Until Denver and their spread option read came and put up nearly 300 rushing yards on them, including two 100-yard rushers, the Raiders allowed only Fred Jackson to post a 100-yard rushing game. Four days after the Denver game, the Raiders held an offense that averages over 100 rushing yards a game to 68. So what happened two weeks ago against Denver?
Did the Raiders defensive ends play undisciplined? Yes. Were the linebackers often late in filling lanes and did they often fill the wrong ones repeatedly? Yes. Did the entire front seven of the defense get manhandled by Denver’s offensive line? Yes. Is there anything else that led to the Raiders’ defensive collapse two weeks ago? Yes: the absence of Rolando McClain.
McClain has only missed one game, that being of course Denver at home. In that game, Curry had the green dot on the defense and the Raiders run defense was atrocious. Regardless of the Raiders having a dominant defensive line, the middle linebacker is the undisputed quarterback and leader of the defense. It is McClain’s job to get everybody aligned and on the same page. When McClain was out, the Raiders couldn’t stop the option read because they were not on the same page and kept on making the same mistakes.
Starting the season, the Raiders linebackers weren’t the strength or the weakness of the defense. As games went, there grew a linebacker problem and a move was made. Now, with no real depth, the Raiders linebacking corps consists of McClain, Curry and Wimbley. With the Raiders rarely running their base 4-3 defense and Wimbley doing the most damage in a three-point stand, McClain and Curry form the core of this unit. It was apparent in the Denver game that Curry is currently unable to lead like McClain.
McClain is not perfect. He often reacts slowly, plays too high, misses tackles, gets sealed off easily, and gets exposed in open space, but he has something that no other Raider linebacker has. He is far from being a dominant linebacker who makes his physical presence known every game, but he sure is missed when he doesn’t play. McClain hasn’t come close to exceeding expectations, but, by making his presence missed, when he doesn’t play, he has met them.