Nine games into this season, there’s reason to believe the Raiders’ run defense will improve in November and December.
The addition of NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker is one factor. In his three games with Oakland since coming over from the 49ers, Bowman has been in on 32 tackles and has received excellent grades from the analytic website Pro Football Focus for his work against opposing running games. The Raiders limited the Dolphins to just 86 yards rushing in their most recent game and held the Chiefs to 94 three games ago. In between, however, the Bills slashed the Raiders for 166 yards on the ground. It’s no coincidence the Raiders beat the Chiefs and Dolphins but lost in Buffalo.
Also, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack continues to be a force against running backs and blockers.
The other player who’s coming on strong is defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. After missing most of 2016, Edwards is building on his strong rookie season of 2015 when he led all NFL players at his position with his grade in run-stop percentage.
This season, Edwards ranks third in the NFL among 3-4 defensive ends in total run stops (17) and is No. 2 in run-stop percentage, according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus.
"Edwards’ dominance … shouldn’t come as a surprise to those that have followed him closely, for it only adds legitimacy to his strong play at the start of his NFL career," wrote Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle.
This season, the Raiders are giving up 4.1 yards per carry. A year ago, the Raiders gave up 4.5 yards per carry.
Wrote Gayle: "While the entirety of the improvement can’t be placed on solely Edwards’ shoulders, his healthy presence is, by all means, a contributing factor."
Edwards has been excited to play and contribute this season after being sidelined most of 2016.
"I think I’m just getting started, getting back to where I left off, and there’s a lot more to come," Edwards said earlier this season. "I’m just glad to get back in the swing of things, and I’m just ready for what I have in store later in the season."
The 4-5 Raiders will face the 7-2 New England Patriots Sunday in Mexico City. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.