“Within the first five minutes of the game, the other team’s quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard”. This quote belongs to the late, great Al Davis, in a testament of the importancy of having a stout pass-rush to the success of a defense. Ironically, the Oakland Raiders, the franchise that will always be represented by his legacy, doesn’t seem to be much concerned about making that phrase a reality to their own team. Coming off a season with just 25 recorded sacks, it looks like the Silver & Black will need all the help they can get to at least put the opposing QB on the ground once in a while, regardless of how quickly or strongly they will do it.
Those 25 total sacks in 2012 ranked the Raiders as the 31st franchise on that category, only ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars who recorded 20. It translates to the fact that the Silver & Black defense was the fifth worst in the league in terms of points conceded per game, with 27.7, which was a good reason why the team couldn’t surpass the mark of four wins in the year, keeping a streak of non-winning seasons alive that dates back to 2002. And a player didn’t have to do much to be Oakland’s leading pass-rusher either. Lamarr Houston and Desmond Bryant led the team in terms of sacks recorded with just four each. When put against other NFL players in general, they would be tied for the 82nd place, separated by a huge gap to the league’s top sack performer in Texans’ J.J. Watt, with 20.5.
To make things worse, out of those 25 sacks recorded by the Raiders in 2012, 17 were made by players who are no longer in the roster. Among those who left, there are four of the top five performers on that category: the aforementioned Bryant (4 sacks), Matt Shaughnessy (3.5 sacks), Philip Wheeler (3 sacks) and Richard Seymour (3 sacks). That leaves only eight sacks distributed between just three athletes that are still under contract with the franchise: Houston, with four, Andre Carter, with 2.5 and Miles Burris, with 1.5. With such a harmless pass rush, further weakened by the departure of the players responsible for 68% of their sack production in 2012, it’s safe to say that the Raiders front office would definitely try to improve that aspect of the defense over the current off-season, right? Well, not really…
Through the free agency process, the Raiders only added three defensive lineman, with two of them being defensive tackles who are best known for their run-stopping ability. Those would be Pat Sims and Vance Walker. Sims, an interior clogger who played for the Bengals for the past five years, has never had more than 2.5 sacks in a single season since being selected in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft. The four-year veteran Walker hasn’t done much better in that category either, coming off a career-high season of three sacks in 2012 for the Falcons. That would leave defensive end Jason Hunter as the only true addition to Oakland’s pass rush as an outside D-Lineman. However, the 29-year-old’s career high is not an imposing one, with five sacks in 2009 for the Lions. Even though that number would be enough to lead the Raiders’ defense in 2012, that would say a lot more about the Silver & Black’s lack of ability to harass the opposing quarterback, than it would about Hunter’s skillset as a pass-rusher.
Then came the Draft. With 10 total selections, the Raiders used only two to bring in new defensive lineman. On top of that, general manager Reggie McKenzie waited until the last part of the process, specifically the 205th and 233th picks of the draft (6th and 7th rounds, respectively) to select those DLs, in Oklahoma’s Stacy McGee and Missouri Western State’s David Bass. The latter was very productive in the collegiate level, recording 39.5 career sacks, but as a Division II player. The former faced much tougher competition in the Big 12 conference, but failed to make an impact production-wise among a series of off-field issues, recording just 2.5 sacks from 2010 to 2012. It’s safe to say that neither is expected to have the desired performance of an astouding pass-rusher in their very first season as a pro.
The 2013 Draft also brought to the Raiders an outside linebacker in the 3rd round by the name of Sio Moore. The versatile and athletic LB was a very productive and experienced player for the university of Connecticut, often being utilized as a nickel-rusher in pass situations. As a senior, Moore recorded eight sacks, along with another 6.5 as a junior. It’s certainly an option that the Silver & Black will have to look at over the upcoming season due to their lack of alternatives to boost their already weak pass-rush. We can expect to see Moore perform a similar role to the one fulfilled by Kamerion Wimbley between 2010 and 2011, when he recorded 16 sacks combined over those two seasons.
As much as utilizing Moore in a Wimbley-like role would probably fit the rookie’s skillset as well as filling one of the Raiders’ most glaring needs, it’s tough to envision a productive season in terms of pass rush if you’re forced to rely that much on a completely unexperienced player. Besides, Moore has been working as a linebacker during the team’s offseason program, which means that using him as a pass-rusher would only be viable in certain situations, like 3rd downs. In other words, even if Moore excels as a nickle defensive end, someone else will have to step up during the majority of plays in which he’s locked at his natural position of a linebacker.
Oakland’s most notable acquisitions during the 2013 off season have been members of the defensive backfield, specially the return of All-Pro safety Charles Woodson. Along with “C-Wood”, the Silver & Black have signed veteran DBs of middling talent like Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and Usama Young. However, even though improving the team’s pass defense was perhaps the main focus of the Raiders’ front office since the end of the 2012 season, there’s not much defensive backs can do if the opposing QB is able to go through a whole game with all the time in the world to make his decisions.
For the 2013 Oakland Raiders, it seems like bringing the other team’s quarterback to the ground hard within the first five minutes of a contest will be considered a luxury.