The Oakland Raiders boast a 4-1 record and sit tied atop the AFC West, but there is still room for growth, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The Raiders defense gives up a league worst 452.6 yards per game and are 24th in points allowed a game with 27.4.
It was expected the defense would go through some growing pains with so many new faces, and they’re still working on better communication six weeks into the season.
The secondary was almost entirely revamped in the offseason with new additions Sean Smith, Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson. The linebacking corps was infused with a combination of youth and veteran leadership, with sixth round rookie Cory James and former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin.
The defense is still in the process of gelling, and head coach Jack Del Rio stressed the importance of communication:
“Communication is so critical to what we do and being able to share information. If I am going to count on you to do what you need to do, you and I being on the same page is imperative. I think that’s a great place to start. I think the next place to start is to know your assignment and have your eyes where they belong, and they are really basic fundamentals that we have to do better and we will.”
The Raiders defensive woes can also be attributed to the great offenses they’ve faced this season.
The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers rank first, sixth and eighth respectively in total yards per game. They each boast elite quarterbacks in Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
The combination of those three top-flight quarterbacks in the first five weeks of the season wreaked havoc on the Raiders defensive numbers.
The Silver and Black’s only loss this season came at the hands of the resurgent Falcons week two, where early MVP candidate Ryan dissected the defense for 396 passing yards and three touchdowns.
The Raiders opponent this week is the Kansas City Chiefs, who are ranked 21st in the league with 338.5 yards a game.
The Chiefs lack of big play ability on offense could be the catalyst the Raiders defense needs to start playing at a more consistent level.
Kansas City’s starting quarterback Alex Smith isn’t on the same level as Ryan, Brees or Rivers, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be someone to watch out for according to current Raiders and former Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.
“The one thing about Alex Smith is he gets the job done. It’s not always going to be pretty with four passing touchdowns and 300 yards, but he gets the job done whenever the team needs a big play.”
Stopping big plays is something safety Karl Joseph said starts with a collective team effort:
“I don’t think it’s one guy more important than the other. I think that shows every week. If the d-line is not having a good game, we aren’t going to be successful. If the back-end isn’t having a good game we aren’t going to be successful, so it’s everybody playing together and doing their part, that’s the only way we’re going to be good really.”
The Chiefs are coming off of a bye week and head coach Andy Reid is 15-2 in his career coming off of a bye. Kansas City was blasted by the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-14 two weeks ago, and Del Rio said he expects the Chiefs to be ready to compete hard in all three phases of the game.
To get a leg up on the competition, and to get the defense rolling in the right direction, Del Rio reiterated it all starts with communication:
“The ability to communicate and be on the same page is imperative to play good defense. That’s where you start, then we get into shedding blocks and tackling and leveraging; the basic fundamentals of playing good defense. We believe in our ability to teach, we believe in the guys we have and we believe we are all in it together.”