In 2017, the Oakland Raiders sacked opposing quarterbacks just 31 times over 16 games. The total ranked tied for 24th in the NFL. The AFC West-rival Chargers, by comparison, had 48 sacks.
Yet as the Raiders head toward next week’s opening of training camp, they could be poised for a big step forward in pressuring the quarterback, according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus.
This week, Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus placed Oakland 13th in the NFL in his preseason pass-rush rankings.
Though All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack has yet to sign a contract extension with the Raiders — a fact that kept him away from spring workouts —McGuiness is taking it for granted that Mack will report and play. If Mack were to hold out, of course, it would be a different story. But with Mack — and the move of Bruce Irvin from linebacker to defensive end, along with the drafting of Michigan standout defensive tackle Maurice Hurst — the Raiders appear much more lethal up front in the pass rush, according to McGuiness.
His projection of the starters on the defensive front: Mack and Irvin on the edges, Hurst and Mario Edwards at tackle with Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes on the inside rotation and rookie Arden Key adding pressure as a backup to Mack and Irvin.
McGuiness notes the big question is who can provide pressure to support Mack, who had 11 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 55 QB hurries in 2017, which accounted for 31.7 percent of total pressures by the Raiders.
“Hurst is someone we were very high on in the pre-draft process,” wrote McGuiness. “Obviously the question with him is his health, but he was dominant as a pass rusher in 2017, producing eight sacks, 15 hits and 26 hurries. Another candidate is rookie Key, who could be a steal if he gets back to his early college form. … Key produced 12 sacks, 13 hits and 29 hurries in 2016 at LSU, but took some time off and struggled to make the same impact in 2017, producing just 28 total pressures.”
Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes Irvin could produce 10 or more sacks in his new role, which also would take pressure off Mack.
A big improvement in the pass rush could also do wonders for the team’s secondary play as well in 2018. In 2017, the Raiders pass defense ranked just 26th in the NFL.
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Source: NBC Bay Area