General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden signed Nick Kwiatkoski with the intention of him running the show for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, but for the past two weeks, the defense has been without its conductor.
During the Raiders' Week 1 bout with the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski suffered a pectoral injury that kept him sidelined against the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots. Injuries happen, but without extended time together this offseason, the absence of Kwiatkoski couldn't have come at a worse time.
Before the Raiders' matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Guenther explained what it would mean to get Kwiatkoski back in the mix.
"It's huge because Nick is a really good communicator," Guenther said Thursday. "This guy came in – he's a new guy again – he's really picked up our system. It's almost like he's been in the system for three or four years like some of the guys I've been accustomed to being around. He's a vocal leader, he sees a lot on the field as far as how we're set up, getting in and out of calls. He's a very stout run defender, he's good in the passing game, so he'll be a big part of the middle of our defense if he's able to go this week."
COVID-19 limited offseason workouts, which impacted every team's ability to build chemistry before Week 1, but losing Kwiatkoski was a blow to the defense's chemistry and tested the communication. Fortunately, Guenther got his wish, and the former West Virginia Mountaineer returned to action against the Buffalo Bills.
Kwiatkoski's presence was noticeable and the Raiders looked in sync, but the Bills' high-powered offense won the day; however, the Raiders linebacker was grateful to be back on the field with his teammates.
"To start it off, I hate missing games," Kwiatkoski told reporters after the game Sunday. "I want to be out there no matter whether it's win or lose — you want to be out there with your team. So, today, just coming in I was happy to be back and just get back to business as usual."
As far as the game went, Kwiatkoski said the defense picked up right where it left off when he got hurt.
"There were no mishaps, there was great communication," he said. "I can't speak on the last two games, but we kind of left off where I was at in Carolina a couple of weeks ago. Calls were coming in and there were no problems."
The Bills totaled 30 points and over 300 yards of offense, but the Raiders improved against the run, limiting Josh Allen and Co., to 62 yards on the ground. It was a pleasant sign for a defense that's struggled to stop the run through the first few weeks. Kwiatkoski's value can't be emphasized enough and hopefully, he's able to remain healthy going forward.