Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was asked recently about the Raiders’ favorable ranking against the pass, which was fifth at the time and has since climbed to third.
Asomugha noted the 2006 season when Oakland finished the season ranked second (actually first) and said, “I think we’ve always fared pretty well against the pass just because of our style of play, it’s kind of like hit or miss and we’ve been able to hit more times than we’ve missed. With our trouble in the past stopping the run, the pass has really been our strength.”
(My contention about the 2006 season has always been the Raiders only gave up 150.8 yards per game through the air is that opponents had so little respect for the Oakland offense they played it extremely safe. They knew the Raiders couldn’t score.)
While it’s true the Raiders aren’t giving up a ton of yards against the pass _ at 196.1 yards per game the only teams only San Diego and New Orleans are giving up less _ opponents have found the holes in the Oakland defense repeatedly.
Asomugha continues to be avoided at all costs. Stats, Inc., has opponents throwing his direction 32 times with 13 completions for 205 yards. Beat writer Steve Corkran, who keeps a close watch and double checks his figures with Asomugha, has him giving up only 10 completions in 27 attempts for 166 yards. Most important, Asomugha hasn’t given up a touchdown all season.
This isn’t likely to change for Asomugha if the Raiders maintain true to the Al Davis belief in going with more man-to-man defense than any team in the NFL. Asomugha is shadowing the team’s best receiver more often than in past years _ his matchup with Dwayne Bowe (15 TD receptions) bears watching Sunday _ but it’s simply too easy to see where No. 21 is lined up and go elsewhere.
While there were other issues such as dedication and maturity that were involved, Charles Woodson’s stats exploded once he left the Raiders and joined a Green Bay team that mixed and disguised coverages more often and put him in position to use ball skills that were seldom seen in Oakland. In 106 games as a Raider, Woodson had 17 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. In 77 games with the Packers, Woodson has 30 interceptions and returned eight for touchdowns.
Woodson’s best season total with Oakland was nine passes defensed. In Green Bay his worst season total is nine passes defensed.
In Oakland, Woodson was regarded as a Hall of Fame talent. In Green Bay, he is a Hall of Fame player.
There’s some truth to the criticism that Asomugha is at times reluctant to take a chance and make a play, but when teams throw in his direction 27 times in 14 games it’s not as if there are a ton of opportunities. The Raiders, assuming they pick up his option, will pay him a minimum of $16.8 million next season to line up up and force defenses to go the other way.
The problem with playing so much man-to-man is it’s hard. It’s real hard. Yet even as the rules changed, favoring the receivers, the Raiders continued to use it as their primary style of pass defense. They’re not exclusively man, but they do it more than anyone else. Opponents talk about it every week on conference calls with the media. The Raiders play man. It’s their calling card.
Never mind that it’s impossible to be physical with receivers the way Willie Brown and Lester Hayes used to, and that you’re extremely fortunate to find tall, stylish corners who can play it like Mike Haynes did or Asomugha does.
The Raiders have given up a 54.4 completion percentage this year, an excellent figure. Stanford Routt has had his best season, is surrendering only 40.4 percent completions (36-for-89) but has given up five touchdowns with one interception. Chris Johnson had a terrific game against indianapolis and gave up a touchdown.
Routt was given a first- and third-round tender, Johnson the recipient of a four-year, $16 million contract a couple of years back.
Strong safety Tyvon Branch has been victimized more than any player in the Oakland secondary. Stats, Inc., numbers show teams are 30-for-41 (73.1 percent) for 409 yards and eight touchdowns going after Branch. Factor in his one interception, and the passer rating against Branch is 134.0. Free safety Michael Huff’s failure to cover Jason Hill man-to-man was crucial in a key loss to Jacksonville.
The Raiders thought rookie fifth-round pick Walter McFadden was ready against Miami, made him the nickel back and he promptly gave up six completions in eight attempts for 141 yards against Chad Henne and a middle-of-the-road passing offense. Seventh-round choice Jeremy Ware is no longer receiving playing time.
In all, the Raiders have give up 29 touchdown passes with only 10 interceptions and an opponent’s passer rating of 90.6. Only eight teams in the NFL are worse, and none of them will make the playoffs unless Seattle beats St. Louis Sunday night.
Keep in mind this is a Raiders team that has been above average in rushing the passer (seventh in the NFL with 40 sacks), a huge factor in an effective man-to-man defense.
It’s not that the Raiders have bad players in the secondary as much as they’re put in impossible situations. There’s a reason no one plays as much man-to-man as the Raiders.
As a cornerstone defensive philosophy in the year 2011, it doesn’t work.