The strength of the Oakland Raiders early in the season was the defense’s ability to get to the quarterback. Now it’s become an acute weakness and is a prime factor in why coach Dennis Allen’s team has lost three straight to fall out of playoff contention.
Oakland’s defense has given up an average of 381 yards of offense in each of the past four games, during which time the Raiders have gone 1-3. During that stretch, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s unit has produced only seven sacks and put very little pressure at all on opposing quarterbacks.
The drop-off has been across the board.
Defensive end Lamarr Houston had three sacks in the first five games but just two over the last eight and none since Nov. 17. Fellow end Jason Hunter hasn’t had a sack since Week 2, although he has missed three games with injuries.
The interior tandem of Vance Walker and Pat Sims has been fairly solid against the run but has not put together much of a pass rush. Walker has three sacks but has been shut out each of the last four weeks, while Sims is still looking for his first of the season.
As a result, mediocre to average quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Tennessee Titans and Geno Smith of the New York Jets turned in Pro Bowl-type performances while leading their respective teams to wins over the struggling Raiders.
Oakland’s lack of a pass rush has coincided with a rise in third-down conversions by opposing teams.
Through a five-game stretch against the Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, the Raiders allowed just 21-of-66 third-down conversions. Over their last three weeks, however, teams have made good on 24-of-44 attempts on third down.
As a result, a lot of attention and criticism has been focused on Oakland’s secondary. Rightfully so, considering how poorly the Raiders have played on the back end of their defense over the past month.
The bulk of Oakland’s pass rush has come from the linebackers, who have generated an NFL-leading 12 sacks and nine hits among teams using 4-3 base defenses, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
What’s more, this is from a defense that had nine sacks in the first two games and 21 in the first seven. The Raiders have 11 since then, tied for 16th most in the NFL.
Critics can point to the offensive problems Oakland has had, and there are plenty. Until they start generating more of a pass rush and start knocking quarterbacks off stride, however, the Raiders aren’t going to get results any different than what they have gotten over the past month.
* All information and quotes used in this and any report by Michael Wagaman were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.