Major changes expected for Raiders’ defense this offseason
HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — As Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby cleaned out his stall in a mostly empty locker room Monday, he knew that barring something highly unforeseen, he would be back.
That’s not the case for many of his teammates on Las Vegas’ underachieving defense.
Crosby could look around at other lockers and know a good number of the name plates at the top will be different by the time next season kicks off.
“I expect there to be a big turnover,” Crosby said. “It’s basically every year in the NFL. I’ve been in the NFL four years now, and I’ve had three different D-coordinators, I’ve had three different head coaches, I’ve had millions of different teammates. It’s just expected at this point. For me, I don’t want to lose. I work year-round to win and put our team in the best position to win. I want a bunch of guys with that same mindset.”
High turnover is what happens when a defense ranks 28th in yardage allowed (365.6 per game), 29th in passing yardage allowed (242.9) and 26th in points allowed (24.6). The Raiders also didn’t create big plays, ranking last with an interception rate of 1.02% and 30th with a sack rate of 4.58%.
Las Vegas can’t put up those kinds of numbers and expect to succeed in the AFC West, home to quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
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“I don’t think anybody can sit here right now and say that we performed above our expectation,” coach Josh McDaniels said of the defense. “We didn’t do enough as a football team to earn the right to keep playing, so I’m not satisfied or content with any phase.”
The Raiders likely will build around Crosby, who produced despite facing constant double-teams and other blocking maneuvers designed to limit his impact. He led the NFL with 22 tackles for loss and was tied for eighth with 12 1/2 sacks.
But the numbers that mattered most to Crosby were the Raiders’ six wins and 11 losses, a record he called “unacceptable.”
“I think everything needs to get re-evaluated from everybody,” Crosby said. “The standard is the main thing that I feel like we really need to look at. We’ve got to watch the practices, watch the games. What is the standard when it comes to playing hard? What does that take? And that’s every single guy on the team. There should be no gray area.”
Crosby is under contract through the 2026 season. His fellow pass rusher on the other side, Chandler Jones, just finished the first of a three-year contract with a $19.4 million salary cap hit for next season, nearly $12 million more than this year.
Jones began slowly this season, raising questions whether he was worth the investment, but came on strong late with a combined four sacks in Weeks 13 and 14. He also returned a lateral 48 yards for a touchdown to beat New England 30-24 with no time left.
But Jones injured his elbow Dec. 24 at Pittsburgh and didn’t play again the rest of the season. If he returns and builds on his late-season performance, the Raiders will have one of the league’s more potent pass-rushing tandems. Jones turns 33 next month, however, and there are questions about how much he has left.
Cornerback Nate Hobbs also had his own injury issues, and his left hand was wrapped as he spoke with reporters Monday. He missed six games this season because of the broken hand.
The second-year pro is on his rookie contract and is one of the more promising Raiders defensive backs.
“I set out to achieve more,” Hobbs said. “I was altered by injury some games. I got taught a lot of things this year, and one of them was really harping on how you respond. You’re either going backwards or forward.”
Now it’s up to Raiders management to move the defense in the right direction.
Raiders coaches know if that doesn’t happen, the attention will turn to them, particularly McDaniels and coordinator Patrick Graham. McDaniels has backed Graham all season, and there has been no indication that will change this offseason.
For now, the focus will be on changing the personnel.
“It’ll look different, there’s no question about that,” McDaniels said. “But I’d say the same thing for the other two sides (offense and special teams) as well. Nothing’s ever the same from one year to the next, and there will be new faces in here whether they’re draft picks or somebody in free agency. And I’m sure there’s going to be some guys on the team that we’re definitely going to try to bring back and continue to work with.”
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