Raiders’ D can’t get off field on third down

Jason Tarver is as passionate and animated as any coach in the

NFL. The Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator is usually quick

with a statistic or two to back up whatever point he’s trying to

make.

The fact that Oakland’s defense is third in the NFL in

three-and-outs, for example. Tarver’s eyes grew wide and he talked

proudly about that Thursday, saying few people around the league

expected that out of the young Raiders.

All of that energy grinds to a screeching halt, however, when

discussing Oakland’s struggles on third down.

The Raiders have had issues finishing drives and games for much

of the season. It’s become a particularly troubling trend over the

past three games, all of which ended in losses for a team headed

for its 11th consecutive non-winning record.

”We have to understand in those situations how to get ourselves

off the field,” Tarver said. ”It’s that refocus on the ninth play

of the drive, that’s where we need to improve. We’ve got some

things we do really well but we have to focus when it doesn’t go as

well early in the drive.”

Oakland (4-9) is 25th in third-down efficiency this season,

allowing opponents to convert nearly 41 percent of the time.

In the past three games alone, the Raiders have allowed teams to

convert a league-high 54.5 percent (24 of 44) of third-down plays.

Of those, five have been on third-and-10 or longer.

”I think it really boils down to those teams out-executed us in

those particular situations,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said.

”We went through a stretch in the middle of the year where we

played pretty good, and then we’ve gone through a stretch … where

we haven’t been as good on third down. That’s the difference

between being able to win these games and not.”

Tarver insists that correcting the problem has been a focus of

the team for a while. The Raiders spent part of Thursday’s practice

going over their third-down defense and will probably emphasize it

more as Sunday’s game against Kansas City draws nearer.

It’s more than a bit perplexing, however, that a team that has

forced 45 three-and-outs this season could have so many problems on

third down.

The issues have come from a decline in the Raiders’ pass rush,

coverage breakdowns in the secondary and overall sloppiness when it

comes to tackling.

Oakland recorded 21 sacks through the first seven games while

opponents converted only 38 percent on third down. Over the past

six games, though, the Raiders have only 11 sacks while teams are

converting third downs at a 44 percent clip.

”There’s a few of them where we had two guys there to make a

tackle, and those are the ones you have to have,” Tarver said.

”That’s all on us. It’s multiple reasons but we have a good mix of

things that we do. We need to do a better job of getting those guys

on the ground.

”Can’t let the communication go, whether it’s the first play of

the drive or the ninth. It doesn’t matter. Stop `em.”

Fixing the pass rush problems and the issues on third down might

be a bit more difficult this week for Oakland’s defense.

Defensive tackle Vance Walker, who is fourth on the team with

three sacks, has not practiced after suffering a concussion during

the Raiders 37-27 loss to the New York Jets this past Sunday.

Rookie linebacker Sio Moore was also limited for the second

straight day because of a neck injury.

That, coupled with an overall tired feeling on defense,

convinced Allen to alter Oakland’s practice schedule this week and

go with more walkthrough sessions than full-contact drills.

”We’ve been in a lot of close games, a lot of battles, and what

happens sometimes is it’s not just a physical thing,” Allen said.

”It’s also a mental thing. So we’ve done some things this week to

try to freshen them up.”

Notes: WR Denarius Moore (shoulder) had another encouraging day

at practice and could rejoin the lineup after missing the past

three games. … RB Darren McFadden (ankle) did not practice and is

likely to sit out his sixth game this season.

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