The Raiders defense entered the season with serious question marks at all three levels. The defensive line and linebacking groups are relying on youth. The secondary – while healthy at the top of the depth chart – has injury issues.
But the defense passed the first test of the season by limiting the Titans to just 16 points and holding one of the best running teams in the NFL to 95 yards.
As usual it all started with the 2016 defensive player of the year, Khalil Mack.
Mack only had three tackles, but he batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage, hurried the quarterback five times and drew triple teams from Tennessee’s blockers. Mack is the catalyst for the defense and a big reason why rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes impresses in his debut.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vanderdoes was one of the best Raiders defenders on Sunday, as he posted four quarterback hurries.
“I thought from the first snap Eddie (Vanderdoes) was very strong in there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s got a natural feel for pass rush and for being stout in there. He got some real quality snaps in there yesterday.”
While the defensive line was a strong point, the linebackers still struggled, especially at middle linebacker.
Rookie Marquel Lee is the starter, but he only played about one-third of the defensive snaps. Second-year linebacker Tyrell Adams soaked up most of the snaps. But it was a day to forget for Adams.
In pass coverage, his receiver was targeted nine times. He allowed eight receptions for 110 yards, per Pro Football Focus.
While avoiding big plays and big scores, the Raiders defense was passive on third downs early, allowing Marcus Mariota to find open receivers. In the first half the Titans were 5 of 7 converting third downs.
“I think there are some opportunities to do a few things better. In particular, some of the passing situations,” Del Rio said of his middle linebackers. “The experience was outstanding and we’ll grow from that.”
Adams finished with seven tackles; Lee had three.
In the secondary, the Raiders over performed, despite being without their first two draft picks in 2017. Safety Obi Melifonwu was placed on injured reserve prior to the game and cornerback Gareon Conley did not play.
But Sean Smith, who was one of the worst players in the preseason, earned the third highest Pro Football Focus score of any Raider. And strong safety Karl Joseph had a touchdown-saving pass break up.
Shortest guy on the field. Karl Joseph GETS UP to prevent TD! Raiders hold Titans to a field goal. pic.twitter.com/ioM2y4vIoY— Raider Nation Boston (@RaiderNationBOS) September 10, 2017
Next up for the Raiders is the lowly Jets. it should be another week where the defense looks good or even dominant. But given the Jets lack of play makers, it might take a few weeks before we know if this defense is better than anticipated.
Tyler Bischoff hosts Coaches Corner on AM 720 KDWN Monday through Friday at 6:00 pm.