The Oakland Raiders are looking ahead to what they intend to be a bigger and brighter organization under the watchful eye of newly-hired general manager Reggie McKenzie, hoping to create a brand-new administration after over 40 years under the dictatorship of Al Davis, who passed away last October.
In order to determine the team’s future potential, we must first take a gander over our shoulders at the past—specifically the 2011 season, simultaneously looking into the rearview mirror and the road ahead.
That said, in an effort to help evaluate the needs of the Raiders going forward as they embark on a revamped regime, let’s dissect the performance of each facet of the team: offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
Here, we will break down the Oakland’s defense from the 2011 NFL campaign.
Heading into the season, the Raiders defense was considered somewhat of a strength—Oakland owned the respectable 11th-ranked unit from 2010 in terms of total yards allowed. Though the Raiders lost some key personnel in the offseason, their defensive front remained largely intact.
The experienced bunch was anchored by seasoned veterans in defensive tackles Richard Seymour, John Henderson and Tommy Kelly. They were complemented nicely by the younger defensive ends, Desmond Bryant, Lamaar Houston, Trevor Scott and Matt Shaughnessy. Given that this unit had a couple years under their belts playing together, there was hope that the front line would provide a solid foundation for the entire defense.
But that did not happen.
Ironically, that presumed cohesion of the defensive line did not exist, as they struggled to find continuity against both the passing and running games.
Employing the 4-3 defensive model, the Raiders front line was unable to be a threat consistently. Oakland was able to apply modest pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking seventh in the AFC in sacks with 39. But only 12 of them were by the defensive line, led by Kelly’s 7.5. The defense allowed a generous 251.4 passing yards per game, good, er, bad for 27th in the NFL.
Interestingly, they also ranked 27th against the run, giving up 136.1 yards per game. Actually, the Raiders were a bit consistent on defense. The most telling statistic, though, is their league-high 5.1 yards allowed per rush—a franchise record. The Raiders defensive line could not stop the opposition on the ground.
The front four was called upon to set the bar for the rest of the defense, as they were the most experienced group, led by the vocal and talented Seymour. The play of Seymour was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection. But the rest of the squad was less than marginal.
The stats aren’t horrible. They allowed a 100-yard rusher in only four games. And opposing quarterbacks produced an 81.3 passer rating, the 11th-lowest mark in the NFL. But the Raiders’ inability to come up big in the last quarter of the season and the final quarter in football games is extremely glaring.
Much has been said about the use of the 4-3 defense as being the fault for the Raiders being so porous against the run. But in the end, the defensive front line is full of experienced leaders who were expected to perform at a higher level.
In using the 4-3 defense, the Oakland linebacker unit was going to be relied upon heavily, especially considering the departure of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha left the secondary a bit more raw than in had been in previous seasons.
Led by Rolando McClain, Quentin Groves and Kameron Wimbley, the Raiders expected these two talented defenders to provide the depth and versatility needed to complement the front four. Though the linebackers were probably the most consistently adequate facet of the team’s defense, their overall expectations proved to be somewhat unmet.
Groves actually was replaced midseason by Aaron Curry, previously a disappointment with the Seattle Seahawks. Curry filled in nicely, gathering 46 tackles in 11 games. However, he did not have a single sack, the result of finding himself in pass coverage more often than blitzing.
Then there’s McClain, the second-year player out of Alabama. After a somewhat mediocre rookie year, McClain looked to take the next step to being a solid overall contributor.
For the most part, he did just that. He finished the 2011 campaign with 5.0 sacks, 99 tackles and 13 passes defended in 15 games. His play on the field was generally impressive. But his off-field antics left the organization incredibly disappointed, as he was arrested for brandishing a loaded gun and firing it in public.
The best player among the linebacking corps was Wimbley; and he was probably the most reliable all-around member of Oakland’s defense. Wimbley proved to be multi-purpose, finishing with 63 tackles, including seven sacks (second on the team) and seven tackles for losses. He also collected one interception.
Overall, Oakland’s linebackers were decently solid, and without their modest performance, the defense would have been a lot worse. However, on the whole, the linebackers were unable to help stop the run, and their weak pass-coverage play allowed those same running backs to excel in the passing game, catching a multitude of passes over the middle.
If the Raiders are indeed considering opting toward the 3-4 defense next season, the linebacking unit will likely be revamped in order to accommodate the new schematics. Though they performed admirably in 2011, it’s possible big changes will be on the horizon this offseason.
The defensive unit came to be a focus during the offseason, as many analysts wondered how the Raiders would respond on the field after the loss of All-Pro free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. How would the Raiders perform without one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL? Who would step up and be the leader of the secondary? Was signing Stanford Routt instead of Asomugha a wise decision?
Evidence from 2011 shows that the Raiders were worse than they were the previous season, and much blame is placed on the exposed secondary.
The secondary was a somewhat youthful group of defensive backs and safeties. Oakland featured two rookies (Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke) and a second (Jerome Boyd) and third-year player (Bryan McCann) in the nickel back rotation.
Meanwhile, free safety Matt Giordano, in his first season with Oakland, only had six career starts in his six previous professional seasons. And cornerback Hiram Eugene had only 19 starts under his belt in four NFL season—none in 2010. Aside from veterans Routt, safety Michael Huff and cornerback Lito Shepherd (also in his first season with Oakland), the secondary was a bit green as a unit, having not played together for a considerable amount of time. Needless to say, there was a lot of pressure on the defensive backs this past season.
They obviously could not live up to expectations. The secondary did come away with 15 interceptions, led by Giordano (five) and Routt(four). But Oakland gave up an average of 251 yards through the air—27th in the league. The glaring moments came in the final minutes of certain games, when the Raiders were trying to protect fourth-quarter leads. They simply couldn’t do so.
In Week 2’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, Oakland lost a 21-3 halftime lead, much the result of their holey pass defense. They allowed two 80-yard touchdown drives in the final nine minutes of the game, ultimately losing, 38-35. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 11-for-18 for 130 yards on those two drives alone.
Similar pathetic performances arose in losses to the Denver Broncos (Week 9) and Detroit Lions (Week 16) and in a win against the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 17). Oakland easily would let opposing offenses march down the field during the final minutes of a game to either tie the score or move ahead. It was almost expected.
And somehow, in the end, it was worse than it actually looked. Routt was the most penalized player in the league (16), a combination of holding and pass interference infractions. They allowed 58 pass plays of 20-plus yards (fifth-most in NFL) and 11 of 40-plus yards. They also gave up 31 touchdowns through the air, the worst mark in franchise history.
Ultimately, Asomugha would have helped had he stayed—but maybe only marginally. The Raiders were exposed and picked on consistently, and that resulted in more than unimpressive pass defense numbers—it resulted in team losses.
The entire Raiders defense was atrocious for the most of the season, particularly the team’s final five games. When Oakland needed to finish the season strong in order to win the AFC West and earn a trip to the playoffs, the defensive unit specifically let the team down.
In the last five games of the season, Oakland allowed 31.8 points per game, losing four games. The major area of concern was the team’s secondary, who, time and time again, could not prevent opponents from scoring during obvious passing situations. The prevent defense ultimately prevented Oakland from making the playoffs, as one additional win would have secured a division title.
However, that did not happen, and the Raiders defense will be on the receiving end of intense finger pointing this offseason. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan will be under immense scrutiny, but the entire unit as a whole should be reexamined.
The entire defensive unit underachieved, and it showed in the stats. But importantly, the defensive lapses showed glaringly in the loss column.
Overall grade: D+