HENDERSON, Nev. — Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was sent to the press box Sunday, but it was not so much a punishment or demotion as it was, well, let’s let coach Jon Gruden explain.
“Paul Guenther went up in the box so he could see better,” Gruden said after the Raiders’ dispiriting 30-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“We’re playing a lot of new players and I think it worked out pretty good. I think his communication was good with the middle linebacker from the box and I think he was good communicating with the staff from the box as well.”
Just not good enough to get a win, right?
Yeah, that might be a bit harsh, but Las Vegas has dropped two straight games to fall to 2-2 heading into next week’s nightmarish scenario at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Raiders have lost seven straight.
And while quarterback Derek Carr is 0-6 in Kansas City, losing by a combined score of 176-70 — or an average of 29-12 — and there are enough reasons to delve into his ball security issues, this is about the defense.
Or lack thereof through the first quarter of the team’s inaugural season in Sin City.
Consider: through four games, the Raiders’ rebuilt defense has been a relative no-show after adding high-profile free agents such as defensive tackle Maliek Collins, defensive end Carl Nassib and linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and using a first-round draft pick on cornerback Damon Arnette (to be fair, Arnette just went in injured reserve with a thumb issue and Kwiatkoski just returned this week after suffering a pec injury in the first half of the season opener).
But Littleton has yet to be the advertised game-changer. And Collins, who Gruden referred to in training camp as the key to the whole thing, has been nearly as invisible as the Raiders’ pass rush.
“Cory is obviously new in the system, so he’s been a little hot and cold,” Guenther said last week. “I showed him some plays where he has done really good and some plays that he’s not done so good. He’s aware of the things he needs to clean up. Those are things that we kind of put him in position this week in practice to clean those things up. But again, he’s another new guy that each week something in our system may present something different for him to do based upon the opponent. I think as the time goes, he’s going to get better and better as we go.”
Said Littleton, at the time: “The only thing I can do is do what’s coached to me and try to put on the best performance I can. So far, it hasn’t been that great but, hey, that’s football. There’s upswings and there’s downswings. Hopefully, get back on track and be the player I want to be.”
“I think Maliek is pressing a little bit too much,” Guenther said.
“What I’m trying to get Maliek to do is take what he’s shown us on the practice field and carry it over to Sundays. That’s really what matters at the end of the day. We watch him on the practice field in one-on-one pass rushing in practice — the guy really stands out. So, he’s just got to go in there, do his job, let the things come to him when they present themselves — the one-on-ones and those types of things inside. I think they’ll take care of themselves. He’s got to play at a high level for us to be successful.”
Las Vegas’ four sacks — three by the freelancing defensive end Maxx Crosby — rank tied for 31st in the 32-team NFL. And its two interceptions are tied for 30th.
Overall, the Raiders’ defense ranks 22nd in the NFL — 20th against the pass and 25th against the run — and has created zero turnovers in the fourth quarter, while its offense has lost four fumbles in that time. The minus-4 turnover differential in the final quarter is the worst in the NFL.
So while Guenther might have had a better view from up on high, rather than on the sideline — where he had been since joining Gruden’s staff in 2018 after 13 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the last four as their D.C. — he could not have liked what he saw. At least, not the end result.
Because as Associated Press pointed out, the Raiders defense has ranked 31st in the NFL in points allowed per game (27.9), yards per play (6.1), passer rating against (101.6) and last in sacks (49) and takeaways (34) since Guenther’s arrival.
Sure, injuries have played a part. Same with the lack of a true offseason program or an exhibition season. You could even make the argument that with four games played, the Raiders have now completed their preseason.
But you could make that same argument for 31 other teams.
Gruden, who brought in legendary defensive line coach Rod Marinelli this offseason, was asked Monday why he thought Guenther was the right man to be his defensive coordinator and fix the unit’s problems.
He gave that dreaded vote of confidence.
“I know he’s a good coach,” Gruden said. “And I know the mistakes were very correctable and we’ll correct them.”