Raiders

Khalil Mack ready for regular season, but Raiders defense is not

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AP

Khalil Mack ready for regular season, but Raiders defense is not

OAKLAND – The Los Angeles Rams assigned two blockers to Khalil Mack, a common practice against the reigning defensive player of the year. Sometimes it works. This time it didn’t.

The Raiders edge rusher split the double team, found his target and pounced. Jared Goff stood zero chance. There was no evading this one. Mack brought last year’s No. 1 overall pick down with authority, claiming a sack that ultimately won’t count in his 2017 total.

The sacks highlighted a dominant performance that also included three quarterback pressures, four total tackles and two for a loss. All that in three series.

Mack’s clearly ready for the regular season. As a whole, the Raiders defense is not.

Saturday’s 24-21 loss to the Rams at Oakland Coliseum proved that point. A below average offense had no trouble scoring on a starting unit that looks a bit lost.

“I thought our defense was poor, in particular early when we started the game,” head coach Jack Del Rio said in a postgame press conference. “We’re going to have to get a whole lot better there.”

It has to happen quickly, with the regular season bearing down and the Raiders still trying to correct the same old thing. Making proper reads and improved communication has been an emphasis this offseason as coaches work to get this defense playing better together. It’s still preseason and there’s time to teach and coach and fix problems, but the defense isn't quite right.

“I think we’ll go a long way when we clean some of those things up,” Del Rio said. “The things that we’ve talked about for too long in terms of communication errors, eye violations and things like that that just keep you from ever being really good on defense. Those just have to get cleaned up.”

Issues are present in the front seven but more obvious in the back, where explosive pass plays continue to plague the starting unit. The Raiders allowed two plays over 20 yards on the first series and six plays of 10 or more yards in three series on Saturday, when the full starting unit was active. The Rams scored 14 points – Mack’s sack squashed the lone non-scoring drive – in those three series.

Del Rio was bothered by misreads and “eye violations,” in coverage, which make things easier for an opposing offense.

“When you see them, it’s not a good thing,” Del Rio said. “Yeah, I mean it’s really simple. You don’t have your eyes where they belong and you’re playing man? You’re playing man or even in zone. If you’re not seeing what you need to see, it makes it hard.”

Fixing these problems could improve execution and make life harder on opponents. It needs to happen this summer or the Raiders will have to win a lot of shootouts.

“Obviously, I identify what the problem is,” Del Rio said. “Getting it fixed is the challenge.”

Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

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Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Raiders are remarkably healthy heading into Sunday night’s game against the Washington football club.

The entire 53-man roster practiced fully on Friday, before heading to the nation’s capital.

That includes veteran cornerback Sean Smith, who missed the previous game with a neck injury. A shoulder ailment cropped up during the week, which prompted the Raiders to label him questionable heading into Week 3. Smith’s the only Raider on the injury report, and even he’s in decent shape.

“I mean we put it on there because there’s still a little bit of a question,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “You don’t have probable’s anymore. Given the choices, I just left him that way.”

That means the Raiders are going to have some healthy scratches a week after Smith was the only injured player sitting out.

Washington has some impact players on the mend. That included tight end Jordan Reed, who is questionable with a rib/sternum injury. He stands 6-foot-2, 246 pounds and is the type of receiving tight end that gives the Raiders fits. He has 1,638 yards 17 touchdowns the last two seasons, using good hands and a large frame to create mismatches in the secondary.

It’ll be key for the Raiders to defend him well if he’s active, with Nicholas Morrow as a primary coverage option.

“We’re prepared to face him,” Del Rio said. “We think he’s a good player. We’ll approach it that way and adjust if he doesn’t go.”

Washington also lists starting inside linebacker Mason Foster and running back Rob Kelley as questionable.

Raiders Injury Report
Questionable
CB Sean Smith (neck/shoulder)

Washington Injury Report
Questionable

TE Jordan Reed (rib/sternum), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), RB Rob Kelley (rib), S Monate Nicholson (shoulder), CB Josh Norman (shoulder)

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”