A year ago, the Oakland Raiders’ defense was a weak point, picked apart by a new opponent every week.
The Raiders gave up the fifth-most points in the NFL in 2012, an average of 27.7 points per game. During one four-game stretch, the Raiders gave up 42, 55, 38 and 34 points.
For the season, the Raiders gave up 235 yards per game passing, and 118 per game on the ground.
This year, Oakland’s defense is allowing just 22 points per game, has 16 sacks – after getting just 25 all of last season – and ranks 10th in the NFL against the run, giving up just 99 yards per game. Overall, the Raiders have the 13th-ranked defense in the league and are on pace for more than 40 sacks.
And, aside from giving up 37 points to the Broncos and Peyton Manning – who are torching every defense in the league this season – the Raiders have given up no more than 24 points in a game.
Now, with the Raiders in their bye week at 2-4 and with time to prepare for their next matchup, against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 27, head coach Dennis Allen this week said he’s been proud of the way defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has molded a unit that has at times confused opponents and become one of the strongest aspects of the team.
Allen said Tarver’s defenses have been successful because the entire unit – which has just one returner from 2012 because of the injury to safety Tyvon Branch – has bought into Tarver’s philosophy and made simple schemes appear complex to opposing quarterbacks.
“I think he’s really smart,” Allen told Bay Area reporters this week, when asked about Tarver’s teaching ability. “He’s able to take something that might seem complicated, break it down and make it as simple as you can for the players. I think sometimes, I think, us as coaches, sometimes we over-coach. When you over-coach, you tend to slow your players down. You want to try to make it as simple as possible so that your players can play fast.”
And this season, that’s what’s happened. Plus, the Raiders brought in some veterans such as safety Charles Woodson, cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins and middle linebacker Nick Roach that have provided stability and leadership.
One of the Raiders’ hallmarks this season has been their ability to blitz from all directions. Defensive backs and linebackers are constantly coming on blitzes – or appearing as if they are.
In the Raiders’ loss to the undefeated Chiefs this past Sunday, Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith – who was sacked three times in the first quarter – said Oakland’s defense was hard to read.
“They did a gret job mixing it up,” Smith told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “I felt like we never could get a read on it, on what they were doing. … They just kept rolling through the calls and mixing it. They did a great job. They caught us off guard a few times. They caught me off guard.”
Tarver told ESPN’s Gutierrez that he’s doing everything he can this season to build an effective defense by keeping things simple and playing to his players’ strengths and putting them in positions to succeed.
“We really try to go in the room and figure out what the guys need to help them make plays, because that’s why we’re here – to help these guys make plays,” said Tarver.