Through three weeks of action, the Las Vegas Raiders have struggled against the run, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther doesn't see a need to overreact.
It's still early, but the Silver and Black are giving up 5.6 yards per carry (the third-most in the NFL) and have been gashed for 491 rushing yards (the fifth most in the NFL). The numbers are hard to dispute; however, there's a handful of contributing factors as to why the Raiders are having a hard time against the run.
During his media availability Thursday, Guenther suggested that the defense has to improve at one of the game's fundamental principles, tackling. Throughout the first half, Guenther was pleased with his unit's effort, but in the second half, he hoped to see better execution from everyone involved.
"In the second half for some reason, we decided to come out and not tackle the runner," Guenther stated. "We have to do a better job of tackling, we've made an emphasis of that coming off the COVID thing – no spring practice, training camp was limited with live tackling and that's something we preached. It was disappointing to see.
"I think we had 19 missed tackles in the game and that's far too many to win any ball game let alone against a team like New England. We have to do a better job of whoever is in the spot to make the play and make the tackle, they have to get the runner on the ground, whether it be a receiver or a running back."
Schematically, the defense did a good job during Week 3 of limiting the Patriots' best runner, Cam Newton. The former Auburn Tiger has a knack for breaking off big runs, bulldozing his opponents with his 6'5" frame. Newton rushed nine times for 27 yards, his longest scamper coming on a 21-yard play, but most importantly the Silver and Black prevented him from finding the end zone.
"To me, it wasn't so much a scheme thing," Guenther said, "like their scheme against our scheme, it was more-less the guys at the point of attack missed the plays they needed to make and then the guys on the back end that have to ensure that the thing doesn't go longer than it should, missed a few big runs. I think they had a 48-yard run, 100 yards of rushing in two plays, and then we had a quarterback scramble for 25 yards. Those are things that can't happen and we have to sure those up."
While the defense as a whole will focus on improving the fundamentals, defensive tackle Maliek Collins and linebacker Cory Littleton will try to become more comfortable in Guenther's system. Without the offseason to fully immerse themselves, the duo has been learning as they go, but Guenther believes the two will figure it out with time.
"I didn't really come into this with any expectations," Littleton said when asked about how he expected to fit in Guenther's system. "Me being on a new team is just me being on a new team. This is my first experience [in a new defense], other than my rookie year. It always comes with some type of challenges, nothing you can't get over. It's just progression with time."
The absence of Nick Kwiatkoski has also played an important role in the struggles defensively. After signing with the team in March, the hope was for him to command the defense and wear the green dot, but after suffering an injury Week 1, the communication has taken a hit because of it.
"It's huge because Nick is a really good communicator," Guenther said when asked what it would mean to get Kwiatkoski back. "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."
Week 4 won't get any easier, as the Raiders play host to the undefeated Buffalo Bills, who boast a dual-threat quarterback in Josh Allen and running back Devin Singletary, who's capable of impacting the game as a runner or a receiver. It's going to be all hands on deck and hopefully, the defense has quelled its tackling woes.