First-half storyline: Coming into the season the loss of All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was the main story line. Buried in there somewhere, though, was the fact that the Raiders returned 10 of 11 starters on defense, giving the unit some much-needed continuity, especially coming off a 47-sack season, which was tied for second-most in the NFL (they only have 18 sacks now).
The same concerns, however, were there, especially when it came to defending the run. And lo and behold, those same problems have crept up again at the midway point, despite an added emphasis on stopping the run and, really, knowing exactly what was coming at them in the form of Tim Tebow. The defense on Sunday against Denver was as bad as it's been since 2003, especially the run defense in giving up 298 yards, the fourth-most surrendered in franchise history.
Eight games in, the Raiders' defense is 29th against the run, giving up 139.6 yards per game on the ground. Losing defensive end Matt Shaughnessy for the season three games in with a shoulder injury did not help.
MVP: Richard Seymour. The 11th-year defensive tackle owns the locker room in his third season in Oakland and leads the Raiders with five sacks. More impressive, perhaps, is how he's transformed the defensive line in his image, especially fellow DT Tommy Kelly. Still, Seymour's intensity sometimes goes awry, as it did when he picked up two personal foul penalties for 30 yards total against New England on the Patriots' opening 80-yard touchdown drive.Biggest surprise: The respect opposing quarterbacks have given Stanford Routt by essentially avoiding his side of the field has been somewhat Asomugha-esque. Then again, with Chris Johnson hurt all year and a pair of rookies in DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa filling in the gap opposite Routt, why would you go after Routt, who has one of the team's seven interceptions.Biggest disappointment: Granted, the bar is set high for Rolando McClain. But it should be. And as such, the second-year middle linebacker is not the game-changing force many saw him as being when the Raiders used the No. 8 overall pick on him in 2010. He has trouble shedding blocks and is easily re-directed and oftentimes takes bad angles on ball carriers. And yet, slowed by an ankle injury since Oct. 9, his absence is most definitely felt, especially in run defense, when he's out of the game. Go figure.Best play: The day after Al Davis passed away, and with only 10 men on the field, Michael Huff stepped in front of Matt Schaub's five-yard pass to Jacoby Jones in the end zone as time expired for the interception to seal the Raiders' emotional 25-20 victory at Houston. Nothing else comes close.Worst play: Hmmm, take your pick from any of Tebow's zone-read option runs against them on Sunday. Tebow galloped for 117 yards against Oakland, though two runs especially stood out as the faked-out duo of Kamerion Wimbley and Jarvis Moss are both still searching for their jock straps.Key to the second half: The same as the previous eight years -- stuffing the run and limiting big-chunk plays. Could recently-released DT Albert Haynesworth be a target and, if signed, be kept in check by Seymour, Kelly and John Henderson?