Week 2 Rewind: Raiders' defense on the rise

Scott and Fallon: Limiting turnovers was key to Raiders victory

Week 2 Rewind: Raiders' defense on the rise
September 16, 2013, 8:15 am
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The Raiders' secondary has five of the team's league-leading nine sacks over the first two games of the season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Programming note: Watch Monday's Raiders press conference with head coach Dennis Allen streaming live online or live on Comcast SportsNet California, today at 1 p.m.  

What you need to know: The Raiders defense was gutted and then overhauled this offseason. The unit was put together with a formula that valued free agents and young players with certain characteristics.

The Raiders found versatile talents who tackle well and have a passion for the game. They wanted 11 guys who can do it all, with the drive to play better together.

Their potential remains unknown. One dominant effort in Sunday’s 19-9 victory over Jacksonville won’t define this team in the long term.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Raiders down Jaguars for first win of season]

The Jaguars are awful. That can’t be discounted when evaluating a sterling defensive performance. But it’s clear that this defense can be difficult to deal with.

It’s a positive that they’re looking strong in Week 2, no easy task considering the amount of turnover on this defense. Chemistry is being established at a rapid rate.

[RATTO: Raiders win, and do A's groundskeeper a favor]

“I think that’s a long process,” safety Usama Young said. “People always talk about having so many new starters, and you hear that we’re in full rebuilding mode. That process is moving along well and I think you’re starting to see how good we can be. It’s still too early to make any conclusions, but we’re doing some of the right things.”

The Raiders certainly are. They play the run as a unit. They tackle well in the open field and keep yards after contact to a minimum. The secondary is acting like a defensive strength it was expected to be, with solid pass coverage. Few, if any, could say they expected to generate a consistent pass rush.

The Raiders had five sacks against Jacksonville and have nine in two games, a marked improvement over a unit that had 25 all of last year. They’re blitzing from every direction in Jason Tarver’s creative scheme, with five sacks from the secondary.

In two games, they have nine sacks, 13 tackles for losses and 15 quarterback hits. The sack total leads the league entering Monday’s play.

“I think it’s just a combination of rush and coverage,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I think there’s some times where we do a pretty nice job in coverage and give our guys an opportunity to get to the quarterback. We try to be multiple and send several different guys in different directions and then I think our rush has continued to improve. I think guys have continued to get better at rushing the quarterback.”

Still no takeaways, but that’s next on the list.

The defense has shown encouraging signs thus far, but only time will tell how they fare against improved competition. Only time will tell how close the unit gets, and if they truly play beyond expectation. It’s clear now that the Raiders are making positive strides as a defense.

“We’re on the right track,” middle linebacker Nick Roach said. “It will take some more time for us to come together, but you can see our communication and our flow improving a great deal. We’re playing well as a unit, but we still have a long way to go.”

Pryor’s game management: We saw a new side of Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Sunday. The 24-year old was able to play for the greater good, often at his own expense.

[RELATED: Pryor becomes game manager in Raiders win over Jaguars]

The Raiders went with a steady dose of designed runs against the Jaguars, who focused heavily on keeping Pryor contained. Pryor understood his role as decoy and game manager, and performed both well.

He stayed out of trouble. He didn’t throw risky passes or put himself or the ball in danger outside the pocket. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but someone had to do it. The concern this preseason was that Pryor wouldn’t be able to do the little things necessary to coordinate an offense built around a running back. He quelled those concerns. He wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. Pryor did what was asked, didn’t turn the ball over and led his team to victory.

Troubling totals: The Raiders struggled in key situations. They couldn’t find the end zone or the first down marker with enough consistency to turn Sunday’s game into a blowout.

The Raiders were 1-for-5 in the red zone and converted just 4-of-14 on third downs. Not good numbers, not by a long shot.

The Raiders were much better last week in both areas. They converted 54 percent of their third downs and scored touchdowns in 66 percent of their red zone trips.

“We have to be able to convert third downs so we can keep drives alive and keep the chains moving,” Allen said. “Obviously, red zone offense, we have to be able to score touchdowns when we get an opportunity to get down there. I believe we were down there five times in the game today and we were only able to get one touchdown out of that. So we have to be better there in the red zone.”

