Raiders Bold Predictions: The Defense Improves
Josh McDaniels, Maxx Crosby, Raiders
Aug 13, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaneils (left) and defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) observe the playing of the national anthem before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: the Raiders defense stinks.

2022: 28th in yards allowed per game, 26th in points allowed per game.

2021: 14th in yards allowed per game, 26th in points allowed per game

2020: 25th in yards allowed per game, 30th in points allowed per game

2019: 19th in yards allowed per game, 24th in points allowed per game

2018: 26th in yards allowed per game, 32nd in points allowed per game

Should I keep going?

The last time the Raiders had a scoring defense inside the top 20 was 2006 — and they were 18th that season!

Well, folks, 2023 is the year that all changes (kind of). 

For my third bold prediction, I’m going with this: in 2023 the Raiders defense is going to be competent — heck, even average.

To most of the league that sounds underwhelming, but there are Raiders fans that would probably give an arm or a leg to see a defense just be passable and not an embarrassment. And yet, 2023 doesn’t exactly seem like the year to expect it…

Robert Spillane, Raiders
Mar 16, 2023; Henderson, NV, USA; New Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Robert Spillane speaks to the media at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are still on the schedule twice a piece, and even though Russell Wilson is washed the addition of Sean Payton calling plays is a huge upgrade. On the personnel side, the Raiders didn’t really make any headline-grabbing additions — they used their top pick on a defensive end who hasn’t been healthy enough to see the field yet, and added three guys currently projected to start via free agency: 30-year-old Marcus Peters (who hasn’t been awesome for a little while), linebacker Robert Spillane (who has 16 career starts in five seasons) and safety Marcus Epps (who started all 17 games for the Eagles last season after being mostly a backup his first three seasons).

Not exactly a recipe for going from being a bottom-five defense to a middle-of-the-pack one.

And yet, here I am saying they might. Why?

As I outlined already, I’m a believer in Divine Deablo making a jump this season — which I think could be the biggest key given his spot in the middle of everything on defense. Then there’s Chandler Jones — who was an unmitigated disaster for most of last season after being the team’s big free agent signing — but who came on a bit at the end of the season and surely has to improve in 2023. Add in the upgrades of Peters, Spillane and Epps and you have the makings of some minor improvements — but the biggest change isn’t actually in between the hashes, but on the sidelines.

Yes, I’m talking about Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham.

Maxx Crosby, Patrick Graham, Raiders
Jan 7, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham talk during their game against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If anyone in Las Vegas is coaching for their job this season, it’s Graham — whose defense was highly criticized even from within the building as being far too complicated and confusing. By all accounts, this has been one of the major points of emphasis so far: simplifying things so that guys can play more than they think.

Mix it all together — a simplified defense, numerous small upgrades and improvements from some of the guys already in the building — and I think there’s really a chance this group is competent. Likely? Maybe not — but it’s possible, and in the middle of August, as we talk about the Raiders defense, optimism is all we can ask for.