The Raiders' offensive problems appear to have been solved. Now it's the defense they must be concerned about as they hit
the road for Chicago.
Their 34-point, 448-yard outburst against San Diego Sunday was evidence that Rich Gannon and Company have turned the
corner after three troubled outings against Tennessee, Cincinnati and Denver in which they averaged just 12 first downs, 237
yards of offense and less than 18 points a game.
But now the issue is a defense that ranks 30th in the league, 30th against the rush and 28th against the pass. It is reminiscent
of the 1997 Raiders, who ranked dead last in all three categories.
Entering the season, if there was a concern for Oakland on defense, it was pass defense. The absence of an outside pass rush
hurt their statistics a year ago when they finished 23rd in the league against opposing passers.
The solution was to be the return of a healthy Charles Woodson at left cornerback and speed rushers acquired in the draft
coupled with more 3-4 defense in which a linebacker or a corner or a safety would blitz from the perimeter.
The one thing the Raiders didn't seem to have to concern themselves with was the rushing defense, third in the league a year
ago. Dana Stubblefield had replaced mammoth Sam Adams at left tackle, but otherwise things were pretty much the same.
So were the results -- for the first two weeks. The Raiders shut down Eddie George and Co. with 76 yards and a 2.7
average on opening night. They did a creditable job with Corey Dillon and Cincinnati in Week 2. Though allowing 129 yards,
the Bengals only managed to get there at 3.3 yards a clip.
Then came a fortnight in which their mastery came tumbling down. Denver, with Clinton Portis, rushed for 190 yards at 4.9
yards a crack. Then San Diego, with LaDainian Tomlinson hit them for 222 yards at 5.7 yards a pop.
Part of the problem was that the pass rush was not getting it done. Steve McNair and Jon Kitna combined for 537
yards passing and the Raiders managed just three sacks.
Against San Diego, the Raiders decided to run "games" to try to better achieve penetration. They stunted, blitzed and --
in the end -- put themselves at risk for runners to slash through holes that resulted from the ploy.
Tomlinson rushed for 143 yards in the first half, often through holes so large a truck could have rolled through them.
"The structure of the run defense wasn't where we expected it to be," coach Bill Callahan said. "I thought we did a little
bit too much stunting in the first half that caused some big holes. LaDainian's 55-yard (touchdown) run was achieved against
a defense that was stunting at the time. We ran ourselves out of our defense in that respect. We were trying to cause ... some
confusion. We got stung pretty good."
The Raiders re-thought their position at halftime and came out with a simpler tactic -- going back to the base defense.
The results were gratifying. After giving up 160 yards in 20 carries in the first half, the Raiders allowed just 69 yards in 19
carries in the second half and 10 minutes of overtime. The rushing defense went from allowing 8.0 yards an attempt to 3.6.
"We didn't play as well as we'd like to but we played well at the end when we had to," defensive end Trace Armstrong said.
As the Raiders attempt to improve their statistics, simplification would seem to be the answer. The same thing happened last
year when the Raiders went through their four-game losing streak.
Those four opponents ground the Raiders up. The four averaged 38 rushing attempts for 154 yards. In all four games, the
Raiders lost the time-of-possession advantage.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan responded by simplifying the defense and letting the players make plays instead
of using trickery.
This year, once again, that has been a problem. In regulation, the Raiders are averaging just over 24 minutes of possession
The Raiders' offensive problems, thus, also can be attributed to a defense that can't get off the field.
This week, they face the Bears, who rank last in the league in offense but got a 67-yard touchdown run from Anthony
Thomas and 181 rushing yards overall against Green Bay Monday night.
"Our run defense is an area that we've really got to make drastic improvement on," Callahan said.
It's a fair bet the Raiders will do that by keeping it simple again.
SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. Raiders lead Chicago, 6-4. Seven of the 10 games have been decided by a touchdown
or less. Last time the teams met in 1999, the Raiders won 24-17 despite losing five fumbles.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Although linebacker Bill Romanowski sounds dubious about his future, he refuses to say he will not practice or play due
to repeated concussions.
"I'm just kind of taking it one day at a time," he said.
Although Romanowski still gets headaches, dizziness and irritability spells, he said his everyday life has improved in recent
days. However, the symptoms are made worse by exercise of virtually any kind.