Play of the Game: Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew tiptoed down the sideline, with little resistance between him and the end zone.

He had a blocker on his interior flank, so Charles Woodson couldn’t make a play without taking flight. Woodson jumped at Jones-Drew and brought him down by the neck.

“Sometimes you have to leave your feet,” Woodson said. “He was trying to stretch the play outside and it looked like he was slowing down and wasn’t going to be able to get the corner and I just wanted to get to him.”

The defense held Jacksonville to a field goal on that drive, and the Raiders expanded their lead from there. It was a momentum changer that kept the Raiders in the driver’s seat.

“Charles made an exceptional play right there,” Allen said. “I think any time you see a guy like Charles Woodson play as long as he has in the league and play with the level he’s played, for him to make an effort play like that really gives the whole team, and the defense in particular, a lot of momentum. I thought it was a great play.”

Player of the Game: The game ball goes to Darren McFadden. The running back had 157 yards of total offense, including 129 rushing yards on 19 carries. He had four-carries in excess of 20 yards, capping a performance even a lost fumble couldn’t tarnish.

McFadden gives the Raiders a legitimate alternative when defenses sell out to slow Pryor and keep him in the pocket. With McFadden on his game – he certainly was Sunday against the Jaguars – the Raiders are tough to deal with.

[RELATED: As McFadden goes, so do the Raiders]

Unsung Hero: Brandian Ross filled in admirably after starting strong safety Tyvon Branch was lost with an ankle injury. He had three tackles, a sack and another quarterback hit as an active member of the pass rush and run defense.

[UPDATE: Branch believed to have fractured fibula, out indefinitely]

He’s the likely candidate to start in Branch’s place, although Usama Young may be a better fit to play there in the long term.


Looking good: Woodson is playing with a passion of a much younger man. The 36-year old free safety led the team with six tackles, including his Superman dive that stopped Jones-Drew in his tracks and possibly saved a touchdown.

He was everywhere against the Jaguars, active as a pass rusher and the last line of pass defense.

His passion for the game is infectious, as is his ability to lay his body on the line for his team.

“Charles is one of the greatest,” Burnett said. “It’s great to see him play at such a high level, although I certainly wouldn’t call it a surprise. We all know what he’s capable of.”

Woodson is enjoying his second stint with the Raiders, both as an ambassador and on-field presence.

“I’m at the age where, as long as my body feels good, I can go out there and play football,” Woodson said. “I don’t think it’s really about showing anybody anything, it’s just going out there and trying to help the team win in any way I can.”


Disappearing act: Denarius Moore didn’t have a great day. The receiver was targeted twice, and dropped both passes sent his way. He finished without a reception and clearly doesn’t have the bond with Pryor than other receivers do. More performances like that and Moore will sink further down Pryor’s priority list.

Near-perfect start: The Raiders jumped out to a great start in all three phases of the game.

The defense forced a three-and-out, Phillip Adams returned a punt 30 yards and the offense marched downfield and scored in five plays.

It’s a huge improvement over previous starts, where the Raiders fell behind by double digits since the preseason began.

Starting well was a point of emphasis throughout the week, especially after falling 14 points behind the Indianapolis Colts last week.

“I thought that was huge,” Allen said. “I think our defense going out there and stepping up and forcing a three-and-out on the first series of the game and then we come back and get the punt return that set us up in good field position. And then for our offense to go right down the field and convert that into points, I think that was a big momentum builder, a big confidence builder, for our football team. That’s something that we talk a lot about is trying to start fast and we were able to do that today.”

Injury Concerns: Branch will miss an extended period with an ankle injury suffered in the first quarter of Sunday’s game.

Left guard Lucas Nix also left with an ankle injury, but Allen said his ailment wasn’t serious.

Quote of the day: “We’re on to playing good, hard football, that’s all we can ask of everybody. I think today, for the most part, we did our jobs as a team. That’s a step in the right direction. ” -- Raiders free safety Charles Woodson on a solid start to the season.

Looking ahead: The Raiders are 1-1 heading into a Monday Night Football game against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos have scored 90 points in two games, meaning the defense must be at its best to compete with quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ quick-strike offense. It’s going to be a difficult task, possibly the toughest test on the schedule.

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