January 29, 2022

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Raiders hope competition brings out the best in defensive line

The message Jon Gruden sent by making defensive end Carl Nassib a healthy scratch on Sunday against the New York Jets is impossible to ignore.

The question now is, will it light the necessary fire to motivate a struggling position group into becoming an asset over the last four games of the season?

In desperate need to create a more formidable pass rush and to build a sturdier front wall against the run, Gruden and the Raiders’ defensive coaching staff are shining a brighter spotlight on the daily practice habits of each member of the defensive line.

As the benching of Nassib proved, status and salary will no longer be the main criteria in deciding who will suit up among the 46 players on the active game-day roster.

Nassib, who the Raiders signed as a free agent last March, is the sixth-highest paid player on the team at $7.5 million. But that was of no matter when it came time to decide whether he’d play against the Jets.

His spot went to Vic Beasley, the veteran defensive end the Raiders signed to their practice squad on November 23rd.

“We’re going to put the ball down Wednesday morning for practice and we’re going to play the guys that perform their best on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Gruden said on Monday.

It was a call to action for a group that has struggled to create a consistent pass rush and, as the Jets 206 rushing yards on Sunday showed, is susceptible against the run.

With the 7-5 Raiders currently one-game off the AFC playoff pace and needing to win out to punch their ticket to the postseason, identifying a consistent defensive front among the eight players that populate that position group each week is critically important.

The Raiders’ final push begins on Sunday at Allegiant against the Indianapolis Colts, whose 15 sacks allowed are the third-fewest in the NFL.

Getting pressure on Colts quarterback Philip Rivers, the longtime Chargers quarterback and frequent Raiders’ foe, is especially important. Among active NFL quarterbacks, Rivers has the second-most career interceptions with 207 in 240 games. That includes the nine he’s thrown this year and the six he threw against the Raiders in two games last season.

The 8-4 Colts sit one game ahead of the Raiders in the playoff chase. A Raiders win would not just pull them even with Indianapolis, it would secure the all-important tiebreaker edge should the two teams finish the season with identical records.

Gruden’s hope is to create a greater sense of urgency by sending the message that playing time will now be predicated on practice performance.

The Raiders are 29th in the NFL with 15 sacks this year, and that is after Cle Ferrell returned from a two-game absence due to COVID-19 Sunday to collect his first two sacks of the season and force a pair of fumbles.

Of their sacks, the defensive line has produced 12, with second-year edge rusher Maxx Crosby accumulating a team-high six. Nassib, who was signed specifically to inject life into the pass rush, has just 1.5 sacks over his 11 games.

The Raiders are 28th in the NFL in tackles for losses with 39.

While they are doing a decent job with the NFL’s 10th-most pressures at 113 — 91 of which come from their defensive line — they simply aren’t getting enough difference-making performances from their front four.

In fact, only Ferrell is ranked within the top 15 among his NFL peers, according to Pro Football Focus, with a ranking of 14th among edge rushers.

Beyond that, Nassib (ranked 46th), Arden Key (75th) and Crosby (98th) are among the 108 eligible players, and their rankings are indicative of the struggles the Raiders have had along the edge both in pass rush and run defense.

Of the interior players, Maurice Hurst at 24th is the highest ranked Raider, with Jonathan Hankins next at 83rd among ranks 24th among the 130 eligible players, according to PFF.

Maliek Collins, who is ranked 128th, was put on the injured reserve list last week. The Raiders signed him last March in free agency with expectations he would solidify the interior of their defense.

He came on the recommendation of Raiders defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who was Collins’ position coach with the Dallas Cowboys but has struggled mightily to find his niche.

Of the glaringly deficient run defense Sunday against the Jets, Gruden did not mince words.

“We got to do a lot to fix it,” he said sternly. “We have to get off blocks better. We have to be better at the point of attack. We have to tackle better. We have to do a lot better job coaching. That’s an understatement.”

The Raiders have been aggressive in trying to solve the problem by reaching outside their building for reinforcements. But David Irving, a defensive end they signed in late October, has struggled to stay healthy, and Takk McKinley, who they claimed off waivers on November 23, has not recovered from the groin injury that predated his signing.

In Beasley’s Raiders debut on Sunday, he played eight snaps and came up with one quarterback pressure.

Moving forward, the presence of McKinley and Beasley is expected to push the rest of the unit throughout the week, with the best practice players getting the nod on game day.

That means Nassib is back in the running this week as the Raiders decide what 46 players to suit up on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

“We like Carl. We like everybody,” Gruden said. “We try to play the guys that have the best weeks of practice. We feel like we want to create competition, Vic Beasley is here to create that. He didn’t come here to sit on the bench. Takk McKinley, when he comes back, he’s not going to be just sitting out there waiting until next year.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at [email protected] Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.

Source News