For 30 of the 32 NFL teams, the season is over and everyone is evaluating how their team’s season went. In the spirit of evaluation, I will grade each of the Oakland Raiders’ position group’s performance on the season. Be sure to check back Tuesday to read the Quarterbacks’ Report Card.
In this report card, I am grading the linebackers.
Linebacker MVP – Perry Riley Jr.
For the defense, the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. To say the defense struggled to start the season would be an understatement. Before Riley joined the team in week 5, the defense allowed an average of 452.5 yards/game. Teams scored an average of 26.5 points/game. After Riley joined in week 5, the defense allowed 342 yards/game and 23.5 points/game. While there was not a huge difference in points/game, the yards/game average dropped drastically. Having a consistent and solid force at the MLB position helped the defense drastically. This is the 2nd time GM Reggie McKenzie picked up a former player from Washington. This is the 2nd time this strategy has worked.
Picking up Perry Riley Jr. dramatically changed the production of the defense overall and increased communication between the coaching staff and the players. The difference of the defense with Riley and without him earned him the title of linebacker MVP.
Best Game – Week 15 @ Chargers
Overall, the defense had a fairly solid game against the Chargers in San Diego. The defense only allowed 263 yards, their lowest of the season. They also allowed only 16 points and Perry Riley Jr. forced a fumble that Malcolm Smith recovered. This game also carried huge implications as a Raiders win secured a playoff birth for the first time in 14 years. The only problem was that the defense would need to contain future Hall of Fame QB Philip Rivers. The defense stepped up and this starts with the linebackers.
Overall Grade – C
The Raiders defense struggled this season, especially against the passing game. Everything defensively starts with communication. Throughout the season it was clear that there was a break in communication and this affected performance. The problem for the players starts with the player who is communicated to by the coaches. At the beginning of the season, this duty was carried by LBs Ben Heeney, then Malcolm Smith, and finally by Perry Riley Jr. The defense continued to allow big plays and multiple scores at the worst times. After Derek Carr’s injury late in the season, the defense knew they would need to step up and ultimately did not, even against two of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Ultimately, the linebackers were the Raiders’ weakest position group. Their best game would be considered standard across the league, but this group improved overall as the season went on. Look for the Raiders to add depth and talent to this group through the draft or free agency.