ALAMEDA – The Raiders defense has been awful thus far. Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. knows it, and isn’t thrilled.
His unit has given up 1,035 yards in two games, the highest total in decades over the first two weeks. They’ve given up 8.0 yards per play, the NFL’s largest sum this season by a long shot. They’ve given up 69 points, second worst only to the Colts.
Norton doesn’t need to see the numbers. It’s clear on individual plays, where poor reads and poor execution lead to big gains.
Norton took responsibility for those issues, and vowed to get it right.
“It’s a combination of many things,” he said before Thursday’s practice. “I’m accountable for all of that. You really have to be detailed and go into a situation understanding what’s going on. I have to coach them better. You really have to tighten the ship and make things a lot more clear than what they’ve been.”
The Raiders get a chance to show better on Sunday at Tennessee. Norton expects he will call defensive plays as usual, despite head coach Jack Del Rio taking the conn late in a Week 2 home loss to Atlanta.
Del Rio is heavily involved in the defensive game plan and will continue to be, but Norton will be making in-game decisions.
“Yes (that’s correct),” Norton said. “It’s a collective effort. The whole staff, we go over the game plan and over the plays. We have a good idea of what plays should be called at certain times. It’s a collective effort, but I do call them on game day.”
Norton and Del Rio have been pleased with the defense’s response to a pair of disappointing games. They say players have been focused in practice and are working hard to correct mistakes.
“I think they’ve been outstanding in that regard,” Del Rio said. “I think there’s accountability here. I think we all recognize the obvious, but we’re not going to dwell on it. We’re not going to sit around and wait for somebody to come by and feel sorry for us.
“I think the guys are very purposeful going about their work. We’ve got a good group. We’re going to play good ball and starting this week will be great.”
The Raiders are expected to be making appropriate reads and not get beat on basic football plays like bootlegs, play action and hurry-up offenses. Those things, and solid run fits, have eluded the Raiders defense thus far.
The Titans have a mobile quarterback in Marcus Mariota and physical, downhill rushers in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, players who can expose poor defensive form. The Raiders must be better to succeed on Sunday.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” Norton said. “We’re having adverse times, and those adverse times reveal who you really are. I think the team has really come together, come close. You can tell the guys really care. Nobody plans to play as bad as we’ve played. No one plans for that. We dug ourselves a hole, and we have to fight our way out of it.”
Confidence remains that this defense will perform better. Hopes were high for a unit that signed free agents Reggie Nelson, Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin, drafted Karl Joseph and already had Khalil Mack. Things haven’t gone according to plan early on.
“We’ve had high expectations, but we’re a work in progress,” Norton said. “We seek to improve, and we’ll continue working hard and paying attention to the details. I’m accountable for it, and have to work harder, work better. I fully expect to come out of this.”