When the Oakland Raiders got to their week five bye, there was much cause for concern on defense. In week nine, fans are wondering where this defense was in the first four weeks.
Oakland is currently ranked 11th in the NFL against the run, having given up 102.1 yards per game on the ground. This was to be expected with the Raiders front seven clearly being the best part of this defense. Philip Wheeler has emerged as a leader on the defense at linebacker, and has played well this season. Rolando McClain continues to make the progression at middle linebacker in his third season in the league. The defensive line has continued to be led in the middle by the two Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackles, Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour.
The most surprising stat is the Raiders are ranked 20th against the pass. The same team that gave up nearly 400 yards through the air twice has held teams to under 250 passing yards in the last three weeks since the bye. The secondary might be average at best, but Tyvon Branch has played exceptionally well in a completely different role than he has the past. Even though he has had more than 100 tackles the past three seasons while playing more in the box in the past, his 46 tackles this season is nothing to be ashamed of, and proves just how much stronger the defense has become. While the defensive backfield has improved, it still only has five interceptions this season. That can be attributed to the rotation at cornerback, which has come together in recent weeks as players have stopped getting injured.
As the schedule gets easier for the Raiders, the defense will have to continue to improve. The little confidence boosts from playing bad offenses will help when the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos come to Oakland later this season.