The Raider defense has a sudden unexpected confidence for a team that just came off a 5-11 season and a 31 ranked run defense. Of course, two straight games of great defensive play will do that for a team.
The Chargers game in week one may have ended in a loss but the Raider defense was so good that there was immediate buzz across the NFL. Then against the Chiefs, it was timely turnovers and tackles that led to the low scoring affair and a hard fought Raider victory.
Some credit goes to the additions of Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis putting the bookends on the defensive line. Others say it is greater mental preparation. I think it is a bit of both. In any event, there is a swagger among the Raider defenders that has been sorely lacking in recent memory. And I don’t mean simply having a big mouth that can talk a bigger game than they bring to the field of play (cough-Warren-Sapp-cough).
I mean the kind that prove it first and talk after. Such as Kirk Morrison who had 13 unassisted tackles against the Chiefs. To which he had this to say:
“With a bum elbow, you know? And I missed like five. What if I would have [been fully healthy]?… and there were some that they called back due to penalty, how many tackles would I had? One of those games where you just kind of get in a zone and they start coming in bunches… Techinically, this game we played on Sunday was like my third preseason game. I’m still getting into game shape.”
Morrison isn’t taking all the credit for his tackles though. He realizes that having a shot at a tackle starts up front and he realizes the addition of Richard Seymour is an important one. “Yeah. And then some”, Kirk said of his expectations of Seymour. “He’s just doing his job. And that’s all it is.” Which is to say that whomever was there before that was not doing their job. Or rather not able to do their job. Adding a solid starter like Seymour makes everyone better collectively.
“We seem to have more depth”, said Morrison. “People don’t really look at it, but I felt like we kept rolling, even in that San Diego game. The guys up front were coming in and out,and there were all these new faces, and it’s not a dropoff, like, OK, he’s not in there right now, or they’re giving Seymour a break, Gerard a break, guys just kept rolling, and it’s good.”
Nnamdi Asomugha also recognizes the contributions that Richard Seymour has brought to this team.
“[Richard Seymour's] Presence is huge and [his] leadership is huge. He always speaks in the meetings if he’s feeling something. He’s got a lot of carry-over from New England and their winning philosophy and that state of mind. So he brings that to the locker room. He brings it in to meetings and onto the field and guys respect that obviously.”
Seymour’s influence has solved the two biggest problems with this team last season: leadership and run defense. And while he shores up the run defense, he also is no slouch in rushing the passer as evidenced by his two sack performance in week one.
When the line is solidified, and the pass rushers are fresh, it means that the quarterback has less time to throw. Which in turn means that the corners and safeties don’t have to cover as long. Also, when the quarterback has to make his decision faster, he doesn’t always make the right one. This leads to interceptions for which Huff has been the beneficiary of this season– three fold. These interceptions have instilled a confidence in Huff that he hasn’t had since being drafted by the Raiders in ‘06.
“I think I’m just trusting it more. I’m watching a lot more”, says Huff. “Nnam has us watching a lot more film than we have in the past. I think that has helped a lot. I think it’s more being out there being confident and just go out there and play the ball.”
And “Nnam”, aka Nnamdi Asomugha, sees the difference in his embattled teammate as well:
“When you see a guy that’s always going to be straight in the middle of the field, it can wear on him, and he wasn’t able to make plays doing that in the past. Now he’s seeing routes better and he’s taking more chances, so you don’t see him hang his head that much at all.”
Huff is sure to temper that confidence with a reality check. With a little bit of high hopes mixed in for good measure.
“There’s a long way to go in the season”, Huff points out. “Hopefully I have 10, 11 more picks in me. I try not to get too riled up about the first two games. I want to go out there and be consistent and prove it week in and week out.”
That’s right Michael. Just like Casey Kasem used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
And speaking of stars, let’s not forget that Asomugha himself has quite the abundance of confidence all his own. And it somehow never comes off as cocky. More like an observation from a guy who is well aware of the respect he is afforded across the line of scrimmage.
“You’re going to get that respect when you’re playing man because if you’re playing zone, they can still throw into your zone. But if you’re playing man and you’re doing well at it for however many number of snaps, a quarterback doesn’t have to look that way. So, yeah it’s respect, but I don’t rest on it. I still think it’s coming every snap.”
But seriously, he doesn’t need many fingers to count the passes thrown his way each game.
“No rinky-dinky passes? I’ve had one, and it was against San Diego in the fourth quarter. Jackson, yeah. I thought you guys said Kansas City was (supposed to throw at me)?”
But don’t just take the Raider players word for it. Ask the next quarterback they will have to face. In this case it is the Broncos’ Kyle Orton:
“A very fast, a very physical and a very good (Raider) defense. The numbers kind of show how good they are. They’re extremely athletic, they’re big up front. They do a good job of getting pressure with the front four, and there’s not a whole lot of guys open down the field. We certainly have our hands full.
“I haven’t gone up against [Nnamdi Asomugha], but I’ve seen plenty of tape, and he’s a special players. Thirty-seven [Chris Johnson] on the other side is just as special, in my opinion. They’ve got two really, really good corners, and we’re going to have to be accurate with all of our passes and run good routes if we’re going to have any success against those guys.”
After being lampooned in the media the entire offseason and being ranked below the likes of the Lions, Bengals, Browns and Rams in preseason power rankings, confidence would have seemed to be in short supply for this Raider team. Funny what a couple of winning, veteran leaders and a couple of hard fought defensive games can do to turn that around.
With that said, I will leave you with the words of someone far wiser than myself:
“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence; you have won even before you have started.” –Marcus Garvy
Hopefully it will all add up to a win on Sunday in Oakland.