Since Jon Gruden returned to coach the Raiders in 2018, the team has infamously struggled with its pass rush.
The club had a historically low 13 sacks in Gruden’s first year back after trading Khalil Mack just before the start of the regular season. But the Raiders pushed that number to 32 in 2019 before regressing to just 21 sacks in 2020.
This offseason, Las Vegas addressed the issue by signing one of the best edge rushers available in free agency, Yannick Ngakoue. In a recent interview with former Raiders cornerback Eric Allen for the team’s in-house TV show, Gruden noted Ngakoue’s importance in setting the tone.
“The quarterback can’t make a pizza standing back there. You just can’t let him go back there and cook dinner and look around back there and throw the ball. We have to get after the quarterback. So it all starts with Ngakoue,” Gruden said. “Getting Yannick in here, a guy we think can be a great pass rusher, we draft a kid named Malcolm Koonce [and we tell him], ‘Just watch Ngakoue — watch what he does. You’ll learn something.’ And I think Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson are going to give us a better inside rush than we have had. And we’ll see. You know Maxx [Crosby] will be there, and I’m expecting more from Cle Ferrell as well.”
Crosby has been the Raiders’ best pass rusher since he was selected in the fourth round in 2019, registering 17.0 sacks in 32 games over his first two seasons. He led the club with 10.0 sacks in 2019 and 7.0 in 2020.
Ferrell was the fourth overall pick in Crosby’s same draft class, but has only 6.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hits in 26 games.
Las Vegas’ defense was its biggest problem in 2020, finishing 30th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed. If the pass rush upgrades work out, that will be one step in crafting a team that can not only reach, but also compete in the postseason.