The Raiders have turned heads with wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers through the first two weeks of the season. They held Lamar Jackson in check and pressured him all night long on the first Sunday Night showdown of the year and kept the Steelers to an embarrassing 39 rushing yards as team. Their defense is suffocating explosive offenses and giving the ball back to Derek Carr and company drive after drive. So just how good are they?
There are two metrics that I’ll be assessing the front seven on, pass rush and run defense. On the pass rush side of things they have been pretty impressive. The best part of the pass rush to me is their strong rotation. Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, Carl Nassib, Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson, Darius Philon, and Jonathan Hankins is a stellar rotation of above average players. Generally I have a problem with units that are just above average but don’t be fooled, there is a star on this line. Maxx Crosby has been terrorizing offenses this season. He has two sacks, ten quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, and numerous quarterback pressures through just two games. Crosby has taken things to the next level with his hand counters and burst off the line. This dude is a stud and the leader of an impressive, upgraded pass rushing unit for the Raiders. As far as run stopping goes, they have impressed there as well. They held Ravens quarterback to under ninety rushing yards in almost five quarters which is a feat that most defenses cannot accomplish and they held rookie stud Najee Harris to a mere thirty-eight rushing yards. The linebacker core also sports a nice rotation with Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkowski, Nicholas Morrow, Denzel Perryman, and K.J. Wright. The linebackers have shown great discipline and versatility for this defense.
This secondary is weaker than their front seven but I wouldn’t say they’re bad. The cornerbacks have been pretty good so far with Casey Heyward Jr., Trayvon Mullen, and Nate Hobbs in the slot. They are great for what defensive coordinator Gus Bradley asks of them in his defense. As for the safeties, they have been pretty dang good considering Gus Bradley requires a lot from them in his scheme. Rookie free safety Trevon Moehrig has shown that he has the range and tackling ability that everyone was hoping would translate from his college game. Jonathan Abram has gotten a lot of hate in the past few years and I still wouldn’t trust him in coverage against a Pop Warner receiver but he is playing really well in this close to the line, smash mouth role that Bradley has him in. This isn’t an elite defense per say when it comes to pass defense but I wouldn’t say they’re pushovers either.
This Raiders defense is clearly much improved over the last 3 units that Mayock and Gruden have had. I credit most of this early success to Gus Bradley. Since coming in, he has prioritized technique and high IQ which means that he doesn’t need a bunch of pro bowlers to find success. I think the Raiders lost a ton of close games last year and those might go the other way this year now that they have a stout defense. In a division with high power offenses like the Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers have, the Raiders can finally hold their own and win close divisional games. I’m excited to see what else this defense has in store for us in 2021.