The retooled Raiders have a golden opportunity to prove the critics wrong as they set to host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football.
After the Khalil Mack trade, you’d think the Raiders defense is made up of players from the movie The Replacements.
The disrespect from media outlets everywhere is loud and clear. You might as well call them the Raiers, because the D is missing. The Los Angeles Rams are coming to town, and that could be troublesome when they open their season on Monday night in front of the home crowd and the nation.
Nobody scored more points in 2017 than the explosive Rams. The offense is almost as loaded as their defense,as it’s led by quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and explosive receiver Brandin Cooks. To say the Raiders have their hands full is an understatement. In the 2017 opener, the Rams put up 46 points on their way to a 37-point victory over the Colts.
Fortunately for the Raiders, this is 2018 and they have a new man calling the plays on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps the most overlooked part about this Raiders defense is Paul Guenther. In the three years as the Bengals defensive coordinator, his defenses only allowed over 30 points five times, and two of those games included the offense giving up points on interceptions. The Raiders allowed 30 points or more five times in 2017 alone.
People make a big deal about Mack’s absence, and while Guenther would have loved having him, he never got a chance to see him on the field.
“As many new players as we brought in, as a new coaching staff we just kind of got used to him not being here and operating with what we’ve got,” Guenther told reporters.
He continued to say he gets paid to put the best players in the best positions to succeed, and that is what he intends to do. Perhaps the most exciting thing he said during his meeting with the media were his comments on the three rookies along the defensive line.
“We have some other guys that can rush here too and we brought some young guys in, in the draft that I think are going to surprise some people,” Guenther answered when he was asked if Bruce Irvin was ready to handle the increased attention with Mack gone.
The Bengals were ranked 11th in sacks last season with 41 despite not having one rusher reach double digits. They did have 12 different players record a sack in 2017 which means Guenther knows how to pressure the quarterback from different places. That will be key against Jared Goff and the Rams as Goff struggled against pressure. In each of the Rams losses in 2017 Goff was sacked at least twice and he was more prone to turn the ball over.
It helps that coach Jon Gruden brought in Greg Olsen, who was the quarterback’s coach for the Rams last season. Guenther should know what’s coming and should have plenty of insight on Goff’s tendencies and weaknesses. The Rams have a solid group of receivers, but they can be contained by keeping Goff off his game. Pay close attention to Raiders rookie P.J. Hall, as he has the potential to be very disruptive up the middle and open up opportunities for the outside guys to get to the quarterback. The right side of the Rams offensive line is their weakest side, according to Pro Football Focus.
This Raiders defense has the potential to be better than last year’s defense, even without Mack. Only two full-time starters from 2017 are returning to their same positions in 2018. Only four players who were on the roster in 2017 are starting on defense this year. This is a completely new unit with a new defensive scheme.
The Raiders offense will also help Guenther’s defense. This is an offense that struggled to score last season as they averaged less than 20 points per game and were among the worst in time of possession. The addition of Gruden and an upgraded wide receiving unit should help.
The Raiders will have an opportunity to prove the world wrong as they enter the season without Mack. Perhaps more important, they have to prove to themselves they are capable of being a strong defense without their best player from 2017.