Connect with us



Rod Marinelli


Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli talks to players on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. Dallas beat Miami 31-6.

The Las Vegas Raiders are a desperate team, and after Sunday’s home loss to Indianapolis they made a drastic move to try to salvage a once-promising season, firing defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

It’s hard to argue with Guenther’s dismissal given the depths to which the defense has sunk this season. The Raiders rank 27th in the league in yards per play allowed (6.0), 30th in rushing defense (4.7 yards per carry allowed) and 31st in sack rate (3.1%), making them one of the worst units from top to bottom in the entire NFL.

Las Vegas doesn’t have a lot of time to retool the defense, as they’re on a short week (they host the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday) and there are only three games left in the season, and they obviously stayed in-house by elevating defensive line coach Rod Marinelli as interim DC, so don’t expect an entirely new playbook.

But there are some tweaks that could be made as the Raiders try to scrap their way into the final playoff spot. Here are a few priorities for Marinelli:

Sort out the defensive line

Everything starts up front for the defense, and right now the Raiders are a mess along the defensive line. They’ve spent the entire season trying to mix and match promising young players with high-priced free agents (and, more recently, street free agents) in an attempt to find a mix that works, and so far they’ve come up empty.

The Colts exposed the defensive line for 60 minutes on Sunday and had a ton of success running the ball right at defensive end Maxx Crosby.

On this play, Crosby lined up at his usual left DE position and Indianapolis brought a tight end across the formation to wham block him on the back side. Not only was Crosby not able to shed the block, he got cut down and completely spun around; his back is turned to the ball carrier as he sprints by for an 18-yard gain:

Crosby was lined up in the same spot on Taylor’s 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and once again he was unable to get off a one-on-one block. Crosby tried to contain the outside edge, but the Indianapolis right tackle pushed him way wide and Crosby was once again turned away from the play as the running back burst through the hole:

Crosby is by far the team’s best pass rusher and needs to be on the field for passing downs, but Marinelli could consider subbing him out in early-down run situations. The Raiders are allowing 128.1 rushing yards per game (25th in the NFL) and it’s putting the defense in bad situations on just about every series.

There are no obvious solutions. Defensive end Carl Nassib, one of the team’s premier FA signings, has been a healthy inactive the last two weeks. Would he be a better option on early downs? Or perhaps newly signed DE Vic Beasley could get a look in that role, despite his reputation as a pass-rushing specialist. Whatever he decides, Marinelli has to try to stop the run first and foremost.

Define a role for Littleton

Cory Littleton was the crown jewel of the Raiders’ free-agent crop, as the veteran linebacker was expected to bring ace coverage ability to the middle of the defense. He played nearly every snap over the first eight weeks, but since missing time due to COVID-19 he has played fewer than 60% of defensive snaps the last three weeks.

The defensive coordinator, whoever he is, can’t allow Littleton to become a part-time player. Was Littleton an instant hit this year in Guenther’s system? No, but an adjustment period was to be expected. He’s still got solid coverage skills and enough experience to thrive in a well-defined role.

It’s up to Marinelli to do what Guenther couldn’t and figure out the best way to deploy a player of Littleton’s talent.

Bench Abram

Second-year safety Johnathan Abram brings a lot of energy to the defense, but he is too mistake-prone to be relied upon when the playoffs are on the line. Marinelli could probably improve the defense today by sitting Abram in favor of a steadier hand.

Against the Colts, Abram was victimized both on the ground and in the air. Scroll back and look at Taylor’s 62-yard touchdown run; Abram appeared to be blitzing on the play, but his angle of pursuit (after recognizing the handoff) was so severe and overly aggressive that he took himself completely out of the play. Had he flattened out along the line of scrimmage, he could have filled the hole and perhaps tackled Taylor for a modest 6- or -7 yard gain; instead it went for a long TD. That’s been an issue all year long, as Abram has hunted for big downhill hits instead and left himself open to big whiffs.

In the passing game, Abram does not have the skills to be trusted in coverage. On this play, Las Vegas appeared to be in a three-deep zone coverage, and Abram was tasked with playing the deep middle of the field. He came up aggressively to meet speedy wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on a vertical route and Hilton simply blew past him for an easy 41-yard touchdown.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss Abram’s coverage of Hilton:

For good measure Abram also committed a personal foul after the whistle that indirectly led to an Indianapolis touchdown in the first quarter.

The Raiders have a lot invested in the former first-round pick and they want Abram to become a linchpin of the defense, but when he’s on the field there are too many big plays, too many undisciplined angles and too many harmful penalties. Marinelli has to prioritize winning over player development for the next three weeks. Sitting Abram in favor of Jeff Heath (or maybe moving slot corner Lamarcus Joyner to safety) would make the Raiders a better defense.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun