ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — It hasn’t taken long for the Raiders to get a pretty good feel for how teams plan to counter the tandem of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
Mack faced a steady stream of double teams from New Orleans offensive linemen along with constant chip blocks by running backs and tight ends.
Irvin, who had Oakland’s only sack of the game when he stripped the ball from Drew Brees and forced a fumble in the first quarter, received the same kind of attention while also being effectively muted by the Saints’ blocking schemes.
Because that figures to be the norm for the two outside pass rushers, the Raiders need to get pressure elsewhere.
“That’s what we’re stressing,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said. “We know how people are going to have to block the edge guys because we have two elite edge guys, so we just need to put pressure up the middle more consistently.”
Ellis is primarily a run-stopper and didn’t play much in the season-opening win over the Saints, nor did 315-pound Dan Williams.
Rookies Jihad Ward and Darius Latham filled in the gaps along with Denico Autry, but the trio combined for just seven tackles and one quarterback hurry.
That worked right into the Saints hands, too.
New Orleans kept Mack, who had 15 sacks in 2015, quiet most of the game while Irvin had two tackles and three hurries.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said the Saints plan for Mack and Irvin wasn’t surprising.
“If you’re not doing things like that then you’re going to have a hard time,” Del Rio said. “I think people have to do that. When you’re doing that then they’re short other place and we have to make sure we’re taking advantage of that.”
Irvin said as much earlier this week when he commented that the Raiders interior pass rush needed to step up when he and Mack are being double-teamed.
Oakland defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. agreed, but spread the blame to the entire defense.
“No question,” Norton said. “We made some mistakes and I think every game you’re looking for improvement. Guys have to continue to defend better and I think each time we go out we’ll make improvement.
“At the same time, it is Drew Brees on the road and he makes great decisions and he’s really good. We have to match that really good with even better to shut a guy like that out.”
“I think the D-line knows and defenses know that everything starts up front. The young guys coming up have really shown up. It’s about improvement, being obsessed with improving. I think Game 2 will certainly be an improvement from Game 1.”
Ward, the 44th overall pick in this year’s draft, has been getting increased playing time at defensive end since Mario Edwards Jr. went down with a hip injury. Edwards was placed on injured reserve Sept. 5, but the team is hopeful he can return before the end of the season.
“He’s probably the young player with the most enthusiasm and is very contagious,” Norton said. “He’s like a mold of clay just molding and every time he goes out, he gets better and better. We’re really, really pleased with his growth.”
Notes: Right tackle Menelik Watson (groin) and backup Matt McCants (knee) were held out of practice for a second consecutive day. Right guard Gabe Jackson, center Rodney Hudson and kick returner Taiwan Jones returned after sitting out Wednesday.