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The AFC West has a trio of playoff-caliber, pass-happy teams. Then there are the Raiders, trying to play catch-up.
The Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers can all sling it and score. While the Raiders would like a consistent, productive offense led by a quality quarterback, head coach Dennis Allen prefers to fight fire with ice.
Allen wants to build a defense that intimidates even the best quarterbacks. In order to do so, they need to get after the passer. Head coach Dennis Allen made that perfectly clear on Thursday in his first public comments in eight weeks. With plenty of money, seven draft picks and seven defensive starters – including the entire defensive line – on expiring contracts.
Allen said the Raiders need to find players who can rush the passer. Right now, linebackers Nick Roach and Sio Moore are the only players under contract with more than four sacks. The Raiders need to supplement that with talent that defensive linemen who can get after the quarterback in a standard four-man rush.
Last season, the Raiders ranked 18th with 38 sacks – a decent sum – but struggled rushing the passer without fancy blitzes. That can’t happen in the AFC West, where pocket passers can pick apart a defense without pressure in the pocket.
“When you look at our division, and we have to face (Denver’s) Peyton Manning and you look at facing (San Diego’s) Philip Rivers and you have to face (Kansas City’s) Alex Smith, you’ve got to be able to affect the passer in our division to have an opportunity to win,” Allen said during a one-on-one interview with CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco at the NFL Scouting Combine. “And all of that starts up front. You have to look at your defensive line. You got to be able to get pressure with your front four.”
Allen said he hopes end Lamarr Houston will return. Houston had a career-high six sacks last season and is considered among the best run stuffing 4-3 defensive ends.
Even if the Raiders retain Houston, they need size on the interior defensive line and another quality passer at the other end spot. As important is the depth required to keep bodies fresh. Allen mentioned using the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks as a blueprint for success, with a steady pass rush and physical cover men in the secondary.
“That’s what we’ve got to look at,” Allen said. “We’ve got to get some rush up front with our front four and then we’ve got to continue to look to improve in the back end of the defense.”
Allen said time and again that the Raiders plan on building through the draft and accenting with a few free-agent acquisitions. The Raiders will certainly look for a pass-rushing defensive end and stout tackles in both markets in attempt to build an intimidating pass rush that will allow them to compete against a loaded AFC West.