The Raiders defense that will take on the New York Giants Sunday has changed a bit.
That’s probably good news.
At 5-6, the Raiders have five games to get on a roll and earn a playoff spot, so they’ll need both the defense and offense to start playing with efficiency and explosiveness. Now that John Pagano has taken over the defense for the fired Ken Norton Jr., it appears the unit indeed may be playing at a higher level.
In a win over the Broncos last week, Oakland had a season-high five sacks and intercepted its first pass of 2017. The Raiders -- using a somewhat simpler game plan vs. Denver than in previous games to allow defenders to play “faster” rather than reading and reacting -- still weren’t great, giving up 153 yards and two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but for the first three quarters were solid. And, for the game, Oakland allowed just five conversions on 14 third-down plays.
Another wrinkle used by Pagano was to move Khalil Mack around on the defensive front more often. Pagano said that gives Mack more of a chance to get to the passer.
“I think the biggest thing is not knowing where he’s at,” Pagano told reporters this week. “Having the opportunity for him to move around so they don’t always know he’s right there on the right side. You get a lot of things. That’s usually his side where he rushes, so it gives him a chance to get different looks. He’s smart enough to be able to do those things. When you have a player like that you take advantage of it and you move him.”
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said that in watching film of the Raiders against Denver, he saw a different style than in previous games.
“Looks to me like they may have simplified a little bit, let guys run around and play faster,” McAdoo said, according to Josh Dubow of the Associated Press. “When somebody itches, they scratch with different things. You can see that in the personality of the coordinator when they call the game.”
The faster style and implementation of Mack could be bad news for the Giants offense, which will have a new starting quarterback in Geno Smith, promoted this week over longtime standout Eli Manning.
Smith has just one start over the past three seasons, and the New York offense hasn’t been good this season, ranking 28th in the NFL in yards and 31st in scoring, at just 15.6 points per game.
The Giants, at 2-9, provide a must-win opportunity for the Raiders, who still have a shot at the AFC West title with the collapse of the leading Chiefs – Oakland’s opponent next week.
The Raiders are listed as 8-point favorites against New York.
Sunday’s kickoff for the Raiders-Giants game is set for 1:25 p.m. at O.co Coliseum.