After the Raiders “bullied” the Jets it is easy to forget the team has inadequacies. Even though the Raiders have a very imposing defensive line and are tied for third in the league with 10 sacks, the defense is still allowing nearly 290 passing yards per game. What is also looked over in the Raiders 2-1 start is the inconsistent play of the kick coverage units. The Raiders were exposed on a couple long kick returns despite recovering a fumble by Antonio Cromartie. The punt coverage has been terrible and is a huge weakness on this team.
Stanford Routt and Tyvon Branch are the only healthy members of the Raiders secondary who were on the team last year. With the injury to DeMarcus Van Dyke (knee) coupled with his lack of development, the Raiders are extra thin in the weakest area of their defense.
Chimdi Checkwa, is showing why he was drafted and made the roster. After Chekwa’s promising performance the starting cornerback position could be his for the taking with Chris Johnson nursing a hamstring injury. Because of the Raiders tendency to run dime packages, Matt Giordano, Joe Porter and Jerome Boyd saw additional snaps last week. The Raiders will continue to rely heavily on these defensive backs because they now have pivotal roles on the defense. The success of the secondary hinges on the performance of these young and unseasoned defensive backs.
The Raiders may be missing special teams ace Hiram Eugene. Eugene found a way to make an impact and in four years with the Raiders, Hiram played in 60 games and started in 19, with 10 being in 2008 over a healthy and disappointing Michael Huff. In four years Eugene accumulated over 120 tackles, most coming as the last line of defense or as the gunner on special teams. Not bad for an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech.
Eugene provided depth in the secondary and supplied leadership as one of the premier gunners in the league. Eugene may not be a household name, but his presence is sorely missed. The Raiders have allowed punt returns for 53 and 90 yards without Eugene; there is no wonder the Raiders rewarded him this past off-season with a four-year contract.
The Patriots are averaging a gaudy 437 passing yards per game so Tom Brady and Wes Welker will be ultimate test for the Oakland Raiders secondary. The defensive line cannot take a play off and the linebackers have to play very well in space. Special teams cover units cannot let New England have great field position or any free points.
The Raiders will miss Eugene for his special teams ability most of all, but with all the injuries in the secondary Eugene may be also missed as a backup.