As has been the case for the past several years, the Oakland Raiders have struggled on defense. The team is amongst the worst in the NFL in yards and points allowed per game. The Raiders invested heavily in the defense in the offseason, so it seemed like things might be different in 2019, but it hasn’t been the case.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is in his second year with the team and there doesn’t seem to be much improvement. It’s unlikely that Jon Gruden will fire Guenther just yet due to a number of factors. Injuries will play a big role in Gruden’s decision to keep Guenther.
Revolving Door on Defense
As Eddie Paskal revealed on Twitter, the Raiders only have three defensive starters who started in both Week 1 and Week 15. The starters are Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Hankins and Tahir Whitehead.
Week 1 starting cornerback Gareon Conley was traded to the Houston Texans halfway through the season and starting middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the whole season after Week 4. Both starting safeties in Karl Joseph and Johnathan Abram are both sitting on the injured reserve. Marquel Lee and LaMarcus Joyner were both starters in Week 1, but injuries have caused their roles to be more limited and neither started in Week 15. Starting cornerback Daryl Worley missed the Jaguars game because of a neck injury. Other switches at starter have more to do with other players stepping up like Maxx Crosby taking over for Josh Mauro and P.J. Hall taking over for Maurice Hurst.
This lack of consistency has certainly hurt the defense. Because of all of the injures, Paul Guenther will probably get a mulligan for one more year.
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Clelin Ferrell Elite
The defense has been struggling, but it’s not because of rookie Clelin Ferrell. According to Pro Football Focus, the defensive end had been graded higher and higher each week during the Raiders’ losing streak. He played so well against the Jaguars that he received his first career elite grade.
It’s a massive silver lining that Ferrell has improved his play. He was the fourth overall pick in the draft and the move was greatly questioned at the time. His slow start definitely didn’t silence any doubters. He only nagged one sack in the first nine weeks of the season and graded very poorly on PFF. Since Week 12, he’s the fifth graded EDGE player in the NFL. Not just rookies. He’s still not putting up great sack numbers, but he’s been better at getting to the quarterback. He’s also proving to be a really strong run defender.
It’s looking like Ferrell and Maxx Crosby could form a formidable duo for years to come for the Raiders. Even if Ferrell can’t figure out how to get more sacks, Crosby can fill the role of shutting down the run. The emergence of the two rookies means that the Raiders can focus on other needs this offseason like linebacker and defensive back. The defensive line is young, exciting and should only get better from here.