Oakland's offense overshadows its defense, but the accolades will come with a win tonight.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- They spent the season overshadowed by their top-ranked offensive unit, and they spent the week underappreciated in comparison to the Bucs' league-best defense.
The Raiders defense, however, is not concerned about being slighted. The players figure they'll get plenty of attention and accolades if things go as they hope tonight.
"Tampa Bay is No. 1-ranked, and they deserve what they get -- more power to them," Oakland defensive tackle John Parrella said. "We have an offense that is phenomenal and they deserve all the recognition they get.
"We go out and we play football. I don't think this defense is worried about somebody saying we're good, bad or in-between. We know what we can do. We know what our qualities are. We know what to do on Sundays. We have a bunch of fighters and a bunch of scrappy guys who line up and fight with you. If we don't get that recognition, that's fine."
At the start of the season, the Raiders were more concerned about making tackles than making headlines. They'd changed their personnel and enough of their plan that things were, simply put, a mess. But, like the Bucs offense, as the season went on they improved as they learned to work together.
"Our defense improved dramatically in the second half of the season, predicated on the fact we had so many new starters, nine new starters at the beginning of the year," coach Bill Callahan said. "To get those players integrated into what we were doing systematically and having them play off one another was so important."
The transition was easier because several of the new starters -- tackles Sam Adams and Parrella, linebacker Bill Romanowski, and safety Rod Woodson -- were established veterans, though the gains they made were offset by injuries to cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tory James, who both missed significant time.
It took some time, and a decision by defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan to simplify some of the on-field shifts and adjustments, for things to fall into place.
"We just said we'll match up and play with the simplest rules and just let you play football," Bresnahan said. "We've got this saying, "Keep it simple, stupid,' and we tried to stay with that the rest of the year: Allow the players to go out and play. We felt if we can do that we can match up well with just about anybody."
The defense that will take the field tonight will present a challenge for the Bucs -- two huge tackles (Adams and Parrella) in the middle of the line, three speedy linebackers, and aggressive, hard-hitting defensive backs.
"They play well overall and they count on man-to-man matchups," Bucs center Jeff Christy said. "The big guys inside look at their man-to-man blocks and they say you pretty much can't block them. They're going to try to control the tempo and the line of scrimmage."
Oakland's basic philosophy is to put the cornerbacks up tight on the receivers in man-to-man coverage and let the ends and tackles try to control of the line of scrimmage, knowing the linebackers are quick enough to react. The injuries to Woodson and James (both have surgically implanted plates in their legs to stabilize broken bones) have forced them to occasionally change coverages.
"We like to lock up on the outside and challenge receivers, and the healthier Charles and Tory get the better off we're going to be doing that," Bresnahan said. "It's a combination-style defense where we're going to mix pressures as well as our eight-man fronts. We want to create an eight-man-front defense that stops the run and forces you into a one-dimensional offense."
With 18 games to watch on film and Jon Gruden's familiarity with the Oakland plan, if not its personnel, the Bucs have a pretty good idea of what to expect.
But that's assuming the Raiders don't change.
Callahan, saying Gruden taught him "if they haven't seen it they can't prepare for it," all but said the defense will have a different look tonight.
"We're going to try to create something that he hasn't seen," Callahan said. "We're going to try to create some new pressures and dogs and blitzes that disrupt the timing and rhythm of their offense."
After a rough start, the Raiders were 11th in total defense (311.2 yards per game), though only sixth in points allowed (19 per game). They were third against the run, allowing an average of 90.8 yards, but 23rd against the pass (220.4 yards).
"When you have those numbers and placements of where you're at statistically, there is that ability to overlook," Callahan said. "But I don't, because the value of our defense has been so important to us down the stretch.
"What they did, from when we played Denver (at midseason) until the end of the season, was vital to where we are now. We wouldn't be where we are today if we didn't have the collective effort of our defensive guys. Maybe they don't get the notoriety of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they certainly earned our respect within the organization and within the league."
"We don't care if we get the recognition or not," Rod Woodson said. "We're paid to stop opposing offenses. We'll see what happens."