The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Dallas Provides a Big Test for the Struggling Raiders Defense

Dallas Provides a Big Test for the Struggling Raiders Defense

Dallas-Oakland Preview
Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. encourages the defense before the start of the game against the New York Jets at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s only preseason but if you are as addicted as me and watched the Raiders games against the Cardinals and the Rams, you are now worried, particularly with the team’s defense. For that reason, you know things could get very ugly on Saturday against the Cowboys. I’m not very concerned about the offense, as I believe it just needs to shake off the rust and coach Downing will certainly make a couple of twitches here and there to have all systems going for the opener against the Titans on September 10th. So I’ll leave the offense quiet for the time being.

Now to the defensive side of the ball. Yuck.

So far it is very clear that not only there was no improvement from last year but some players actually took a step back. Yes, I’m looking (first) at you both, Mr. Sean Smith and Mr. David Amerson.

And then I’m looking at basically anywhere else in the defense other than Khalil Mack.

Amerson had a fantastic season two years ago, coming basically from nowhere. He was flat out cut by the Redskins and picked up from the curb by Reggie McKenzie. He ended up playing like a Pro Bowl corner and led the league that year in pass breakups. His eye-popping performance in 2015 earned him a 4-year extension in 2016, but last season was a bit disappointing.

Smith was a coveted free agent after not re-signing with the Chiefs in 2015. He was finally brought to Oakland on a hefty 4-year contract, although the team could cut him after two years without any dead money. Let’s say year one was not what everybody expected. You can always blame the scheme too – which we all know is wrong. Thanks to the very stubborn Ken Norton Jr., who apparently forbid him from jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. But regardless of the reason, Smith was a liability, especially against speedy receivers.

By the way, if not for the dead money, I think Smith would have been let go by now. And unless he plays lights out this year, he is good as gone in 2018.

Anyway, both Amerson and Smith have struggled in preseason. Amerson is a shell of himself and for some reason has never been able to repeat the stellar play of 2015. He’s not terrible, but he’s far from shutting anybody down these days. Pedestrian is a good word to describe him and his level of play so far in preseason.

I have no (good) words to say about Smith after the two preseason games. He is very slow and has been getting burned by basically anyone who lines up on the outside. It’s bad. It’s really bad. It’s beyond awful.

And now they face a prolific Cowboys offense in he most important game of preseason.

Truth be told, in my opinion the biggest difference maker in Dallas offense is their line, which paves the way for a guy named Ezekiel Elliott and opens up the passing attack with Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant terrorizing opposing cornerbacks.

But honestly, I don’t think Bryant is a bad matchup for Smith or Amerson. Don’t get me wrong, Bryant is a great receiver and all, but he is not the fastest guy or the best route runner, so if Prescott does not have all day to throw, both Smith and Amerson can do at least a decent job going against him.

Which takes me to another point of emphasis or, in this case, concern. We are all tired of saying that Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin cannot do it by themselves. They need help. They need interior line help.

Now I’m looking at you guys in the middle, Mr. Eddie Vanderdoes, Mr. Mario Edwards Jr. and Mr. Denico Autry. Justin Ellis has not been fantastic, but his primary job is to stuff the run, so he’s off the hook this time.

The interior guys played ok against the Cardinals, but they failed miserably when faced the Rams, which use a wide zone system. The Cowboys also run that system and their offensive line is light years ahead of the Rams unit. This can’t be good. Unless something changes drastically, whoever is in the Cowboys backfield will eat.

Even that dude named Darren McFadden.

Without an active interior push, Mack and Irvin cannot make miracles. I mean, Mack can, but not all the time. And against the Rams wide zone offense, Mack’s single sack (this sounded weird, but whatever) came when they tried to block him with two tight-ends not named Lee Smith. This was an almost childish idea by the Rams defensive coordinator, but what I mean is that even Mack will have a hard time against wide zones, so the guys in the middle of the line need to really come alive.

And finally, linebackers. It’s still (maybe) the biggest problem in our defense.

There’s a bunch of guys splitting reps in that area: Tyrell Adams, Shilique Calhoun, IK Enemkpali, Najee Harris, Cory James, Jelani Jenkins, Rufus Johnson, Marquel Lee, LaTroy Lewis, Nicholas Morrow, Brady Sheldon and Xavier Woodson-Luster.

Twelve guys. Nobody stood out. Welp.

Before training camp started, Adams and Jenkins were the supposed starters, but Lee and James apparently took over. Both seem ok/mediocre against the run, but their coverage skills are not good. Lee is a rookie, but still.

Adams and Jenkins played well against the Rams second and third units, which does not say much, but I think they deserve some more playing time against the ones. If they do well against the Cowboys, they may jump people in the depth chart.

But other than that, everything else is a mess. Calhoun has played, but have you noticed? Me neither. Enemkpali is only known for hitting Geno Smith and that’s it. The rest of the guys have rotated without relevancy and might not even make the final roster.

Let’s see how things go on Saturday, but I have a feeling we might not like the outcome if the offense does not put up high numbers on the board.

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