National Football League

Raiders' Defense Still a Weak Link

Building up injury-riddled defense should be a priority for Oakland this offseason

In 2013, the woeful Raiders defense allowed 453 points, the worst total since the Oakland team of 1961.

So, the Raiders went to work in the offseason. They drafted outside linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick, brought in cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers from the 49ers and signed veteran free agents Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley for the defensive line.

The result? The Raiders allowed 452 points -- just one better than the year before. Oakland finished 21st in total defense, allowing 357.6 yards per game. The Raiders were dead last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 28.3 points per game.

Clearly, the Raiders have some work to do this offseason to improve defensively.

Of course, injuries accounted for much of the problem. Middle linebacker Nick Roach -- a steady leader the season before -- was lost before the season began. Outside linebacker Sio Moore was hurt late in the season. Safeties Tyvon Branch and Usama Young were lost. The cornerback corps was whittled down to almost nothing by Game No. 16. And Woodley, too, was hurt and contributed very little.

The Raiders gave up points in bunches this season, including 47 in the final game of the season to the Broncos.

But there were signs late in the year that there are some things to build on for 2015. Mack and Moore are gifted players; young cornerbacks DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill show promise; and safety Brandian Ross played well when forced into the lineup. There were times -- such as in late-season victories over the Chiefs, 49ers and Bills -- when the defense looked as if it had turned a corner.

But this unit still has a long way to go, and once the Raiders decide on a new head coach -- or to keep interim guy Tony Sparano -- the team can begin taking steps for improvement. Will defensive coordinator Jason Tarver survive? Can Roach and Branch come back strong? Will the Raiders use the fourth overall pick in the draft to grab another impact player on defense?

Tuck, for one, doesn’t like losing after all those winning seasons with the New York Giants. But he looks at his teammates and believes they’re close to being a team that can win.

“We’re not far off,” Tuck told reporters Monday. “Obviously you look at the (3-13) record and say, ‘They’re at the bottom of the league,’ and things like that. I think I’ve played this game long enough and a lot of guys around here have played this game long enough to know that the foundation has been set here.”

But improvement in 2015 is going to have to be more significant than a single point.

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