Before the Oakland Raiders took on the Tennessee Titans this past Saturday night, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said he was concerned about his team’s run defense.
The Packers had given the Raiders’ first-unit run defense problems the week before, and Norton wanted to see how Oakland would fare against the Titans, who feature standout backs such as DeMarco Murray and former Alabama star Derrick Henry.
Quickly, the Raiders got their answer.
On the Titans’ first run from scrimmage, Murray bolted 17 yards up the middle. Murray capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. In the second quarter, Murray broke free on another 17-yard sprint to set up a field goal in Tennessee’s 27-14 victory. All told, Murray carried eight times for 40 yards while Henry carried 12 times for 49 yards – including a 12-yard run -- and a TD. Quarterback Marcus Mariota also scrambled three times for 20 yards.
It wasn’t quite the defensive performance Norton or head coach Jack Del Rio were hoping to see.
Del Rio told reporters that he didn’t see any lack of effort, but that “misfitting” – players not minding their gaps or their assigned responsibilities – is the culprit.
“You’re just not where you’re supposed to be and the whole defense is counting on you,” Del Rio said. “Those things really cause problems and we have to get those cleaned up.”
Del Rio, a former standout linebacker who’s known as a defensive coach, hopes to continue to work to get the problems cleaned up before the Raiders open the regular season Sept. 11 vs. the Saints.
The Raiders hope to be a much better defense in 2016 and have added linebacker Bruce Irvin, safeties Reggie Nelson and No. 1 pick Karl Joseph and cornerback Sean Smith. Del Rio and Norton believe the defense can be a top-tier NFL unit.
But, so far, it hasn’t played up to expectation.
“I take it real personal,” Del Rio said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have a good alibi, it bothers me. You can’t be a great defense doing that. We have the intentions, we’ve set our intentions. We’re not shying away from that. We’re not backing down from that, but it’s got to be a whole hell of a lot better than what I saw out there tonight."