paul Guenther optimistic defense will see significant upgrades

MOBILE, Ala. – Paul Guenther ran a talent-deficient Raiders defense last season. The respected coordinator lost Khalil Mack to a trade before the season started, and Bruce Irvin was less-than. dominant, then phased out and then cut.

Several veteran free-agent signings didn’t pan out at linebacker, safety and cornerback. The Raiders got really, really young as the year went on, which produced some unsightly statistics near the bottom of most important categories.

Leading that charge wasn’t terribly fun. Guenther has a spring in his step here at the Senior Bowl.

The Raiders roster tear down is over. The rebuild is underway, with plenty of tools to expedite the process.

The Silver and Black have four picks in the top 35 NFL draft selections, including the fourth overall. They also have roughly $71 million in salary cap space without a major extension coming on the horizon.

That has brought optimism back to the Silver and Black.

[RELATED: How Raiders Mike Mayock's experience, relationships can assist draft]

“We have draft capital now, and we have the ability to go out and get guys in free agency,” Guenther said on Wednesday night. “We were hamstrung a little bit last offseason with the Khalil (Mack holdout, and then trade), in terms of bringing free agents in with the salary-cap situation then. We obviously didn’t have as many picks back the as we do now.

“It’s an exciting time for us, but we really have to do our homework. We’ll be going across the country, turning over every rock to find guys who fit us.”

The Raiders can stay put here in Mobile, Ala. and really evaluate players invited to the Senior Bowl. Jon Gruden, Guenther and the Raiders staff are coaching the North squad this week, and will have a day’s access to the 49ers-run South team on Friday.

That will allow coaches to get a firm grasp on draft prospects – a select few will be taken high – largely available on the NFL draft’s second or third day.

“When you go to the combine, you don’t really know the guy walking into the interview room,” Guenther said. “We have a real advantage coaching here, getting a feel for how guys are in the meeting room and how they transfer what they’re learning to the practice field. You get so much more time with these guys that you’re so much farther along in your evaluation than you typically would be.

“Some of these guys may not go until the fourth or fifth round but, to me, you can really make your team in rounds 4-7 and (undrafted) free agency,” Guenther said. “If you can hit on one or two guys there and they can become a really good team.”

The Raiders are expected to go defense heavy in the draft, especially early in the selection process. That side of the ball needs upgrades at every level, especially edge rusher, middle linebacker and safety.

Gruden has final say and general manager Mike Mayock will have significant input, but Guenther will have a loud voice in talent acquisition. He wants players who fits the scheme, or top talents he can fit a scheme to accentuate.

Edge rushers get most of the attention at the Senior and throughout the pre-draft process considering how many top talents should go early in the first round, but Guenther believes the defensive class is deep. The Raiders have prioritized needs but won’t reach for a particular position at a particular spot.

That won’t be a huge problem considering the depth of this year’s draft well.

“It’s a deep class for defensive players across the board,” Guenther said. “There are quite a few rushers. It seems like there are more and more every year that come out. There are some good cornerbacks in this draft. We have to do a good job of stacking (the draft board) and deciding which guys fit us best and where they should be taken.”

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Packers' Aaron Rodgers had historic day in dismantling Raiders' defense


Packers' Aaron Rodgers had historic day in dismantling Raiders' defense

There's no need to mince words: Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever grip the pigskin.

Despite all of his undeniable greatness, Rodgers might have been at his peak Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Playing a Raiders team with two weeks to prepare and without his top wide receiver, Davante Adams, Rodgers ripped the Silver and Black limb from limb, throwing for 429 yards and five touchdowns while registering a perfect passer rating in a 42-24 Green Bay win. The Packers' star quarterback registered just six incompletions on the day.

Rodgers' destruction of the Silver and Black is one he'll surely remember.

Rodgers was locked in.

[RELATED: What we learned in Raiders' blowout road loss to Packers]

The Raiders leave Lambeau Field at 3-3, and will head to Houston to play the Texans in the finale of their five-game road trip.

