Raiders

Help wanted: Raiders defense must improve 'at all levels'

Help wanted: Raiders defense must improve 'at all levels'

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season, with the talent required to make a playoff run. Not, however, without their MVP. Quarterback Derek Carr’s broken fibula brought the season crashing down, with the Raiders losing both games played without him. The last was a playoff flop at Houston that closed proceedings for good.

While few teams could absorb a franchise quarterback’s loss, especially with the timing of Carr’s injury, the MVP candidate covered up some weaknesses general manager Reggie McKenzie hopes to fortify this offseason.

Fixing a flawed defense tops the agenda.

“We’re just going to have to improve in every area,” McKenzie said a few weeks back. “We’re going to have to figure out the players, number one. We’re going to have some free agents and we’re going to have to overcome some injuries that we had late, but we should be okay with that.

“We feel like, at each level, we need improvement. That’s D-line, linebackers and the DB’s. We need to get better at all levels. We really do. I don’t think we’re locked in anywhere as far as position.”

That’s especially on the interior. Let’s take a look at some areas where the Raiders need an upgrade.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The Raiders struggled getting solid push up the middle from their defensive tackles. While that position group was hampered with Mario Edwards Jr. out 14 games with a hip injury, more is required from the interior pass rush.

The Raiders had a league-low 25 sacks, and 19 of them came from edge rushers. That has to change, which head coach Jack Del Rio made clear shortly after the season.

“The interior pass rush, it’s critical for us to get that going. We were not nearly effective enough. I think Stacy (McGee) had the 2.5 sacks in there and Mario, we got Mario back late and he wasn’t a huge factor. (Jihad Ward) wasn’t a huge factor, Denico (Autry) played with that wrist all year and he wasn’t (as effective).

“I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push. That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”

Defensive tackle could be a target in free agency or high in the NFL draft. There could be some turnover as well. Dan Williams’ salary could be trimmed without penalty, and McGee is an unrestricted free agent, and Ward might be better suited developing as a rotational player.

INTERIOR LINEBACKER

Expiring contracts leave the Raiders with a skeleton crew at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker, positions generally posted in the middle of the field in coverage and against the run. Ben Heeney (recovering from ankle surgery) and Cory James are the only options under contract. Perry Riley and Malcolm Smith started there, and both guys are set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Riley could be brought back to add a veteran presence in the middle. Coaches like Smith, though he may have played too key a role in recent seasons. He could return or the Raiders could look for an upgrade in search of speed and sure tackling at that spot.

EDGE RUSHER

Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were obviously strong getting after the quarterback, but there was no support behind them. Depth is needed at this spot. Shilique Calhoun wasn’t effective enough as a rookie sub, though Aldon Smith could be a huge addition if he’s reinstated. He’s an excellent pass rusher, and could help especially in sub packages. His reinstatement could come in March and would impact how the Raiders proceed in this area.

CORNERBACK

Many fans were disappointed in the return on investment from Sean Smith, but he wasn’t all bad and should benefit from offseason shoulder surgery and another year in the Raiders system. David Amerson wasn’t as good as 2015 following a contract extension last summer, but it’s reasonable to expect him and Smith to start outside again. DJ Hayden is a free agent and could be brought back, though TJ Carrie fared well despite a hamstring tear. One can’t have too many good cornerbacks, so a draft pick is certainly possible here.

SAFETY

The starting lineup seems set with Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson and 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph. Depth is required, especially if Nate Allen signs elsewhere in free agency. A versatile player could help in the back, and Nelson’s replacement could be groomed right away, with the Pro Bowler playing next season at 34 and in a contract year.

Notes: Numbers suggest newcomer Marshall Newhouse fitting right in with Raiders

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AP

Notes: Numbers suggest newcomer Marshall Newhouse fitting right in with Raiders

ALAMEDA – The Raiders like quality and continuity along the offensive line. Big contracts secured four top talents, locking Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson up until at least 2019 .

Those four horsemen ride from left to right, with one new guy joining the group. Veteran Marshall Newhouse signed a two-year contract this offseason to play right tackle.

The 28-year old has played everywhere but center. He has started at left tackle and on the right. He has played both guard spots, as a starter and reserve.

