Raiders Fire Norton, But Will That Make Defense Any Better?

Pagano takes over coordinator duties for a unit that has underperformed and ranks tied for last in the NFL in sacks

Ken Norton Jr. took a beating as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator the past couple of seasons.

While the team’s offense flourished in 2016, the defense struggled. Then, this year, Norton’s defense continued to have problems. Despite having Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and a healthy Mario Edwards Jr. in the front seven this season, the Raiders’ pass rush has produced just 14 sacks, tied for fewest in the NFL.

Now, head coach Jack Del Rio has fired Norton and replaced him with John Pagano, the former Chargers defensive coordinator who was brought in over the offseason to provide some new perspective. So, it’s probably not much of a surprise that Norton’s days were numbered if the defense continued to flop.

But with six games remaining for the 4-6 Raiders – who probably need to go 5-1 to make the playoffs again – will the move make any difference at all?

That’s the big question. The Raiders secondary has been picked apart, the unit has yet to intercept a pass and Oakland ranks 26th in the NFL in total defense, surrendering 367 yards and 24.7 points per game.

Defensive tackle Justin Ellis told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com that Norton wasn’t solely to blame.

“We played under our talent level, and those things come with consequences,” Ellis said.

Added cornerback David Amerson: “I really can’t explain how we haven’t been able to create turnovers or do some of the things we did last year. We’ve got to find a way if we want to be playing in January.”

Columnist Dieter Kurtenbach of the Bay Area News Group tweeted Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the move from Norton to Pagano will do much, if anything, to change the course of the defense over the final six games.

“Ken Norton Jr. was stripped of a lot of power this past offseason,” he wrote. “Jack and Pagano became more involved. While KNJ is partially culpable for the team’s terrible defensive struggles, this is an empty, toss-under-the-bus move. Nothing is going to change with the Raiders’ D.”

SB Nation’s Levi Damien agreed, writing the firing of Norton is “nothing more than a scapegoat move.” After last season, Del Rio fired offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the architect behind the league's sixth-ranked offense, yet kept Norton.

“With the defense looking the way it has, someone had to be a sacrificial lamb,” Damien wrote. “Norton is the easy, natural choice for that. Something everyone else knew 11 months ago. This one is on Jack Del Rio.”

The Raiders, coming off a 33-8 loss to the Patriots in Mexico City last weekend, return to action Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum against the 3-7 Denver Broncos. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.

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