ALAMEDA — Jason Tarver is as passionate and animated as any coach in the NFL. The Oakland Raiders' defensive coordinator is usually quick with a statistic or two to back up whatever point he's trying to make.
The fact that Oakland's defense is third in the NFL in three-and-outs, for example. Tarver's eyes grew wide and he talked proudly about that Thursday, saying few people around the league expected that out of the young Raiders. All of that energy grinds to a screeching halt, however, when discussing Oakland's struggles on third down.
The Raiders have had issues finishing drives and games for much of the season. It's become a particularly troubling trend over the past three games, all of which ended in losses for a team headed for its 11th consecutive non-winning record.
“We have to understand in those situations how to get ourselves off the field,” Tarver said. “It's that refocus on the ninth play of the drive, that's where we need to improve. We've got some things we do really well but we have to focus when it doesn't go as well early in the drive.”
Oakland (4-9) is 25th in third-down efficiency this season, allowing opponents to convert nearly 41 percent of the time. In the past three games alone, the Raiders have allowed teams to convert a league-high 54.5 percent (24 of 44) of third-down plays. Of those, five have been on third-and-10 or longer.
“I think it really boils down to those teams out-executed us in those particular situations,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “We went through a stretch in the middle of the year where we played pretty good, and then we've gone through a stretch ... where we haven't been as good on third down. That's the difference between being able to win these games and not.”
Tarver insists that correcting the problem has been a focus of the team for a while. The Raiders spent part of Thursday's practice going over their third-down defense and will probably emphasize it more as Sunday's game against Kansas City draws nearer.