Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders


FSM Burning Question – Who Should Lead The Raiders Defense Moving Forward?


Rod Marinelli is now being given the task to help save the Las Vegas Raiders’ season by taking the defensive reins for the rest of this playoff push. But the burning question: Is the defensive coordinator gig his to lose? Or are there other more qualified candidates out there?


When your defense surrenders more than 200 rushing yards three times and gives up more than six yards a carry against the lowly New York Jets and an Indianapolis Colts team making their playoff push, it leads to this defensive gamble:

Firing your current guy.

Paul Guenther was relieved of his duties following the Raiders’ 44-27 debacle against the visiting Colts on Sunday. Just three hours after the embarrassing defeat at Allegiant Stadium, the change was made by the Raiders.


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Now enters 71-year-old Rod Marinelli. The man who began his coaching career at 24 years of age is tasked with resuscitating a defensive unit that has been one of the league’s worst this season, with notable stats like ranking 30th in the NFL in points allowed (30.1) to only producing 15 takeaways and sacks – coming in at 30th and 25th overall in the league, respectively.

Marinelli has a tall order on his hands. But it can additionally be motivation for him to run a defensive unit for the long haul in Sin City.

As it is, the Raiders improved greatly against the run last Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers: Focusing on fundamentals like gaining depth into the line of scrimmage, filling gaps and gang tackling. That trio led to the Silver and Black to surrender just 96 rushing yards, allowing just an average of 3.31 yards a carry.

The Raiders, however, allowed 314 aerial yards to Justin Herbert and fell 30-27, further damaging their playoff push.

Me personally, I believe Marinelli is simply a band-aid meant to patch up the bleeding the Raiders defense has had under Guenther. There are candidates out there whom I feel could be a bandage for the Raiders.


Who are those potential defensive schematic leaders? Here are my picks from ex-head coaches to position coaches who could get a league promotion:


Former NFL head coaches


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Wade Phillips: There are already rumblings that the longtime defensive mind Phillips is interested in an NFL gig once again. Why not return to the division he knows very well? Plus, the division where he helped orchestrate the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 run? Phillips’ last two coaching stops in Denver and Los Angeles resulted in improvement in takeaways and Super Bowl appearances (lost Super Bowl LIII with the Rams). If he’s not contacted, someone isn’t trying.

Raheem Morris: The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer head coach has re-energized the Falcons – leading Atlanta to all four of its wins following the dismissal of Dan Quinn. Morris even got the Falcons to frustrate the Raiders with five takeaways and holding Las Vegas to 243 total yards in the 43-6 romp back on Nov. 29. Morris, though, maybe appealing enough to be retained by the Falcons. But if he’s not reinstated and the Silver and Black can’t coax Phillips, then Morris should be the contingency plan.

Lovie Smith: This may be a stretch for the Raiders, considering how the recently fired University of Illinois head coach Smith is in his 60s and has been away from the NFL game for five years. However, Smith already shares the Tampa Bay connection with Gruden and Marinelli. His coordinating skills turned around a struggling St. Louis Rams unit during the “Greatest Show on Turf” days and helped give Brian Urlacher some of his best years as a pro while as Chicago Bears head coach. He additionally coached two All-Pro linebackers in Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay) and Lance Briggs. Smith struggled with recruiting and getting past the likes of Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Minnesota in the college realm (his best season at Illinois was 6-7 in 2019). I believe his coaching is better suited for the NFL game and could be an option for the Raiders.


The position coaches who could get a promotion


Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Ryan Nielsen: The current New Orleans Saints defensive line coach witnessed his unit have a rather forgettable evening against the Philadelphia Eagles (246 rushing yards allowed). But minus that game, the Saints front wall has allowed an average of 3.8 yards per carry or under in nine games this season. Nielsen knows how to energize the pass rush up front too, with 38.5 of the Saints’ 51 sacks in 2019 coming from his group, meaning his front four accounted for 74.5% of the Saints’ sacks. Right now, the Saints have 40 sacks through 14 games with defensive end Trey Hendrickson leading the way with 12.5, tying with the Rams’ Aaron Donald for the NFC lead in that category. The Simi Valley native started his coaching career in 2002 and has risen in the ranks – going from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level to the NFL. His promotion to defensive coordinator could help spark the play of defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby of the Raiders.

Dave Merritt: At 49, plus as a coaching veteran of 23 seasons, Merritt has never been named a defensive coordinator. And his resume includes the following: Three Super Bowl rings (two with the Giants, last year with the Kansas City Chiefs), six Pro Bowlers coached (Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Antrel Rolle, Landon Collins, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, and Janoris Jenkins), and helping coach a Chiefs unit that has snatched 15 interceptions in 13 games, tying them for third in the NFL along with the Patriots. He’s entering his 50s. I think the time is now for him to be considered for a defensive coordinator position. Maybe Las Vegas will be a good place to start and work with Jonathan Abram in the secondary.


The Raiders have invested heavily in their defense through the draft and in free agency. Whether it was scheme fit or lack of talent, the Raiders defense remains the teams’ biggest issue. By firing Guenther, Jon Gruden has begun to right that side of the ship and hopefully will put the Silver and Black back in the playoffs.

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna


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