Getting lit up by a near-unstoppable New England Patriots offense was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Only instead of a straw, it was a two-ton anvil dropped from the sky like a Looney Tunes short.
The Oakland Raiders have fired Ken Norton Jr. from his defensive coordinator position following Sunday’s loss to the Patriots. John Pagano, who was serving as the assistant head coach, will fill the role for the remainder of the season.
“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator,” said head coach Jack Del Rio in a statement posted to the team website. “I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”
While Norton Jr. was praised by many of his players as a personable authority figure, the Raiders defense has been utterly incompetent at times under his direction, especially against the pass. In his 42 games as defensive coordinator, the Raiders allowed nearly 10,800 yards through the air. Stopping the run has only been marginally better, with a total of 4,697 yards allowed. Embarrassingly, the Raiders have yet to force an interception this year, the longest stretch to start a season in NFL history.
Moreover, Norton’s schemes seemed to go against what his unit was truly consistent at. The Raiders are infamous for allowing a ton of yards to tight ends and running backs through the air, but their defensive strategy on passing downs is comically vanilla. They will almost always rush just four at the opposing QB and sit back in Cover-3 Zone. The lack of variation has made it easy for other teams to pick the Raiders apart, either through big pass plays or dink-and-dunk throws.
Pagano, who was the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers last season, has a completely different style, opting for more aggressive packages in order to chase sacks and INTs. He has a decent track record in both those areas, but a midseason change will be difficult to adjust to. Still, making a move like this shows that the Raiders haven’t given up on 2017 yet. But time is running out.