Jon Gruden’s Raiders offense is the franchise’s best in nearly 20 years.
Quarterback Derek Carr is having a career renaissance.
Running back Josh Jacobs – even in his banged-up state – is a game-changer.
Tight end Darren Waller is putting up absolutely crazy numbers, and Nelson Agaholor and Henry Ruggs might be the most underrated wide receiver combination in the NFL.
All this behind an offensive line that – at times – has been elite.
You would think, in an NFL where offense is king, all that would be enough.
But it’s not.
It’s not even close.
Even if the Raiders make the playoffs this season – and after Sunday’s blowout loss to the Colts, that’s still somehow possible – this team’s return to the postseason will be short-lived. One and done.
This Raiders’ defense is just that bad.
There have been countless examples of Raiders’ defensive futility this season – Sunday’s game against the Colts was hardly an expose – but the Week 14 loss alone provided more than enough evidence in the case to fade the Silver and Black come the new year, should they still be playing.
“We the worst defense in the NFL,” Oakland native and lifelong Raiders fan Damian Lillard tweeted Sunday.
Dame would know about bad defense, he’s a Portland Trail Blazer.
Jokes aside, if Lillard is not 100 percent accurate, he’s certainly not far off. It’s hard to think of an NFL defense more futile than the Raiders’.
And while the old adage that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships might not apply to 2020 for several reasons, you still need some semblance of defense to compete for a championship.
The Raiders can’t even muster that.
The Raiders ‘defensive play leaves no room for error on offense, and as strong as that this Raiders’ offense can be, it is hardly infallible.
Beyond that, the Raiders are a possession team that will, on occasion, take a deep shot. Ultimately, they want to hold onto the ball, run it with Jacobs, and limit possessions.
But that model doesn’t work when your defense is giving up big gain after big gain, both through the air and on the ground.
The Raiders allowed 214 rushing yards on the ground Sunday – the second straight game that they have allowed more than 200 yards on the ground. They allowed Indianapolis to convert 8-of-11 third downs.
The Raiders offense almost kept up, gaining only 32 fewer yards and converting 8-of-12 third downs. Those are downright great numbers.
But two turnovers meant that they had next to no chance of winning for almost the entire fourth quarter.
That’s because everyone, even the Jets – the Jets! – put up great numbers against this Raiders’ defense.
Of course, the Raiders having a garbage defense is hardly new, but what makes this unit’s performance oh so frustrating for fans of the team and people who enjoy the sport of football is that Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock put a lot of capital – both in the draft and in free agency – into this defense as of late.
The Raiders signed linebacker Cory Littleton to a three-year, $ 35 million contract. He’s among the league leaders in missed tackles this season – a sieve on the weak-side.
They also signed pass rusher Carl Nassib to a three-year, $ 25 million deal. He’s been a healthy scratch the last two games.
The pass rusher who replaced him – former All-Pro Vic Beasley – was signed to an above-market rate deal last month to provide a spark off the edge. That spark is yet to come.
Maliek Collins, who was signed this past offseason to shore up the interior of the defensive line, was a bust before heading to injured reserve.
And not one of the team’s three defensive first-round picks from the last two seasons – defensive end Clelin Ferrell, safety Johnathan Abram, or cornerback Damon Arnette – could yet be considered an asset. In fact, all signs are pointing the other way with the first two.
Let’s not even get into how predictable and antiquated the team’s defensive scheme might be.
The Raiders have a legitimate chance to a formidable team moving forward. The talent on the offensive side of the ball can get them into the playoffs.
But after all that rebuilding, they still so much work to do. This team isn’t going to go anywhere of significant worth unless they fix their defense.
And the defense’s problems won’t go away with a simple coordinator change.
That said, such a move would be a good first move of what should be many this upcoming to this offseason, whether that starts after Week 17 or a week after that.