After back-to-back wins over the Colts and Bears, the Raiders put themselves in the thick of the AFC West race. After Rodgers took the wind out of their sails Sunday, the Silver and Black will need to regroup fast in order to stay in the AFC hunt.

Raiders takeaways: What we learned from 42-24 road loss vs. Packers


Raiders takeaways: What we learned from 42-24 road loss vs. Packers


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Raiders rode a wave of positivity back from London. They were 3-2 and feeling great after consecutive wins over the Colts and Bears, entering a bye week with a chance to get healthy and prep for another big game against another playoff contender.

This one didn’t go as well as the previous two. The Raiders made too many mistakes, without the raw talent on defense to negate them, in a 42-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

The Raiders fell to .500 at 3-3, still a solid record despite this missed opportunity. The Raiders will have to do better avoiding pratfalls next week against the Houston Texans or risk losing a second straight.

This game changed in the red zone, where the Raiders turned it over thrice. That included a second-quarter meltdown where Derek Carr fumbled into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback. They turned it over on downs and then Carr threw a late interception in the end zone, cementing this loss for good.

Everything had to go right against Aaron Rodgers, who was awesome while scoring five touchdowns in this one, and little did at critical moments.

This result will force the Raiders defense to regroup and rally before playing Houston next week. Here are my three takeaways from a tough loss on the road.

Killer second-quarter swing

The Raiders were 2 yards from pay dirt with roughly two minutes left in the second quarter when Carr took off running. He sprinted to his right, angling for the pylon with a defender bearing down. He reached out for the goal line and … lost control of the football. The football sailed into the end zone and out of bounds.

Touchback. That’s exactly what happened in a 2017 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Carr reached out and fumbled it out of the end zone on the Raiders’ final play. He did the same thing reaching for a first-down marker in Week 2 against Kansas City and couldn’t hang on.

The Raiders, who have a virtual sure thing in Josh Jacobs scoring near the goal line, lost possession without points, and then made things worse by giving up an 80-yard touchdown drive to Rodgers just before the first half.

The 14-point swing was a brutal turn in a competitive game, creating two scores separation with the Packers getting the ball to start the second half.

The Raiders can’t make mistakes like that and expect to remain competitive against tough teams, especially on the road. They were moving the ball well the entire half but really hurt themselves at the end of the second quarter.

Josh Jacobs is something special

The Raiders made an excellent selection at No. 24 overall, bringing the Alabama running back into the fray. Jacobs seems to look better each week, with maybe his best run as a professional on Sunday against the Packers.

He eluded several on a 42-yard run where he sliced through the Packers secondary, showing great wiggle, change of direction and burst. That came two plays after his opening salvo, a run to the right that he finished by smashing a Packers defender to bully for extra yards.

He’s clearly the team’s MVP and a sure thing near the goal line, with everything you’re looking for in a running back. He finished with 21 carries for a career-high 124 yards against the Packers, showing well regardless of game situation. The Raiders will continue to use him heavily, which gives them a real chance to win games.

[RELATED: Mahomes' reported return gives Raiders no room for error]

Can’t make mistakes facing greatness

The Raiders have three victories this season, with Ws coming against Joe Flacco, Jacoby Brissett and Chase Daniel. Aaron Rodgers is a bit better than that trio, even if you combined all of their best qualities into one quarterback.

The Raiders gave Rodgers too much time too often and paid dearly for it. Rodgers picked the Raiders defense apart all day, especially after that disastrous end to the second quarter.

Rodgers finished with 429 yards and five touchdowns on 25-of-31 passing and had a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

The Silver and Black mounted stiffer resistance early, but the offense and defense made too many mistakes to keep up with Rodgers on this day. They can get away with some miscues against lower-tier quarterbacks, but they’ll struggle to compete against the good ones. That’s a hard lesson to learn and advice they must heed with Deshaun Watson up next on the schedule.