Raiders' Pass Defense Has Been a Weak Link

After two games, Oakland ranks last in the NFL in pass defense, a big concern coming off 35-28 loss to Atlanta to fall to 1-1

As the Raiders try to shrug off Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons and regroup this week for Game No. 3 against the Titans in Tennessee this coming weekend, one area of obvious concern is the team’s pass defense.

After just two games, Oakland ranks dead last in the NFL in pass defense. The Saints and Falcons have passed for a combined 808 yards and seven touchdowns, and the front seven – billed as a much improved pass rush group – has managed just two sacks in those games.

Two high-priced free agents brought in to improve pass coverage, starting cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, have been victimized by big plays, and the secondary again looks like a work in progress.

In its evaluation of the 35-28 Raiders’ loss to Atlanta at Coliseum, Jeff Breitenbach of the analytic website Pro Football Focus wrote that the Raiders pass defenders are “underperforming.”

“New players – and free-agent additions, in particular – always pose a risk for a team, regardless of talent,” he wrote. “The Raiders invested in their secondary this offseason, but have yet to see the desired results.

“David Amerson was the only starter to register a solid grade against the Falcons, and even he missed three tackles against the run. The remaining trio combined to allow 11 catches on 14 targets for 193 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith have both displayed their quality in recent seasons, but they’ve started slowly in Oakland.”

After Sunday’s game, head coach Jack Del Rio was taking much of the blame for his team’s poor defensive performance. He admitted, too, to stepping in on the last defensive series to call plays against Atlanta.

But, in response to a question about whether linebacker Ben Heeney may have been pulled from the game for poor performance in pass coverage against the Falcons’ tight ends, Del Rio said no, and reiterated that the buck stops with him.

“I’d say if you want somebody to blame, just blame it on me,” he told reporters. “If you need somebody to blame, blame the head coach. I’ll take it.

“We’ll correct what needs to be corrected and we’ll go forward. This is one game today that didn’t go our way. I have the utmost belief in this group of guys. We just simply have to clean things up and be much sharper.”

The Raiders’ next opponent, Tennessee, doesn’t have near the passing game of the Falcons or Saints, who rank Nos. 1 and 4 in the NFL so far. The Titans rank 23rd, but still are dangerous, averaging 238 yards per game.

Kickoff for Sunday’s game is set for 10 a.m. in the Bay Area.

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