ALAMEDA, Calif. – The improvement of the Oakland Raiders' defense has been as stunning as it has been rebuilt.
With 10 new starters, the Raiders just a few weeks ago had the 10th-ranked defense in the NFL (the anomaly that was the blowout loss to Philadelphia has them at No. 17 overall now), and they currently have the No. 6 rushing defense. Last year, Oakland was 18th against the run.
At the center of this Raiders revival is their new middle linebacker, Nick Roach. A year after Oakland finally gave up on a failed first-round draft pick in Rolando McClain, Roach has been a model of consistency. And calm.
"Nick is amazing in how fast he can go to the next play," Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. "He's just onto the next play. He will align guys and use his rules.
"The guys that can focus in the moment like that are special, and he's special that way. He can just flush whatever has happened [and] go onto the next play, which allows you to do those things. It really does."
Roach spent his first six seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he was primarily a strongside linebacker. He signed a free-agent deal with the Raiders in March and moved to the middle, and he now leads the team with 68 tackles (48 solo) and has two sacks.
Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he has yet to come off the field, having played all 688 snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus.
"I feel like that's just part of the job description," he said. "I wouldn't like to come off the field at any point. I realize that it's a blessing to be able to play all the snaps because things happen that are out of your control all the time. So hopefully I've been able to take advantage of it to the fullest so far."
There have been no complaints.
“Beyond being a good player, Nick's a good person," said rookie linebacker Sio Moore. "I think that's what correlates to his field play and, really, how he prepares, how he goes about his business on the field. I sit next to him every day, so I try and take something from him every day.
"He doesn't say much. He just goes out there and is effective."
Indeed. In last week's win over the Houston Texans, Roach got his first career interception when he picked off Case Keenum with about four minutes to go in the first quarter. The takeaway set the Raiders up at the Texans’ 16-yard line, and one play later, Matt McGloin hit Rod Streater for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
"Every dog has his day," Roach said. "I'll put it that way."
Especially if said dog plays every snap.