Raiders Defense is Big Problem But What’s To Blame?

Kelly Kriner
oakland raiders defense paul guenther

It may be time to ask if it’s just a talent issue or is there something else that also needs to be changed?

After a 2018 season, which saw the Oakland Raiders pile up a grand total of 13 sacks, it seemed that adding pass rush was going to be an offseason priority. Having three first-round picks in a draft with several highly rated pass rushers, and a mountain of cap space, it appeared the Raiders were in a prime spot to add some pop to their front seven. 

Cap space would instead be used at the wide receiver position to bring in not only Tyrell Williams, but also Antonio Brown, who came in a trade from Pittsburgh. Without making a big impact in free agency, the draft would have to provide the pass rush the team so desperately needed.  

Oakland entered the 2019 NFL Draft with four picks in the Top 40. In a draft of this caliber, it would seem the Raiders would add some pop to the defense. Through six weeks, although the pass rush has been better at times, the Raiders still can’t find the answer and don’t create turnovers with any consistency.

Passing on more hyped prospects like Josh Allen and Brian Burns, the Raiders selected Clelin Ferrell – a run-stuffing end out of Clemson. With the next three picks being running back Josh Jacobs, safety Jonathan Abram, and cornerback Trayvon Mullen, the Raiders made the decision to go forth with the front seven – plus Maxx Crosby who they added in the fourth round. Because their focus was on other positions, the Raiders now find themselves much in the same position they did in 2018.

paul guenther oakland raiders defense
Is Paul Guenther’s defense still a viable one in the pass-happy, spread-it-out NFL?

Through six games, the Raiders have 10 sacks. That’s a vast improvement from last year, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the Packers game on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers had all day to throw and boy did he throw. 

His statistics in the game were otherworldly (25-of-31, 429 yds 5 TDs) and to add insult to injury he added a rushing TD. Rodgers’ torching of the Raiders adds more dubious numbers to the league’s second-worst pass defense (289.8 yds/per game). The one sack helped Oakland leap one spot above the Bengals for fifth-worst sack total in the league. 

It may be time to ask if it’s just a talent issue or is there something else that also needs to be changed?

When looking at the front seven of the Raiders, true pass rushers are missing, but another key deficiency defensively is the lack of speed at linebacker. 

The NFL is now a speed league and you must have linebackers that can go sideline to sideline. Even before the suspension of Vontaze Burfict, Oakland’s linebacking core was one of the slowest in football. Now, I can already hear what people are saying: Guenther’s system doesn’t prioritize linebackers. It’s one thing to not prioritize a position and pass on Devin White, but not adding any kind of NFL level talent is inexcusable. Tahir Whitehead has done yeoman’s work switching over to be the QB of the defense but his prime is behind hin and the need for younger, faster players remain.

I do not believe Guenther’s system will work in the NFL as it once did. 

Which brings me to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. I may be in the minority but I feel that it could be time to switch defensive coordinators and bring in a new defensive system. I do not believe Guenther’s system will work in the NFL as it once did. 

The new NFL offenses are all predicated on speed and spreading out the defenses to find mismatches. Big-hitting players like Burfict and Abrams are not as valuable as they once were. Defenses must be built around speed and ball skills because in an offensive league, taking the ball away from your opponent is the ultimate weapon. 

A major overhaul of this defense is in order and it may need to start at the top.