It seems something has clicked for the Raiders defense in 2023, with the big boys in the trenches literally, and metaphorically, pulling their weight.
The unit has allowed the third fewest points in franchise history through five games since 2002. They've also held their last three opponents to zero points in the fourth quarter while also producing four turnovers in the last two games. All of this can be contributed to complementary football between the defensive line, linebackers and secondary – with the defensive line looking fairly deep.
"Our overall communication and the execution of some of the things we're trying to do up front, I think they've been really good about," Josh McDaniels said Friday morning. "Not all of them are going to get to the quarterback, somebody's got to kind of take one for the team and do the dirty work. All of them have been willing to do such, which is really what you need if you're going to have a rush that affects the quarterback. You're not going to sack him every time, that's clear. But if you can impact the quarterback or just affect his timing or his rhythm or his ability to stand there comfortably, then you're making an impact in the rush."
The unit is highlighted by Maxx Crosby, who does a little bit of everything at the line of scrimmage. The reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week had four tackles for loss and a sack against the Green Bay Packers.
While he leads the team in sacks, he's been a huge contributor in the run game as well. His eight tackles for loss this season are the second-most among all defensive linemen, with the third-best run defense grade (87.9) of all edge rushers from Pro Football Focus. Additionally, his 38 percent run stop win-rate is the second-highest in the league among edge rushers.
"I want to be the best complete player I can possibly be and be the best in the league at what I do," said Crosby. "So for me, it's not just about rushing the pass. That's the sexy stat that everyone looks at, that's obviously important. But being the best complete player is my goal every single day.
"I talked about it before, I feel like when I came in the league, everybody tried to put me in a box and say, 'He's a pass rush specialist and he's this and he's that,'" continued Crosby. "For me, I want to be able to check every single box and then some. ... I'm just trying to improve in every single way I can in the run and pass. I have room for improvement and that's what I'm fine-tuning every single day."
While Crosby's stats stand out among his teammates, he hasn't been doing it alone. The Raiders defensive line has seen an emergence from edge rusher Malcolm Koonce on the other side of Crosby. After contributing mostly on special teams in his first two NFL seasons, he's started three games this year. The year-to-year improvement has been noticeable on the field, recording a career-high 11 quarterback pressures.
"I don't think it was ever like I had to prepare different," Koonce said of his mindset going into the 2023 season. "It was basically just waiting for an opportunity of like, 'Yeah, my time is going to come' and when my time does come, just being able to produce. I see Maxx work every day and he's his own biggest critic. Just being around that every day, you know for a fact you can be more harsh on yourself when it comes to critiquing yourself play."
The two edge rushers are assisted by a committee of stout interior defensive linemen. The unit has found a groove between veterans Bilal Nichols, Jerry Tillery, Adam Butler and John Jenkins with rookies Byron Young and Nesta Jade Silvera getting a few snaps in the rotation as well. These interior linemen have totaled 28 solo tackles, four tackles for loss and four quarterbacks hits. Additionally, the Raiders' 70.1 PFF run defense grade as a team is the ninth-highest in the league.
The Raiders defensive line could have another impressive showing this Sunday in holding down the New England Patriots, an offense that has produced the least amount of points through five weeks.
The Raiders hit the practice field at Intermountain Health Performance Center to prepare for their Sunday matchup against the New England Patriots at Allegiant Stadium.