He was brought in to focus on one spot, but Donald Penn’s contract holdout spoiled that plan. Newhouse spent training camp in Penn’s stead, before switching sides.

A prolonged camp battle with Vadal Alexander was compressed into a few practices and the regular season opener, but the frontrunner Newhouse emerged victorious.

It wasn’t a hard decision. He has been excellent thus far, recently in a 45-20 victory over the New York Jets. Over the course of two games and 62 pass blocking snaps, Newhouse hasn’t allowed a single quarterback pressure this season, per analystic site Pro Football Focus.

The Raiders haven’t run his way much, mostly going away from gaps he can control, but he has been solid when given the chance.

“I think he’s done a solid job with that,” head coach Jack Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “Little bit unusual that he’s a swing guy, was signed to come in and compete at the right tackle position and then with the holdout, he played left tackle most of the offseason. The way it worked, he and Vadal [Alexander] competed for the right tackle spot last week and we ended up going with Marshall and he’s been very solid. Both of those guys are prepared to help us. Marshall solidified that job, played well yesterday. Glad to see it.”

NOTES:

NOT SWEATING SETBACKS: The Raiders were penalized nine penalized times for 79 yards on Sunday, mostly on 15-yard infractions in the first half. Del Rio didn’t have a need to correct those mistakes. Most of them he either disagreed with or said they came down to judgment calls. The Raiders haven’t had many clear-cut, procedural violations.

“The judgment calls, you’re going to have to leave it at that. When you see something that’s clearly an infraction, we can coach it, teach it and it gets better. The other things like that, you just have to live with them and move on.”

SMITH MIGHT BE BACK: Veteran cornerback Sean Smith missed Sunday’s game with a neck injury, but Del Rio didn’t anticipate it being a long-term injury. He is also hopeful Jamize Olawale and Keith McGill will make season debuts in Week 3 against Washington.

Jerry Jones helped make Los Angeles world's most-resistant football town

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AP

Jerry Jones helped make Los Angeles world's most-resistant football town

Jerry Jones thinks Roger Goodell is an overpaid buttinsky and mall cop and wants him to be served a great whopping helping of chicken-fried crow.

Fine. If Goodell gets a paycheck haircut, what care we? If he gets shown the door, not a problem. He went from amiable servant of the people to arrogant and bullying poop-emoji in quicksilver time, and one does not cross the boss too many times without being crossed off the list.

But the NFL’S ALREADY burgeoning list of issues has increased by one – the Los Angeles Sinkhole – and the man who presented that one was, yes, Jerry Jones.

Jones is the one who whipsawed the deal by which the St. Louis Rams moved west to solve a problem that wasn’t rather than run point on the San Diego Chargers/Oakland Raiders stadium time share plan that would have definitively solved two others – all because he liked Stan Kroenke’s portfolio a lot more than Dean Spanos’ billfold or Mark Davis’ rubber band.

But he also saw to it that Spanos would not be left in the cold and helped broker the deal that allowed him to go to L.A. anyway.

And what did all that Jerry arm-wrenching work do for his partners? It made Los Angeles the world’s most football-resistant town.

The citizens have voted with their feet and made the Rams an uncool thing and the Chargers a veritable slum. They choose with great and careful thought to avoid both the Coliseum and StubHub Center as though the game-day giveaway was an anthrax-coated trucker’s hat – not because they hate the Rams and Chargers, or because they love the Raiders so much, but because when push comes to shove, Californians say no by not caring.

And let’s be honest here – disinterest is worse than hatred.

There are those who have called this an embarrassment to the league, but that misses the target. The league is 32 men, of which only a few control the rest as long as everyone gets paid. And the strongest of those men wasted the Los Angeles “opportunity” and gutted the fan bases of two teams just for a real estate deal and because he just liked rolling with other billionaires.

And if the Raiders don’t hit the ground at a dead sprint in Las Vegas, there may be a third – although in fairness that is not so much Jones’ work as it is Davis’ persistence and ability to find tactical geniuses to guide him to what he wanted, even if it doesn’t turn out to be what he needs.

In short, whatever happens in the Goodell-v.-Jones battle, you have no rooting interest save perhaps mutually assured destruction. We can all live better with that as a possibility.