Raiders defense upholds tradition
While Oakland's offense gains attention, the defense quietly gets the job done.
Oakland's defense played in the shadow of the offense this season. But Miami QB Jay Fiedler found out how tough the Raiders are.
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the Raiders attend their traditional post-game family dinner at their training facility, they are often greeted by a parade-size balloon of former hard-hitting safety Jack Tatum.
It's not surprising when traditionally Oakland always had a larger-than-life defensive reputation. The famed silver-and-black attack was heralded as a tough, physical group: the NFL masters of intimidation.
This season, however, the Raiders defense has played in the shadow of the league's top-rushing attack and the multidimensional efforts of quarterback Rich Gannon. The Oakland defenders can accept that, but as they enter today's AFC Championship Game, they can't accept being cast behind the league's other elite defensive units.
"That's a great motivating factor," said linebacker Elijah Alexander, who helped the Raiders register the only playoff shutout of the season. "We had a week to sit around and listen to what you guys were talking about. We heard about Baltimore's defense, heard about Tennessee's defense, heard about Philadelphia, Tampa, we heard about everybody. But you guys never mention our defense. We have guys in our defense who have pride and take things personally."
"I say the hell with their defense," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "It's all about what the Raiders are going to go out and do this weekend."
Oakland was nothing short of spectacular against the Dolphins last weekend. Miami managed 10 first downs, tying an NFL playoff low, and produced 207 yards. The Raiders forced four turnovers and cornerback Tory James set the tone with a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Dolphins' first series.
Overall, the Raiders defense ranked 17th in the league, with some poor collapses sandwiched by tenacious efforts. But Oakland did record 43 sacks, led by Roderick Coleman's 11, and it has knocked 11 quarterbacks out of the game. It also produced 21 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries.
Given such numbers, the Raiders are taking the lack of respect theme personally.
"When we go out, we look to dominate, we look to cause turnovers," safety Marquez Pope said. "We know we don't get the write-ups, but if you look back at the record of the number of quarterbacks who have taken blows from us, they pride themselves on that. They're smart players. The first thing for us defensively is stopping the run and second is getting to the quarterback. That's our game plan."
Statistically, Oakland's defense may not be better than it was last season. But the players are not complaining about the win-loss results under new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnehan, who previously served as the secondary coach. Bresnehan took over for deposed Willie Shaw and while he hasn't made radical changes, he has put his own thumb print on the unit.
"Chuck was a great addition, because he knew the players, knew the personnel," cornerback Eric Allen said. "Our system is similar, but of course, when defensive coordinators change ... you adopt their strategy.
"There was no really bad adjustment period. It was just a matter of him learning to work with the defense."
It is appropriate the Ravens offense will battle the Raiders defense today because both units are the forgotten principles of the matchup. Supposedly, the game will be decided by the battle between Baltimore's top-ranked defense and Oakland's offense, but Baltimore coach Brian Billick said the other units will have their say.
"I don't think you get here unless you have a certain amount of balance between defense and offense, and I think the Raiders defense feels the same way about a quote/unquote bum rap for the season (as our offense)," Billick said.
- Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.
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