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Raiders

Keys to victory

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003


1) GET PUSHY: The Raiders know they don't have the speed to outrun the Bucs on either side of the ball. They'll be better off trying to push them around, putting their huge offensive linemen (who average a listed 322 pounds) and defensive tackles (315) in positions to throw their weight around. An occasional run up the middle by bruising 235-pounder Tyrone Wheatley wouldn't be a bad idea either.

2) KEEP GANNON CLEAN: The Oakland offense is built around timing and precision, so it's imperative the Raiders don't let the Bucs get to quarterback Rich Gannon. He's not nearly as effective with a hand in his face or a defensive lineman around his ankles. Teams that beat the Raiders do it with a strong pass rush and airtight coverage by their cornerbacks, disrupting Gannon's mastery of making quick reads and distributing the ball.

3) DON'T GET TOO CUTE: Because Bucs coach Jon Gruden knows so much about them, the Raiders might try to change their tendencies and get away from what they do best. Or they might say they're going to change, then stay the same. Or they might say they're going to change, then make it look like they didn't change, then actually go ahead and change. Or ... Anyway, you get the idea. The Raiders got this far with a precision passing game, and it would be foolish to try and reinvent themselves into a running team now.

4) STRIKE FIRST: Because they use so many offensive formations, the Raiders usually force opposing defenses to play tentatively early in games. If they can go down the field and score right away, as they did against the Jets and Titans, they'll accomplish two important things: a) they'll gain confidence that the touted Tampa Bay defense is not impenetrable, and b) they'll prevent the Bucs from getting too comfortable and playing with the confidence and cockiness on which they thrive.

5) GET JERRY PORTER THE BALL: The Bucs think they can handle running back Charlie Garner (although it is a little more interesting when he splits out wide) and can cover veteran receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. But Porter can be the X factor, as he was in playoff victories against the Jets and Titans. The Raiders would be wise to use his speed to stretch the defense, knowing he can change the game on a single play.

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