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McClain, Routt key to Raiders' pass defense

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Posted July 08, 2011 @ 11:16 a.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

In 2010, the Raiders had the league's second-ranked pass defense, allowing just 189 yards per game through the air. There were several reasons for this, but a key obviously was having one of the game's premier cornerbacks — Nnamdi Asomugha — locking down an opponent's top receiver.

With Asomugha looking for a mega-contract this summer and the Raiders likely close to the salary cap, the two sides are expected to part ways once free agency begins. That will cause a domino effect on the Oakland defense, as players will need to alter their roles and elevate their performance if the pass defense is to remain one of the NFL's best without the Pro Bowl corner on the roster.

Second-year MLB Rolando McClain is one of the players who needs to show improvement in that area. As a rookie, McClain was a force against the run, but often appeared to be out of place on passing plays. Skilled at making an impact when the ball is nearby, the team needs McClain to improve his range this season and be more of a complete player in the pass defense.

But no player faces greater pressure than Stanford Routt. Before the lockout began, the team gave Routt a three-year, $31.5 million contract, using up much of the organization's cap space on a player the Raiders assume will be taking over as the No. 1 cornerback. A year ago, quarterbacks who had no interest in challenging Asomugha targeted Routt often, throwing at him 92 times according to Football Outsiders. He gave up his fair share of big plays — allowing five touchdowns and being whistled for five pass-interference penalties — and when passes were completed on him, opponents gained more than 20 yards per catch.

Routt also showed some skills despite being thrown at so frequently, successfully defending 66 percent of the throws that came his way. That was the third-best mark in the entire NFL from corners who were targeted 40 or more times in 2010, trailing only Darrelle Revis of the Jets and the Vikings' Antoine Winfield.

If both McClain and Routt can improve their play this season and cut down on the plays where they are beaten over the top, the Raiders' pass defense might not take as serious of a hit as some expect without Asomugha.


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