Oakland Raiders Defense: Cause for Alarm or a Glimmer of Hope?

Pat CowanCorrespondent IAugust 29, 2009

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 16:  Thomas Howard #53 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates his interception for a touchdown with Kirk Morrison #52 and Gerard Warren #61 against the Denver Broncos as the Broncos defeated the Raiders 23-20 in overtime during week two NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 16, 2007 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

 For the Oakland Raiders, the annual "Battle of the Bay" matchup  vs the 49ers ended up in surrendering 275 yards on the ground on their way to a 21-20 loss. One hundred-forty nine of those yards were to a rookie back named Glenn Coffee.

If I were a 49er fan, I wouldn't get too excited, because Juan Valdez could have walked his pack mule through those holes for a buck twenty on the Raider defense that day.

After watching the game for the fourth time the thing that caught my ear was that, a reporter who talked to Defensive Coordinator John Marshall before the game, said that he was sending them out without a game plan.

In other words he was looking to see how they handled one-on-one matchups and was going to treat that game like a preseason game.

After that, I saw a few things that repaired my calm. Even though I still see a lot of cause for concern, I no longer believe I have to call 911 and report a murder.

The first sign of hope came with linebacker Morlon Greenwood, a Texans castoff who signed with the Raiders in the offseason. Greenwood was winning his matchups and shedding his blocks on a regular basis. Ricky Brown and Slade Norris turned in good performances too.

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly can get penetration when he is not being double teamed, Gerrard Warren and William Joeseph spotty at best, but the guy to watch is Desmond Bryant. Bryant is taking on the double teams better than any of the defensive lineman so far and if he lines up next to Kelly, thay may just be the best duo for the job.

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Defensive end Trevor Scott seems to have "Derrick Burgess" disease. He is willing to sacrifice the running lane to go after the QB, But Jay Richardson is showing that he has improved at the end position and is sufficient at stopping the run. Watch for him and Ellis to secure the outside.

Matt Shaughnessy has shown flashes of high level play, but he has yet to put together any consistency and is hesitant at times, when it comes to reading and reacting. Greg Ellis was all over the field and will be the vocal leader of the defensive line, a role that Derrick Burgess was unable to fill.

Safeties Tyvon Branch, Hiram Eugene, and Jeremy Boyd have shined in camp and preseason, for the first time since 2002 the Raiders should have solid safeties.

Mike Mitchell is a head scratcher due to missing alot of time over a strained hamstring. Rashaad Baker is back in silver and black after a short stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he is a solid backup. Michael Huff hasn't been spectacular, but he has dramatically improved and is finally determined to shed the bust label.

During the 49er game most of the players who made the plays were not on the field at the same time, and based on performance thus far the starting defensive unit would look like:

Defensive tackles: Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant. Defensive ends: Greg Ellis and Jay Richardson. Linebackers: Ricky Brown, Morlon Greenwood, and Thomas Howard. Safeties: Hiram Eugene and Jeremy Boyd (there's no need to go into the cornerbacks, they are as solid as concrete).

Soon teams will have to make cuts to achieve the 53-man roster. I will be anxious to see if the "Cable Company" will pick up what they need, which is a solid defensive tackle/nose tackle to consistently push the opposing center back. Another run stopping defensive end would be welcome too.

The Raiders defense is far from a polished group, but getting rid of Rob Ryan and hiring John Marshall was an instant up grade. He is evaluating players and expect him to put the best players on the field, despite the the order that they were drafted in.

Marshall has to teach this team how to blitz and be assignment responsible. Something Ryan was not willing to do. The preseason run defense has been ugly so far, but in this writer's opinion, the eventual starters have yet to take the field as a unit.

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