Going into the Raiders' Week 8 matchup, their run defense has allowed the third fewest total rushing yards in the NFL.
The attention to detail in stopping the run this season has been a huge step forward for the Silver and Black. The Raiders were 19th in rushing yards allowed to teams last season. The improvement can be attributed to several things, primarily the additions to the defensive line.
To start, the Silver and Black hired former Houston Texans defensive lineman Frank Okam to coach the unit. Then, they signed Bilal Nichols, Andrew Billings and four-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones to pair with Maxx Crosby.
The additions have paid dividends in limiting the run, with Nichols and Billings combining for 24 tackles on the season and Jones' ability to set the edge has been beneficial to the success of the defensive line.
"[I]t helps to have good players. We all know that," said defensive coordinator Patrick Graham when asked about the success of the run defense. "I think Frank [Okam] is doing a good job of teaching the techniques that we want to use in terms of playing with good pad level, playing with their hands out in front of their eyes, making sure they don't get blocked by one guy. It's hard enough to defend in this league, but you talk about it being a passing league and the guys up front have to be able to take on more than one block, or force guys to block them with two guys. So far, we've done a solid job with that.
"There's still room to improve, but they've bought into that you can't go one-for-one. That's a big part of it because it's too hard to cover the pass in this league if you don't have guys that can take up two spots."
As an anchor on the edge, Crosby's success and growth while recording 31 career sacks since entering the NFL in 2019 has been fun to watch. However he's made great strides in becoming more of a complete player – especially by improving his skillset in stopping the run. He currently leads the NFL in tackles for loss (11) with a 77.2 PFF run defense grade so far.
"I always try to improve my game no matter what it is, from top to bottom," said Crosby. "Whenever the offseason starts, I always re-evaluate the season before and try to go from there. I try to improve in every way that I possibly can. That's my approach on it, no matter what it is. Not just run defense, it's just being a complete player."
The Raiders improved the unit through the draft as well by grabbing SEC linemen Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler in the fourth and fifth rounds. The two have been able to work their way into the interior defensive line rotation, appearing in two games each. Graham has trusted the process with the two rookies as they get adjusted to game speed, practice habits and playbook at the professional level. Now with the recent trade of veteran lineman Johnathan Hankins to the Dallas Cowboys, the two rookies could be in line to receive more playing time.
"We're both proud of each other," Farrell Jr. said of his relationship with Butler. "I met Matt during the NFL Combine and we built a relationship there. And as soon as we moved out here, we were roommates together. We were talking through the process, so we've always been pushing each other to take it to the next level."
What makes the Raiders' success against the run even more impressive is who it's come against. They've held Austin Ekeler, James Connor and Javonte Williams all to under 40 rushing yards each. They also held former Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry to 21 rushing yards in their second-half shutout against the Titans. The commitment to stop the run will need to continue with five-time Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara and the New Orleans Saints on the horizon.
"It's going to be important this week," said Head Coach Josh McDaniels. "They've got some really physical linemen, they run a challenging scheme, a lot of different run schemes they throw at you. But defensive line play is not steady and perfect every play.
"You're going to have to do some dirty work in there. You're going to get doubled, knocked around a little bit, but I think those guys are really acclimated to trying to play with their hands, trying to play vertical, trying to knock the line of scrimmage backwards. ... Really like the way they're trying to play. We can get better and make progress, I know that."
Head inside Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center to view the best photos from Wednesday's practice.