The Raiders' pass rush is coming on strong.
Quarterbacks have felt heat in particular during the team’s perfect three-game homestand, with 12 sacks in that span and 10 in the past two contests. That has sent the Raiders soaring up the NFL sack list, now ranked 15th with 25 quarterback takedowns in 10 games.
Part of that is improved talent. Opportunities also are a crucial, oft-forgotten variable in this equation.
“[On Thursday] night against Phillip Rivers, we knew he had to throw it so you’re going to get a chance to rush," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "We knew they were going to throw it in Detroit, and we get a chance to rush. And at the end of the game yesterday we knew they had to throw it, so you get some opportunities to swing the bat. We’ve been better against the run and we’ve given ourselves more third-down opportunities than we did a year ago.
“But with that being said I think that has something to do with it. And we’re much improved. You know we’ve got better rushers and we’re getting better results.”
The 25 sacks through 10 games is nearly double last year’s total, a positive sign to be sure but no barometer of pass-rush success.
Gruden never misses a moment to say sacks aren’t the only way to measure an impactful pass rush. He prefers the factor grade, which remains internal but includes sacks, pressures, forced fumbles, run stops, edge setting and passes defensed, among other things. Here’s what we can quantify.
The Raiders are hands down better rushing the passer over last year. They have more sacks and quarterback hurries than they had all of 2018, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus.
Here’s what the Raiders totaled rushing the passer in 2018: 13 sacks, 36 quarterback hits, 97 individual hurries -- 146 total individual pressures.
The Raiders are going to generate much more pressure this time around if the season continues this way.
2019 project pass-rush stats: 40 sacks, 35 quarterback hits, 190 individual hurries -- 265 total individual pressures
As we’ve already said, 2018’s a bad gauge of competence in this effort. This year’s numbers project to be better than 2017, when the Raiders had Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin leading the charge. They would come in just under 2016, the team’s last playoff season, except in sacks.
2017 stats: 36 sacks, 49 hits, 164 individual hurries -- 249 total individual pressures
2016 stats: 27 sacks, 50 hits, 202 individual hurries -- 279 total individual pressures
The Raiders have surged into the backfield behind Clelin Ferrell’s improvement off the edge, Maxx Crosby’s tenacious energy and Benson Mayowa’s efficient efforts. Ferrell and Crosby are rookies and have made great strides in recent weeks. Maurice Hurst has been solid on the interior, and newcomer Dion Jordan brings athleticism and agility to the interior rush.
“We’re finally finding our groove and starting to rush well as a group,” Hurst said. “That’s more important that you think. We’ve had to switch spots and rotate guys around the line. We’ve lost some guys along the way, but we’ve gotten to a point where we’re comfortable with what we’re doing even with new guys coming in. That speaks volumes to how we have been prepared.
"It’s something we have to keep going if we want to keep winning.”
Hurst says part of that is individual improvement, but an underrated portion is the line working well together.
“It’s a timing thing and a communication thing, and that’s something we have really picked up over these past few games,” Hurst said.