Inside Slant, Matchups, Quotes, Injuries, Etc

Inside Slant, Matchups, Quotes, Injuries, Etc

The happiest NFL under tackle on a 1-3 team is probably the Raiders' Warren Sapp. No, he's not happy about 1-3. And he's not boasting the Raiders' defense has gone from soggy crackers to focaccia. The self-styled "QB Killa" is happy because he's back ... and it's evident for all to see.

He's back because he is a tackle again, not the right end the Raiders tried to transform him into a year ago. They realized what a mistake the 3-4 was after finishing 30th in the league in yards allowed, 31st in points allowed and first in the league at spinning their wheels.

"It's better in the four-man, I've always felt that way," Sapp said. "Some people specialize in the 3-4 but we're better in the 4-3 and I'm glad we're where we're at."

To date, Sapp has only registered one sack but he has an interception and a flock of quarterback pressures. In short, he's playing disruptive football again.

A year ago, it was torture, as evidenced by something that happened in Houston in the fourth game of the Raiders' 5-11 season.

Sapp was having a spot of fun with Texans quarterback David Carr. After Carr checked out of a play, Sapp ragged on him, saying "Hey, what are you checking a play for? You don't know what the hell you are doing, checking defenses."

Your standard issue NFL ragging. Quarterbacks are supposed to be seen, not heard, but Carr had a reply for Sapp that cut to the core because it was true.

"He looked at me and said `You need to be in a three technique.' " Sapp said with a chuckle.

He might have said "Sapp, you're ugly." But he struck right at the heart of the matter. Sapp needed to be a tackle again and as the weeks dragged on, it became more and more apparent.

"It was the hardest year of my life," Sapp said. "It was humbling. I was a fish out of water."

Things are different now that he is back at tackle alongside nose tackle Ted Washington. He's producing and answering critics who said, and not in whispers, that he was through.

"Without making plays, I've got nothing to talk about," the normally loquacious Sapp said. "I've got no energy to bring. It drained me. It was a whole different mind thing about coming to work. It was a job.

"Now it's a pleasure to come to work every day because I get to work on my stuff. I get to sharpen my knife. And when it's sharp, you're going to get cut. Definitely get cut."

Life for Sapp changed when the Raiders decided during the off-season that the 3-4 did not suit the team's talent. Teams in the top five in third down defense and in the top five in the red zone were playing 4-3 defenses. The Raiders noticed and hired Keith Millard, the former Minnesota sack specialist, to coach, signed Philadelphia rush end Derrick Burgess to play the end spot Sapp would vacate and said goodbye -- they hope -- to ineffective defense.

"Outside Ted (Washington) and Bobby (Hamilton), nobody was familiar with (the 3-4)," Sapp said. "The four linebackers we had, God bless 'em, they weren't the strength of our team.

"That's the basic principle of football _ you play to your strengths. We didn't do that. We were mixing and matching. It's going to happen that way when you have eight or nine guys that have a little question in their mind about how we are going to get this done." The Raiders used so many different formulas in the 3-4 that one opposing offensive coordinator commented he had no idea what the Raiders were trying to accomplish.

"The thing with lining up in our base (4-3) defense is they know what you're in, but I'm better than you," Sapp said. "No knock against (the 3-4). Some guys play it real well. That's just not my strength. It's as simple as that."

Sapp says the Raider defense is playing better but still hasn't reached top speed.

"We're getting good results but it ain't what we want every week because the `W' is what you look for," he said. "But we are better against the run, we are mounting our pass rush better, the line is charging and they (the secondary) are doing a good job covering people up.

"Not great by any sense of the imagination, but it's a hell of a lot better than mixing and matching and allowing an offense to dictate what you do. It's like taking the shackles off you."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Raiders have had a history of playing well entering the bye week. Over the last 11 seasons, they have won eight times prior to their bye. Coming out of the bye, they were 6-2 until the last two seasons when they followed their bye week with losses to Detroit and San Diego.

