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Raiders solve Dolphins offense

They stop RB Lamar Smith, then focus on QB Jay Fiedler.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. -- After Lamar Smith's playoff-record rushing day last weekend, the Dolphins' main concern was getting their star runner rested and recovered for Saturday's game against Oakland.

Turns out, Miami didn't have to worry because the Raiders made sure Smith never ran very far.

The Raiders shut Smith down, holding the punishing back to 4 yards on eight attempts a week after he trampled Indianapolis for 209 yards on a record 40 carries.

That pretty much took Miami out of its offense, and Raiders backup cornerback Tory James crushed whatever was left, forcing a fumble and intercepting two passes, one he returned 90 yards for a touchdown in Oakland's 27-0 blowout.

"Last week he ran for 209 yards and practically won the game for them, so we knew we had to swarm the ball and tackle him with more than just one guy," Raiders linebacker William Thomas said. "That's what we did today. Everybody was flying around the ball. Everybody put a valiant effort into their play."

James' play pretty much wiped out the Dolphins. Impressive considering the Raiders picked him up this season as a free agent.

He made what Raiders coach Jon Gruden said was the tone-setting play of the game. Reading the quarterback instead of Miami receiver Leslie Shepherd, who he was covering, he broke coverage to pick off a Jay Fiedler pass at the Raiders 10-yard line on Miami's opening drive. He returned it for a touchdown.

That killed the crucial early confidence Miami needed playing in hostile and noisy Network Associates Coliseum.

"That was a huge play in this game," Gruden said. "Huge."

James almost had a fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Miami retained possession and drove to the Oakland 37. But James knocked away a fourth-down pass to Shepherd to end Miami's threat.

Between James' play and the Raiders defense of Smith, Miami never had a chance. Smith was going to be the Dolphins answer, a player who could lead them past the Raiders all by himself if rested.

Miami, concerned about Smith's durability and energy after his exhausting day against the Colts in the AFC wild-card game in Miami, limited Smith's practice time last week.

But the Raiders had him schemed beautifully, taking away Smith's outside running with quick pursuit by the linebackers and safeties, and clogging the middle with a stacked defensive line.

Smith had nowhere to run.

On his first carry in Miami's opening drive, he tried to bust through left tackle but was stuffed for 1 yard. He opened the Dolphins second drive by trying to bounce around the left end, but a gang of Raiders beat him to the corner, dropping him for a 6-yard loss.

He opened Miami's next drive, but again was slammed by the Raiders after gaining 1 yard. The Raiders dropped him for a yard loss on his next carry.

The rest of Smith's day pretty much went the same way. Just about every carry was a short gain or a loss.

The one time he broke free, a 10-yard burst up the middle in the second quarter, he fumbled. The Raiders stripped the ball as Smith broke through the line and Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson recovered the ball at the Miami 43.

"Lamar was healthy. I don't think there should be any excuses from anybody," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We just couldn't get it going."

The Raiders said they didn't do anything special to stop Smith. They played the same schemes they have all season, but put an emphasis on trying not to overpursue.

"We basically just played discipline football," Thomas said. "Guys stayed in their gaps and guys took care of their responsibilities and we just rallied to the ball."

Smith's ineffectiveness forced Fiedler to carry too much of the load, precisely what Oakland wanted. The quarterback was 18-of-37 for 176 yards and three interceptions.

"Coming into the game we said we wanted to shut down their running game and force them to throw the ball and take our chances from there," Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert said. "And it worked out for us."

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