The Raiders like to think the worst is over for their defense, and in one respect, they’re right. If the NFL season had ended a week ago, their 314.6 pass yards allowed per game would have been the most in league history, which is to say, a very long time.
The group also comes off the worst performance yardage-wise in franchise history, a 597-yard stinker in a 38-35 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh last Sunday.
“Coming off a day like that, you’re pretty concerned,” said coach Jack Del Rio, whose fundamental football background is defense. “There are a lot of things you have to do better. As we look at the tape, fundamentally, many of the things that we had shown a lot of improvement in — and I’m talking about basic fundamentals, shedding blocks, leveraging the ball and tackling, basic things — we really went backwards in terms of our execution in those key areas.”
Del Rio and his staff believe the turnaround will begin against the Minnesota Vikings today at O.co Coliseum, when starters Nate Allen and T.J. Carrie return to the secondary.
Allen suffered a knee injury against the Baltimore Ravens in the regular-season opener. The strong safety had been on the injured reserve list since then.
“Having Nate Allen back really strengthens our secondary,” coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “[It] makes us better in every way, and we welcome him with open arms.”
Carrie sat out the nightmare in Pittsburgh because of hip and shoulder problems. He began the season as the top cornerback on the roster but moved to the back line shortly after Allen went down.
Carrie admitted it was frustrating to watch Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown torch reserve cornerback David Amerson and others for 284 yards on 17 pass receptions.
“Definitely, it was painful in my eyes not to be to there,” Carrie said. “You know, feeling the sweat, the pain, the grunt that we go through every Sunday.”
The Vikings’ attack revolves around feature back Adrian Peterson, and for that reason, the secondary figures to have a different challenge this time. The offense ranks 30th in pass yards per game in the league, although the results have been better since rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs became a starter last month. Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play after suffering a dirty hit to the head last Sunday against St. Louis, for which Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was fined $23,000 by the league.
“Every game presents its own opportunities,” Carrie said. “From watching the film, a lot of what happened on Sunday was self-inflicted wounds, things that we can correct, things that were not in our nature as a defense. That’s the coaches harp on — us getting back to being us and making sure we can be a force on Sunday.”
Norton wouldn’t specify where Carrie fit in the alignment except say the position change was beneficial to him specifically and the defense as a whole.
“It makes [Carrie] more versatile,” Norton said. “I think he understands the game not just from a corner standpoint, [but] now from being a safety standpoint, seeing the whole field as opposed to just seeing a side of the field. He’s involved in the run game as a safety as opposed to not as a corner. So he’s learned a lot about football. He’s a better football player because of it.”
The health news wasn’t as positive at the other side of the ball.
Center Rodney Hudson has been dealing with a sprained ankle. As the leader of the line, his would be no small loss.
Running back Latavius Murray is expected to suit up after he suffered a concussion last weekend. He took part in limited drills Thursday while awaiting clearance.