Raiders midseason report: Defense

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Raiders midseason report: Defense

First-half storyline: Coming into the season the loss of All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was the main story line. Buried in there somewhere, though, was the fact that the Raiders returned 10 of 11 starters on defense, giving the unit some much-needed continuity, especially coming off a 47-sack season, which was tied for second-most in the NFL (they only have 18 sacks now).

The same concerns, however, were there, especially when it came to defending the run. And lo and behold, those same problems have crept up again at the midway point, despite an added emphasis on stopping the run and, really, knowing exactly what was coming at them in the form of Tim Tebow. The defense on Sunday against Denver was as bad as it's been since 2003, especially the run defense in giving up 298 yards, the fourth-most surrendered in franchise history.

Eight games in, the Raiders' defense is 29th against the run, giving up 139.6 yards per game on the ground. Losing defensive end Matt Shaughnessy for the season three games in with a shoulder injury did not help.

MVP: Richard Seymour. The 11th-year defensive tackle owns the locker room in his third season in Oakland and leads the Raiders with five sacks. More impressive, perhaps, is how he's transformed the defensive line in his image, especially fellow DT Tommy Kelly. Still, Seymour's intensity sometimes goes awry, as it did when he picked up two personal foul penalties for 30 yards total against New England on the Patriots' opening 80-yard touchdown drive.Biggest surprise: The respect opposing quarterbacks have given Stanford Routt by essentially avoiding his side of the field has been somewhat Asomugha-esque. Then again, with Chris Johnson hurt all year and a pair of rookies in DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa filling in the gap opposite Routt, why would you go after Routt, who has one of the team's seven interceptions.Biggest disappointment: Granted, the bar is set high for Rolando McClain. But it should be. And as such, the second-year middle linebacker is not the game-changing force many saw him as being when the Raiders used the No. 8 overall pick on him in 2010. He has trouble shedding blocks and is easily re-directed and oftentimes takes bad angles on ball carriers. And yet, slowed by an ankle injury since Oct. 9, his absence is most definitely felt, especially in run defense, when he's out of the game. Go figure.Best play: The day after Al Davis passed away, and with only 10 men on the field, Michael Huff stepped in front of Matt Schaub's five-yard pass to Jacoby Jones in the end zone as time expired for the interception to seal the Raiders' emotional 25-20 victory at Houston. Nothing else comes close.Worst play: Hmmm, take your pick from any of Tebow's zone-read option runs against them on Sunday. Tebow galloped for 117 yards against Oakland, though two runs especially stood out as the faked-out duo of Kamerion Wimbley and Jarvis Moss are both still searching for their jock straps.Key to the second half: The same as the previous eight years -- stuffing the run and limiting big-chunk plays. Could recently-released DT Albert Haynesworth be a target and, if signed, be kept in check by Seymour, Kelly and John Henderson?

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.

They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.

Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.

“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”

While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.

The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.

“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.

"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”

Raiders LT Donald Penn: QB Derek Carr 'almost 100 percent'

Raiders LT Donald Penn: QB Derek Carr 'almost 100 percent'

Derek Carr is on the mend. The Raiders franchise quarterback had surgery to repair his fibula shortly after he broke it in a Week 16 victory over Indianapolis, and is recovering well during the offseason.

Carr insisted on intense rehab this winter in an attempt – however unlikely it may have been – to return should the Raiders have played in the Super Bowl. It slowed to a normal pace after the Raiders' loss at Houston in the postseason’s opening round, but those in contact with him say he’s making strides.

Left tackle Donald Penn was recently in contact with Carr, and provided an update on Monday during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network.

“I texted Derek (a few) days ago checking in,” Penn said, “and he said he’s almost 100 percent.”

Surgically-repaired broken filbulas take significant time to heal, and the Raiders plan to be conservative with their MVP candidate during the offseason. Derek Carr’s brother and NFL Network analyst David Carr, who was on set with Penn on Monday, said Derek could be back for offseason work.

“He’s doing good,” David Carr said. “He’s walking around already, stretching it out. You can’t do a lot for the bone, right? But he’s going to be back. He’s going to get a whole full offseason in. That’s going to be the best part.”