BALTIMORE – The Raiders secondary was borderline awful the first two weeks. Just ask those guys. They understand their efforts against the Saints and Falcons weren’t good enough.
They also know they played the Titans far better. Two interceptions. Six passes defensed. Zero touchdowns allowed. 46.8 opponent quarterback rating against.
That’s a good day at the office.
Head coach Jack Del Rio hopes that’s a new low.
“Use last week’s secondary as the floor,” he said. “We can do more, but that’s the standard that should be set and what we should expect.”
He wants better. So do his charges.
These Raiders defensive backs believe they can show growth starting Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, who feature veteran receivers Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace and tight end Dennis Pitta.
The Raiders spent significant resources on feature players this offseason. They added Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson in free agency, drafted first-rounder Karl Joseph and extended David Amerson, a 2015 waiver claim who has become a top-flight corner.
Compare that to the Raiders secondary early last season. All-Pro Charles Woodson was flanked by TJ Carrie, DJ Hayden and Taylor Mays/Larry Asante. Even missing an all-timer like Woodson, that’s a massive upgrade.
It didn’t look that way against New Orleans and Atlanta, when this new group was torched. Playing better against Tennessee was due to a few things. Nelson was on time offering help. Joseph added physicality. Smith and Amerson were stickier than weeks past.
“It wasn’t a complicated mathematical formula or anything like that,” Smith said. “It was just about doing your job. We have great players in the secondary, veteran professional guys who’ve been at this a while now. We just went out there and played ball, without mistakes that are uncharacteristic for us.”
Smith believes the secondary is off pace, and with good reason.
“I’m not one to make excuses. Whatever we do on a Sunday, we put our name on it,” Smith said. “Reggie and Karl were two guys who weren’t even around in OTAs (due to injury). To just throw them in for camp and starting plays a few weeks and say, ‘All right. Be great, be elite, it’s easier said than done.
“We’re still trying to figure each other out, but we’re making all the strides in the right places. We’re getting better fast and, most important, we’re having fun out there. The communication is great, and I’m looking forward to next week.”
That next week’s challenge comes against quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been accurate and only unproductive. He has a 65 percent completion rate but has three touchdowns to four picks and has been sacked six times. He has gone deep with regularity, something the Raiders have struggled with.
Baltimore’s Steve Smith Sr. could be a wild card in this game. He has receiving prowess and loves getting others off track with trash talk.
The Raiders know what’s coming, and insist they won’t fight back with words.
“I think he’s the king of all that,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to get in a battle I’m not good at, so I’m going to stick to football and let my game do all the talking.”
The Raiders hope quality coverage becomes a defensive trait. That’ll key a better pass rush up front, and finally set this defense straight. I think they sky’s the limit. We have so much to learn playing with each other every day. It’s going to take some experiences. We had some rocky roads and, though we improved against the Titans, there’s still a lot of room for growth. There’s so much potential about how good we can be. If we keep putting in the work and stacking up good weeks, it’s going to show up consistently.”