Raiders need a dose of defense

Kirk Morrison

How odd is it that the defense seems to share the blame this year in Oakland? While the confidence is waning in the Raiders' camp, the Cleveland Browns confidence is soaring after a big win over Cincinnati.

Throughout a 2-14 season, the Raiders defense bit its collective lip and refrained from being overly critical of an offense that scored just 12 touchdowns in 16 games.

Without the scoreboard to feel good about, Oakland took some pride in a defensive ranking that ranked third in yards per game overall (284.8) and first against the pass (150.8) in terms of yards per game.

The Raiders returned their entire starting lineup, and the feeling during training camp was if the offense could come up with around 17 points per game, a dramatic turnaround was not out of the question.

It hasn't worked out that way.

The Raiders are 0-2, and in both games, the offense has supplied fourth-quarter leads that the defense couldn't hold.

In Week 1, Oakland went up 21-20 with 7:43 to play, only to have Detroit march 80 yards in seven plays for a 26-21 lead that would eventually be 36-21.

Against Denver in Week 2, the Raiders took a 20-17 lead with 8:55 to play after a 44-yard interception return by Thomas Howard and a two-point conversion.

Needing another stop, if not another turnover, the Broncos got the ball back and drove 78 yards in 15 plays for a game-tying field goal in a game Oakland would eventually lose 23-20 in overtime.

"You've got to finish. You have to have that mindset that you have to close it off, put an end to it," coach Lane Kiffin said. "You don't let them keep breathing. We need to get that mentality, and we're working on it."

The miniscule yardage figures Oakland gave up last year have ballooned to the point where the Raiders rank 28th in defense in terms of yards per game, coughing up 833 yards in two games.

Against Detroit, offensive coordinator Mike Martz had all offseason to prepare for a defense that returned all its players.

But there was familiarity with Denver, a division foe that has run roughly the same offense since 1995 under Mike Shanahan. While Oakland came through with two interceptions, a safety and a big three-and-out to start overtime, Denver racked up 26 first downs in its other eight possessions.

Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison has been Oakland's leading tackler for the past two seasons and has interceptions in each of the Raiders' games. He believes building a defense is an evolutionary process that is in its infancy.

"It's just Week 2, know what I mean?" Morrison said. "Who thought we were going to be the No. 1 defense right off the bat. You've got to work to get there. Detroit came in, threw some different looks at us and we missed some tackles.

"Denver put up 400-plus yards against Buffalo also. So they're a good offense. We're not playing against struggling offenses. If we had made the field goal in overtime, we wouldn't even be talking about this right now, we'd be talking about going out and winning our second game."

Tackling, particularly in the secondary, was shoddy against Denver. Running back Travis Henry gained 139 yards and many of those came after missed tackles. Kiffin said those issues would be addressed before playing a Cleveland team that put up 51 points and 554 yards against Cincinnati.

"There's different drills we can do in individual sessions, tackling drills, and taking their tackles on film, showing them the ones they made and the ones they missed," Kiffin said. "There are times when players just really need to quit sitting back, to go for it and take a shot."

From the Cleveland camp:

Confidence is soaring in the Browns locker room as they prepare to face the Raiders Sunday in Oakland. No one is promising another 51-point outburst like they produced against the Bengals one week after being swatted by the Steelers, but the offensive stars of the team say the five touchdown passes by Derek Anderson were a truer example of what the Browns can do.

"Obviously, what that did is give us a little bit of confidence in all the hard work we put in in the offseason," said Joe Jurevicius, who caught two of Anderson's touchdown passes. "Now it gives us the belief that what we've been doing can really help us.

"When we played Pittsburgh, I was as shocked as anybody. We didn't play like we wanted to. I remember saying that's not what we expect to put on the football field and we're going to be better. I think we showed that."

The Browns rolled up 554 offensive yards against the Bengals compared to 221 against the Steelers, 23 first downs compared to 13 and, most importantly, six touchdowns compared to one.

The Raiders are vulnerable; they are 0-2 and yielded 441 yards to the Broncos last week after yielding 392 to the Lions.

Only two things changed over the seven days that stretched between the Steelers and Bengals; the opponent and the quarterback.

After beating the Bengals, general manager Phil Savage suggested the Browns might have surprised them because the Bengals could not learn anything from watching tape of the Pittsburgh game.

"It goes back to practice," said Braylon Edwards, who caught eight passes for 146 yards. "We have the attitude and confidence to know we can do these things. We didn't come in down in the dumps from the week before. We came in and said, 'Back to the drawing board. We know what we can do, let's go out there and do it.' That's our attitude this week too. That Cincinnati game is behind us, but this is the team we want to show the league. This is us."

Kellen Winslow Jr. set a personal record with 100 yards receiving against the Bengals. He made sure to praise the offensive line for giving Anderson time to throw and for opening huge holes for Jamal Lewis. Lewis rushed for 216 yards. Last week, the Raiders gave up 181 on the ground.

Hank Fraley, the center, said the offensive line feeds off the success of the skill players. Watching Lewis shoot the gap on a 66-yard touchdown run, or seeing Edwards leap at the 10, arms stretched, and catching the ball at the 3 then rolling into the end zone makes the line play that much harder, Fraley said.

"We get excited on the offensive line when we see those guys making plays," Fraley said. "Part of us knows it took us to give D.A. enough time. As long as you give your quarterback enough time, when you have playmakers like those guys, they're going to make it. It gets us pumped up. We want to keep the momentum going."

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