Their post-bye opponent again this year is San Diego and again, the game is being played in Oakland. Last year, Oakland played its worst game of the year in San Diego, losing 42-14 two weeks before the bye. After the bye, they showed enough improvement to push the Chargers to the wire in a 23-17 loss. They then went 3-3 over the next six weeks before losing one- and seven-point games to Kansas City and Jacksonville.

There seems to be one constant to the Raiders' post bye week history since 1995. They have never had a better win-lost percentage in the weeks following the bye than they had going in.

The last time they improved in the second half was 1994. They started 1-3 that year, just as they have this season, and finished 9-7. going 8-4 in the "second half" of the season.

--Danny Clark has taken over the job as "conscience" of the Raiders defense and he started in the offseason with an impassioned speech, telling teammates to either get with the program or get out.

It was a risky gambit because it could have backfired and led to shunning in the locker room but so far, teammates have accepted the challenge.

"I didn't care what anybody thought," Clark said. "I knew there were going to be some who believed me and some who didn't. But for the most part I think everybody bought in and thought we could be a special team. And we're going to be."

--The Raiders have had trouble drafting high in recent years but when they got defensive lineman Tommy Kelly as an undrafted free agent last year, they hit the jackpot.

Kelly's tackle of Dallas' Julius Jones for a 2-yard loss at the Raiders' 5 in the closing two minutes of Sunday's win was what teammates called the play of the game.

Coach Norv Turner is impressed with the way Kelly has come on since the middle of last year.

"We saw his athletic ability, his size and strength," Turner said. "He had played well enough for us to say this guy could be a good player. With young guys, it's just a matter of getting them into your system and letting him grow in meetings, the weight room, in his work habits, his study habits.

"He's becoming a very consistent football player. A guy who's in his fourth game of his second year can still improve a great deal."

--According to a TV website, Randy Moss is fighting re-entry into the NFL's drug program after his comments on HBO about marijuana use.

The Raiders weren't entirely pleased with the way the story was portrayed. Publicist Mike Taylor gave the following statement on the topic:

"This whole subject (of suspension) is confidential. These are rumors put out by sources who want to hurt the Raiders. It's no coincidence that these rumors came out the morning prior to our game."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1,648 - Penalty yards the Raiders will rack up this year at their current pace one-quarter of the way through the season. The league record is 1,304 by Kansas City in 1998.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wound up visiting with his wife more than with him because I could get a straight answer out of her." - C Adam Treu, describing his phone call to teammate C Jake Grove to express concern over his knee injury, which resulted in arthroscopic surgery.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Raiders took Monday off then will practice daily through Thursday before taking the weekend off and reporting back Monday to prepare for the San Diego game. Having just broken a three-game skid with a win over Dallas, their best game of the year, coach Norv Turner is not planning any changes during the bye week. PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Although P Shane Lechler is right at his all-time NFL career punting average (45.9), it is only good enough to rank him sixth in league punting through four weeks.

--Coach Norv Turner said that when he was told injured C Jake Grove could be back in "3-to-4 weeks" it didn't mean it was likely he would be able to play again that soon. "If it's four weeks, I think we would be very fortunate," Turner said.

--RB LaMont Jordan went from a 789-yard pace for the seasons to 1,096 with his 126-yard performance against Dallas.

--QB Kerry Collins' third-down passer rating of 65.7, ranking 23rd in the league, might explain why the Raiders rank 31st in the league in third down conversions (28.6 percent).

--DE Derrick Burgess has three sacks after four games and is just one off the team's high-water mark a year ago (Tommy Kelly's 4).

INJURY IMPACT: C Jake Grove (knee surgery, most likely out for a month) is the only player the Raiders list as injured other than FB John Paul Foschi (knee). WR Ronald Curry had surgery on his torn left Achilles last week and is out for the year. He chose the same doctor that repaired his torn right Achilles in college rather than the Raider physicians who operated on the tear in the left Achilles last winter.

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