The numbers say the Raiders are mid-pack when it comes to team defense. Where I was impressed with them in studying their games this week was how they play run defense.
As a group, they do a really nice job of holding up at the point of attack by getting off blocks and moving to the ball. They have some difficult players to try and move up front with Pat Sims and Vance Walker. Both of those guys to a really nice job of anchoring down and clogging lanes up. Even when these guys have to face combination blocks, they are still able to hang in there, which allows these linebackers to run to the ball.
On the edges, Jason Hunter and Lamarr Houston are solid as well. There were some snaps in the Giants game where Hunter was off the ball in a flash and made Justin Pugh's day a problem. Houston is the Raiders' best pass rusher and will need to be accounted for every time Tony Romo drops back to pass. He can be a very disruptive player on the outside because of his first step quickness.
There is plenty of power in his game and Tyron Smith is going to have to be ready for that from the opening snap. The Raiders are going to try and push the middle and get Houston and Hunter off the outside to get pressure in the passing game.
In my opinion, the strength of this Raiders defense is their linebackers. Sio Moore, Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett are always around the ball run or pass. Moore is one of the most impressive rookies that I have seen this year. I remember looking at him while he was at Connecticut wondering where I was going to play him, but the Raiders found a home for him at Sam.
He is physical in his take-on and when he sees the ball, he is off like a shot. He tackles well in space and is a wrap-up player. He is a hard guy to get away from once he has his hands on you. He is a powerful blitzer. He can cause issues off the edge taking on tackles but especially running backs.
Like Lamarr Houston, you had better account for him. He has been dealing with a bit of a shoulder issue, but he should be ready to go this week. Nick Roach played on some solid Chicago Bears defenses over the years and you can see that in his play – he's slippery in the way he gets to the ball.
Kevin Burnett has bounced around the league since his days in Dallas where he was a nickel linebacker. He has developed over the years to become more than just that type of player. Like Moore, Burnett is a little banged up coming into this game with a quad issue. [embedded_ad]
When you watch Burnett play, he is all over the place in a good way. This guy has always had a nose for the ball and been an outstanding pass defender as a linebacker. Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver like to bring him off the edge to in some games with the defensive line. When Burnett went out of the game against the Titans, Miles Burris came into the game and there was a large drop off.
Where the Raiders have had their issues has been in the secondary. They used a first round selection in this past draft on cornerback DJ Hayden, who is now on the injured reserve. Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins are the starters at corner with Charles Woodson, Brandian Ross and Usama Young splitting time at safety because Tyvon Branch has been dealing with an ankle injury.
When they go to nickel, they move Porter inside and Phillip Adams comes into the game on the outside. With this group, you are going to get a lot of different looks to try and confuse your scheme. We are all very aware of the type of game that Jenkins has since his time in Dallas. There are still times where he is overly aggressive in the way he plays and you can get him to bite on routes. Jenkins is at his best when he can battle off the edge getting in the receiver's face -- the more physical he can play, the better chance he has in coverage. Like his days in Dallas, he's not as good of a zone player. Where this defense tends to struggle the most is when the ball goes to the middle of the field. This is where I expect this Cowboys offense to focus their attack in that area.