For all the talent the Oakland Raiders have on the defensive line, the group is surprisingly poor at rushing the quarterback. The defensive front has generated five sacks in three games, but they don’t tell the whole story to Oakland’s futility getting to the quarterback in 2012.
The team announced the signing of veteran defensive end Andre Carter, which gives the Raiders a legitimate pass-rusher to complement the rest of the defensive line. The NFL puts a premium on pass-rushers, and Carter was probably the only free agent on the market who could actually make a significant impact.
Carter bolsters a group that includes players that have proved effective rushing the quarterback in the past. Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour have been two of the better pass-rushing defensive tackles over the past two seasons, and Matt Shaughnessy leads the team with three sacks despite being inconsistent.
The need to sign Carter was precipitated by the release of Kamerion Wimbley in the offseason. Wimbley was Oakland’s best pass-rusher for the last two seasons and his rush off the edge had a trickle-down effect on Kelly and Seymour. To a lesser extent, the same things should happen with Carter on the field as a situational pass-rusher.
Oakland’s pass rush graded out as the sixth best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, in 2011, but in 2012 it has been the worst in the league. The Raiders averaged 2.4 sacks per game in 2011, compared with 1.7 so far in 2012. The Raiders are on pace for just 27 sacks, which would have been better than just one team in 2011. It’s pretty clear that something needed to be done.
Oakland signed defensive end Dave Tollefson in the offseason in hopes that he—along with a healthy Shaughnessy—would replace the production lost when Wimbley was released. Through three games, that simply has not been the case. Tollefson figures to lose the most snaps with the signing of Carter, but the Raiders could actually try to use both of them simultaneously.
Carter can help the Raiders get more pressure in three ways, just as Wimbley did for the past two seasons. The first way is to force the offensive tackle to kick slide to protect the speed rush and Carter’s outside move. The speed rush creates a natural gap, which gives Kelly and Seymour additional operating space which can be useful on stunts and swim moves.
The second way Carter can help Oakland’s defense is by forcing tight ends and running backs to chip him at the line of scrimmage. When a running back or tight end chips, they either don’t get to run a route or are delayed. If the other offensive linemen can get pressure with the attention shifted to Carter, this delay can disrupt the passing game even if the Raiders aren’t getting sacks.
The third way is the most obvious, by beating the offensive tackle and getting direct pressure on the quarterback. Obviously, pressure can help a pass defense tremendously, and the Raiders need all the help they can get with both starting cornerbacks out with injuries.
Carter’s health is obviously a concern because he agreed to sign injury waivers on his quad and back, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
In Carter’s media session with reporters, which was posted on Raiders.com, he was asked where he is physically on a scale of one to 100 and said, “100! Like I said, it was a long battle. It was such a long battle, definitely you had your moments of frustration, but I hung in there, I never gave up and I’m just glad to be here.”
A healthy Carter is capable of helping the Raiders tremendously. According to Pro Football Focus, Carter was the 12th-most productive 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and registered 11 sacks (officially 10.0), 16 quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries. Compare Carter’s 51 total pressures to Wimbley’s 62 and the Raiders might have found the missing ingredient to a tasty pass rush.
Carter is also not a pushover against the run, which means he could start in case of an injury. That gives the Raiders additional depth and options. When the entire line is healthy, Carter’s addition ensures a good rotation in which the Raiders are fresh in the fourth quarter.
Fans should be happy the Raiders brought in the 33-year-old defensive end, as it indicates that general manager Reggie McKenzie is willing to make moves to bolster the roster for this year and not just future years. The signing of Carter is one of those rare in-season signings that can make a significant and immediate impact.