The Oakland Raiders have a 3-5 record through the mid–point of the season. Here is a look at the defensive grades by position:
Defensive Line- B-
The Raiders have not gotten the pressure from the front four through the first eight games. They have picked it up in recent weeks especially after the bye week, but still need to improve. They have 11 sacks for the season. Richard Seymour leads the team with three. Tommy Kelly has gotten pressure but has yet to record a sack and penalty concerns still remain for the defensive tackle. Defensive end Lamaar Houston has been the most productive on the line, mostly due to his hustle plays. Last week he blocked a field goal, made the recovery, and return it to set up the offense in good field position. He has set an example for the rest of the defensive with his forced fumble and recovery by pure determination. As a unit they still need to be more disciplined in their gap assignments at times to shut down opposing rush offenses.
No one can argue with the play the Raiders have gotten from Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris. Both players have a nose for the football and are sure tackles. Wheeler leads the team with 65 tackles and Burris is fourth with 38. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain is third with 42 tackles, but has been abused in pass coverages. Because of that inability, he is no longer a part of Oakland's nickle package. There are times when he is inconsistent or looks like he is taking a play off, but is still useful in run defense. With Aaron Curry nearing a comeback, the linebacking corps is the best unit on the defense.
With starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer down with injuries, the Raiders cornerback play has been hit or miss. They had a horrible stretch where they gave up over 700 yards and seven touchdowns in a two game period to Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. After those rocky efforts, Pat Lee and Michael Huff played well for three games. Lee continues to improve, but Huff, a converted safety, was targeted by the Tampa Bay offense and allowed several important conversions. The transition has understandably been difficult for Huff, so the Raiders need to get Bartell back for experience and depth.
With Huff moving to cornerback, Matt Giordano stepped into the free safety position to pair with Tyvon Branch. Branch is second on the team in tackles with 57 and has an interception, but is not the franchise player the Raiders desired when they signed him to a new contract. He is still productive, but is out of position and misses opportunities to make big plays too often. Giordano fills in admirably, but has his struggles in coverages at times. Whether its miscommunication or bad angles, Giordano gives up too many big gains.
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