Raiders struggle to come up with interceptions, sacks

The SportsXchange

An Oakland Raiders training camp full of optimism and the promise of ball-hawking defensive backs giving the ball back to the offense has given way to a drought.

With the starting cornerbacks out due to injury and an anemic pass rush, the makeshift secondary of the Raiders has yet to intercept its first pass through four games.

"I wouldn't have believed it," cornerback Michael Huff said.

The Raiders are one of only two teams -- the Detroit Lions being the other -- that doesn't have an interception a quarter of the way through the season.

"We've definitely got to get some interceptions," strong safety Tyvon Branch said. "Once we start getting interceptions, that will help our pass rush. Everything works hand in hand. We've got to start covering better, and the pass rush will start getting some sacks."

Oakland and the Jacksonville Jaguars are tied for the bottom in sacks with three each.

As a result, the Raiders are 1-3 and have fallen victim to a steady succession of completed passes -- most of them 10 yards or less. Opposing quarterbacks have completed better than 71 percent of their passes, with Ben Roethlisberger (36-for-49) and Peyton Manning (33-for-38) lighting up the Raiders in their last two games.

It doesn't get any easier for the Raiders this week against the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, one of the NFL's hottest passers (68.3 percent) for one of the league's hottest teams (5-0).

"For us to have only a few sacks and no interceptions boggles the mind," Huff said.

One of the popular themes in training camp was Oakland's defensive makeover under coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.

Gone were the days of almost exclusively man-to-man defense with a heavy reliance on natural pressure with a four-man rush, as favored by late owner Al Davis.

Instead, the Raiders would mix zone and man and confuse offenses with a variety of blitzes from safeties and linebackers. There would be overloads and disguises rather than simply lining up against an opponent and seeing who was the better man.

Playing zones would in theory put defensive backs in a better position to break on the ball, with interceptions to follow.

Instead, the closest thing the Raiders have to an interception is one that cornerback Pat Lee dropped in the first half against the Denver Broncos.

Given the injuries to cornerbacks Ron Bartell (shoulder blade) and Shawntae Spencer (foot), forcing the move of Huff to free safety and putting Lee in the starting lineup, Allen could be forgiven for backing off and playing it safe.

However, he still sees the lack of turnovers as something that is controlled by the Raiders, and not the quality of opposing passing attacks against a depleted unit.

"We call them takeaways, which means that we control them," Allen said. "It's not like the offense gives us the ball. We go out and take it away from them. There are things we can do.

"We've got to have 11 people flying around to the football like their hair's on fire. That's the way you play defensive football. It's been that way since the beginning of time, and it won't change."

Defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, who raced more than 70 yards to recover a fumble against Denver, thinks the pass rush problems can be helped with more effort.

"As a defensive line, we need to apply more pressure to the quarterback and have more of an impact on games," Houston said. "I think it's really all about desire. "You'll see the guys that get the sacks, they get them off hustle plays and just hustling."
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