The Las Vegas Raiders are heading into their Week 3 matchup against the New England Patriots a perfect 2-0, but their defensive numbers may not necessarily reflect the team’s spotless record. Jon Gruden’s squad ranks just 20th in the league in points allowed per game (27.0), 30th in defensive DVOA (+18.8%) and quarterback pressure rate (13%), and is the worst in all of football when it comes to defensive third down success rate (41.7%).
For Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, as is so often the case, numbers do not seem to matter.
“Statistically and all that... It’s a long season,” he said when speaking about the Raiders’ defense during a media conference call earlier this week.
“They have a good mixture of youth and experience there. Coach [Paul] Guenther is one of the top coordinators in the league. He took his package that he had in Cincinnati and installed out there at Oakland and modified some based on whatever reasons he did that, but they obviously are playing well and do a good job in their coverage packages.”
Las Vegas’ coverages are not built around one concept but rather multi-faceted — take Cover 6 as a prominent example — and the brain child of coordinator Paul Guenther. The 48-year-old, who rose through the ranks in Cincinnati before joining Gruden with the Raiders, may not have had plenty of success with his new club but Belichick is seeing his unit trend in the right direction after finishing 32nd and 24th in points allowed the last two seasons.
“I would just say through the years, in competing against him and watching him and his teams play, that they do a very good job fundamentally. They create a lot of problems in their schematics. They’re a hard team to deal with,” said Belichick.
“We’ll see how things go but I can see what he’s doing and I can see the players doing it, improving it, and I can see him pulling it all together and making some adjustments that I’m sure that he feels like he needs to make. And he gives the offense problems with the way they play, and what they do and the way he utilizes the players to create favorable matchups. So, I think he does a good job.”
What allows Guenther to “do a good job” is the personnel he has available. Core defenders like linemen Maurice Hurst, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby joined the team via the draft over the last three years, as did starting defensive backs Johnathan Abram, Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette.
Their performances so far may not have been perfect as the team’s overall statistical rankings show, but they still present a challenge for a Patriots offense that is still coming together behind new quarterback Cam Newton.
“The players that they’ve added, the pass rushers last couple years there with Crosby, Ferrell and then the guys in a secondary there with Abram, Mullen and Arnette to go with [Lamarcus] Joyner and [Erik] Harris, very experienced players back there,” said Belichick. “They’ve got a lot of experience at linebacker with [Cory] Littleton and [Nicholas] Morrow and those guys, [Nick] Kwiatkoski, if he plays; [Johnathan] Hankins inside is tough guy to block.
“They’re very good on third down, in the red area, and in two-minute situations. I think those are the most critical situations in the game. Now, again, he’s taken new players out there and I don’t think they’re where they’re going to be. But you can see what they’re doing. You can see them making progress and you can see that the players are well-coached and they are put in good positions.”