ALAMEDA (AP) — A new defensive scheme that was supposed to transform a struggling unit has led to perhaps the least productive defense in Oakland Raiders history.
The Raiders (1-3) returned to practice Monday after having four days off for their bye week looking for answers on how to fix a defense that is on pace to allow the most points and yards in a season in team history.
They will be tested right out of their bye, with a cross-country trip to Atlanta (5-0) on tap to face Matt Ryan and an offense that has scored touchdowns on the highest percentage of drives in the league so far.
"I'm definitely surprised," defensive back Michael Huff said of the struggles. "I was the one buying in, believed in the scheme, believed in the coaches, believed in everything. I'm not staying away from that. Watching on film, we see what we can be. We're still one play here, one play there. It's there to be had. We just got to make the plays."
Huff was the most vocal proponent of the new scheme, saying he was looking forward to playing a "real defense" for a change under head coach Dennis Allen and new coordinator Jason Tarver.
Until his death a year ago Monday, longtime Raiders owner Al Davis was heavily involved in the team's defense, picking coordinators who would usually use his preferred system of bump-and-run coverage on the outside and pressure coming from a four-man defensive line.
Allen, the former defensive coordinator in Denver, became the team's first defensive-minded head coach since John Madden in the 1970s. He brought in a defense that featured multiple fronts and coverages and was supposed to have more blitzes than Oakland was used to using.
That new variety hasn't led to new success so far as the Raiders have allowed 125 points in the first four games — the most at this point of the season since 1962. Oakland is giving up 411.5 yards per game, allowing opponents to complete 71.5 percent of their passes and has managed just three sacks and three turnovers in four games.
"We got to have 11 people flying around to the football, flying around like their hair is on fire," Allen said. "That's the way you play defensive football. It's been that way since the beginning of time, and it won't change."
Part of the problem can be attributed to injuries to starting cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Bartell went out with a broken shoulder blade in the season opener against San Diego and Spencer sprained his right foot the following week in a loss to Miami.
Bartell will be out until at least Nov. 11 and Spencer remains in a walking boot and has not been cleared to practice. The injuries have forced Huff to move from free safety to cornerback, where he has allowed nine catches on 15 throws for 145 yards and two touchdowns in his two starts on the outside, according to STATS LLC.
Pat Lee, who started one game in three seasons in Green Bay, has played the other side. The inexperience at cornerback has limited some of what the new defense can do. When the Raiders have blitzed so far this season it has been mostly unsuccessful. They got one sack of Philip Rivers on the first drive of the opener against the Chargers. But they have no sacks on the other 52 pass plays against the blitz, allowing 38 completions for 442 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 117.6, according to STATS.
Opponents have been mostly completing short passes against the Raiders, with the average completion coming 5.1 yards down the field compared to 6.9 a year ago. That's the second-shortest average completion mark for any defense this season and the lowest for the Raiders since the statistic was first measured in 1992 as opponents have feasted on quick passes against zone coverage.
"That's kind of when you've got to play man, like the old days," Huff said. "Got to throw quick passes, got to play more man coverage, get tighter to the receivers, because obviously there's holes in every zone, so I think games like that you've got to play more man. So we'll see."
The biggest problems have been on third down where Oakland is allowing a league-worst 53.3 percent conversion rate — on pace for the worst mark in NFL history.
"You're not going to win many games in this league if you can't win on third down," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "I just think if we look ourselves in the mirror and say, each guy instead of looking around saying what someone else should be doing, if we take that and lay the burden on our shoulders, we'll be where we want to be."
NOTES: Monday was the one-year anniversary of Davis' death. "He'll always be remembered whether it's the one-year or the 10-year, the century mark, decade mark, you're always going to think about what it meant to put on the silver and black and just that mindset and mentality," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. ... Allen said he expected LB Aaron Curry (knees) to come off the physically unable to perform list and begin practice next week when he is first eligible.... OT Khalif Barnes (groin) and TE Richard Gordon (hamstring) did not practice and are week to week.