Guen­ther not used to such poor play

Raiders de­fense ranks at the bot­tom of NFL

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Matt Sch­nei­d­man mschnei­d­man@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

ALAMEDA >> Paul Guen­ther has said it sev­eral times al­ready this sea­son. He’s not used to see­ing teams con­sis­tently blow his de­fense away.

In Guen­ther’s four years as the Cincin­nati Ben­gals’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor be­fore join­ing Jon Gru­den’s staff in 2018, his de­fenses ranked 12th, sec­ond, eighth and 16th in the league in points al­lowed per game. The Raiders rank 31st in that cat­e­gory al­low­ing 31.5 points per game, and the only team be­low them, Tampa Bay, al­ready fired its de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor this sea­son.

When Guen­ther ar­rived home after last Thurs­day’s 34-3 loss to sec­ond-year quar­ter­back Nick Mul­lens and the 49ers, his son had al­ready seen a video on­line show­ing his dad and Gru­den

ver­bally spar­ring on the side­line. After Ra­heem Mostert’s 52-yard touch­down run made it 31-3 in the third quar­ter, Gru­den slapped Guen­ther on the arm and barked some­thing at him. Guen­ther didn’t re­ally have an an­swer, which is un­der­stand­able be­cause his de­fense doesn’t have one ei­ther.

The Raiders own the league’s worst run de­fense, al­low­ing 144.5 yards per game. They rank 24th in pass de­fense, slightly bet­ter but still well be­low par, sur­ren­der­ing 262.6 yards per con­test. They sit last in sacks with seven through eight games, the only team with sin­gle dig­its in that cat­e­gory, and last in quar­ter­back pres­sures with 59. The next-worst team in that de­part­ment, De­troit, has pres­sured the quar­ter­back 107 times, per Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus.

On top of all that, the Raiders are al­low­ing 6.8 yards per play through eight games, on pace to break the NFL sin­gle-sea­son record since the 1970 merger set by the 2015 New Or­le­and Saints, who al­lowed 6.6 yards per play.

And the scari­est part for Guen­ther and the Raiders? That de­fense still has to suit up eight more times, once against the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers, twice against Kansas City and once against Pitts­burgh. The other four games come against Ari­zona, Bal­ti­more, Cincin­nati and Den­ver. Things won’t get much bet­ter for Guen­ther’s de­fense, if at all.

“I’ve re­ally never been through any­thing like this be­fore be­cause when I took the job there were a lot of guys that were ei­ther up for free agency or that I thought were go­ing to be on the ros­ter,” Guen­ther said. “Ob­vi­ously, there was a lot of changes. Guys got signed to other teams and we had to fill those spots in with some of the vet­er­ans with the cap money that we had. It’s been a chal­lenge. Ob­vi­ously, we’re try­ing to build this thing to get it the right way. That’s go­ing to be a mov­ing part the rest of the year, to try and find the right fit of guys, not only for this year but mov­ing down the road.

“We have a vi­sion, Jon and I, of what it’s go­ing to look like down the road. Hope­fully we can just keep get­ting bet­ter ev­ery week. It’s cer­tainly been a chal­lenge.”

When Guen­ther took the Raiders job he had de­fen­sive tack­les Denico Autry, Ed­die Van­der­does and Justin El­lis at his dis­posal. They have played less than one game com­bined for the Raiders, as Autry signed with In­di­anapo­lis in free agency, Van­der­does is set to come off the phys­i­cally un­able to per­form list be­fore next week’s game against the Car­di­nals and El­lis has yet to re­sume prac­tic­ing after in­jur­ing his foot in Week 1. Add in the trade of his big­gest weapon, Khalil Mack, who Guen­ther only met once in per­son dur­ing the off­sea­son, NaVorro Bow­man not re-sign­ing and the re­leases of Der­rick John­son and Bruce Irvin, and Guen­ther’s de­fense looks a lot dif­fer­ent than what he thought it might when he jumped aboard.

In­stead Guen­ther has leaned on rook­ies Ar­den Key, Mau­rice Hurst and P.J. Hall, as well as young­sters Gareon Con­ley, Mar­quel Lee and Daryl Wor­ley to play siz­able roles on a de­fense whose vet­er­ans (Tahir White­head, Rashaan Melvin, Reg­gie Nel­son, etc.) haven’t ex­actly shined.

“It’s the NFL. Ob­vi­ously there is go­ing to be changes ev­ery year on ev­ery team, that’s just part of the busi­ness,” Guen­ther said. “Hav­ing our vi­sion was to bring in some young guys in the draft, we did that and they’re play­ing. We’re go­ing through some grow­ing pains with the young guys. Hope­fully the more and more snaps they get, the back end of the year here and go­ing into year two we’re go­ing to see mas­sive im­prove­ments.”

De­spite their quar­rel on the side­line, and Guen­ther’s unit let­ting the Raiders down nearly ev­ery week, Gru­den main­tained full con­fi­dence in a coach he’s ob­vi­ously very close with.

“You should see us on the golf course,” Gru­den joked. “… I’m sure emo­tions get caught on tape some­times but, there’s not a bet­ter coach I know than Paul Guen­ther. There’s not a bet­ter friend that I have than Paul Guen­ther.”

This Sun­day could get ugly for the Raiders, fac­ing a quar­ter­back in Philip Rivers who has shred­ded them the last three matchups for a 75-for100 com­ple­tion mark, 994 pass­ing yards, six touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions.

Ear­lier this sea­son, Rivers carved up Guen­ther’s unit for 339 yards on 22-of-27 pass­ing, two touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions.

With the way Guen­ther’s de­fense has played this sea­son, and with the hits his group has taken, both lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, those un­charted wa­ters he has waded through could very well get deeper be­fore he finds a way out.

“Ob­vi­ously I’ve been a part of and with a lot of good de­fenses in the past,” Guen­ther said. “There’s cer­tain things and break­downs … that I’m not used to see­ing. And again, it is a pa­tience thing, but I’m not the most pa­tient guy and I want to get this stuff fixed quickly.

“That’s part of the eval­u­a­tion process with the guys we have now mov­ing for­ward in the last eight games to see what guys we want to keep here and what guys we want to move on with.”

ARIC CRABB — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Raiders de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Guen­ther heads a unit that ranks last in the NFL in sacks and quar­ter­back pres­sures.

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