The strength of the Raiders defense as everyone knows is the defensive line. It is anchored by six-time pro-bowler Richard Seymour and 300-pounder Tommy Kelly. The defensive line also features two young stout defensive ends, Matt Shaugnessey and Lamarr Houston. This season has also featured plays by run stuffing 330 pounder John Henderson and a resurgent Jarvis Moss. This unit is the undeniable strength of the defense.
Coming into this season the biggest question regarding the Raiders defense was in the secondary. With Nnamdi leaving, the spotlight has been on Stanford Routt and he has quietly delivered. Tyvon Branch has made his fair share of plays, but he’s still working to improve his consistency. These two starters of the secondary are the only two starters that have stayed healthy and that played four games. Michael Huff, Chris Johnson, Mike Mitchell and DeMarcus Van Dyke have all missed time and the backups have played like backups. Once these four players return the play and potential of the secondary unit will come into focus.
What about the linebackers? Coming into the season, they were neither the strength of the defense nor the weakness. This unit has two former 1st round picks in Rolondo McClain and Kamerion Wimbley and a 2nd round pick in Quentin Groves. Since week 1, the Raiders linebackers have been struggling. The biggest problem with this unit is that Wimbley and Groves were both drafted into this league primarily on their pass rushing abilities and not their outside linebacker skills. Both of these men, are outside rush linebackers in a 3-4 system or a defensive end in the nickel or dime in passing situations. The problem with this unit is that Groves and Wimbley are not 4-3 outside linebackers.
McClain is a work in progress. Some plays, he makes a pass deflection or he makes the correct read, fills the correct gap and stuffs the run. But too often, he is slow to react, plays too high, takes bad angles and is easily sealed off. McClain can be a quality run stuffing middle linebacker but right now he needs his outside linebacker to back him up when he makes mistakes. Unfortunately for McClain, his outside linebackers are not linebackers who fit the system. This season is not the season to give up on McClain, the Raiders are putting him a very difficult position.
Wimbley and Groves can still find a home with the Raiders. Groves is not a financial liability and could actually provide quality depth in the linebacker or defensive line unit. Given that he isn’t relayed upon to produce as the starting outside linebacker. Wimbley, whose new contract is deserved, is his best and provides the most value when played at defensive end.
With Groves and Wimbley at outside linebacker the Raiders are trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Wimbley and Groves provide another example of how Al Davis loves size and speed. Having Wimbley and Groves start at outside linebacker is an experiment. This experiment has resulted in the Raiders owning the worst run defense in the league. Groves and Wimbley both need to quickly complete the transformation into quality 4-3 outside linebackers. If not, Oakland’s run defense will continue to be embarrassed and the Raiders will have to give up the experiment. If the Raiders are to win the AFC West and be playoff team, something has to change.