In a reflective mood Wednesday, he said, "I've learned quite a bit. In this business you learn how to trick yourself and how
to lie very well (about physical ailments). That's because you have to be ready for the next play, have to be ready for the next
game. These last so many weeks I've been more honest with myself -- you start going back over different things (like)
personality changes. Then the light goes on and you're like `That makes sense.' "
Romanowski said he did not "trick" himself into playing against Denver when concussions had kept him out of practices but
that he probably did do so during the game.
"After I took the hit in the first quarter, I tricked myself most of the game, but I played in it and that was that," he said. "I
think I should have played. I don't think I would change it. Did I know that early in the game I would take a hit that would
scramble my brain? No."
Romanowski said he is concerned with the long-term effects of repeated concussions.
"There is a lot that is unknown when it comes to this," he said. "In another year or two or three or four, these guys are
going to know a lot more. They are compiling a lot of information. But the long-term effects, they don't know."
At times during the interview, his comments made it sound like he was prepared to face retirement.
"I've played through an awful lot," he said. "I played through 16 years of a lot. Is this the first time I've ever felt vulnerable?
"If I had to walk away, I (know) have given the game all I've got and, I'll tell you what, I don't have any regrets. I wouldn't
change a thing ... well I take that back. Maybe there are a few things maybe I would change.
"But as far as what I did to prepare each and every year, each and every game, I left it on the field."
At other times, he sounded like he could not wait to get back.
"You never know ... two or three weeks from now I may feel a lot better and come back and have no problems for the rest
of the year," he said. "I am just going to try to stay positive."
--The Raiders are approaching the Chicago game very cautiously.
"We haven't played well on the road the first two games," quarterback Rich Gannon said. "You have to be able to establish
yourself as a team that can go on the road and have some success.
"We've got to find a way to have a better start on the road. We've gotten off to very poor starts and it's very difficult to
come back on the road when you get behind and you get the crowd involved."
Raiders defensive end Trace Armstrong played the first six years of his career with the Bears and knows Soldier Field
all too well. The renovations were welcome, he said.
"Obviously, it needed it," he said.
Although the stadium was a bit of history, Armstrong said, "Yeah, it's cool until you had to work there. The fields were
bad, the locker rooms were bad. You'd go underneath it and see these big cracks and sections that were falling down. There
were I-beams going this way and that way, trying to hold the structure up. It was time."
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The number of linebackers the Raiders kept on their roster at the final cutdown, largely because
of Romanowski's streak of 243 straight starts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I came out in short sleeves for that championship game. I was feeling myself. I came out and was all
juiced up. I went back in and I was cold. I put on long sleeves. Whatever I could find to put on." -- WR Jerry Rice recalling
the 1988 championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears, which was played no a frozen field.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Barring a surprise, Travian Smith will continue to start at strongside linebacker against the Bears. He had a big game with
eight tackles, half of which were at or behind the line of scrimmage.
WR Jerry Porter's plans to return for the Chicago game were at least acknowledged when the team raised his status from
"out" to "doubtful." In his three game absence, the team has replaced him either with another wide receiver or done away with
the three-receiver lineup and inserted Zack Crockett as a second back.
The team released rookie S Siddeeq Shabazz and re-signed LB Tim Johnson. Johnson had been waived on the last cut in
--LB Bill Romanowski (concussion) has been unable to even work out without suffering from side effects of post-concussion
syndrome. He said he would not rule out practicing this week or playing, however.
--WR Jerry Porter had hoped to practice and possibily play Sunday but was not given the green light to practice.
--G Mo Collins (knee) was the only one of nine players listd as quesitonable who practiced Wednesday.
--S Derrick Gibson (shoulder) was held out of practice.
--RB Ronney Jenkins (ankle) was held out of practice.
--T Lincoln Kennedy (torn calf muscle) was held out of practice.
--TE O.J. Santiago (hamstring) was held out of practice.
--C Matt Stinchcomb (shoulder) was held out of practice.
--DT Dana Stubblefield (ankle) was wearing a surgical boot and was held out of practice but he played with the injury last
week and will probably be available.
--DE Sam Williams (knee) was held out of practice.
--S Rod Woodson (knee) was held out of practice. He is being saved for gajms and probably will not practice much all year.
GAME PLAN: Once again, logic would seem to dictate the Raiders test Chicago's No. 32 ranked running defense. The
same held true last week, but instead, they only slightly increased their pass/run ratio -- from 71/29 to 66/34. Defensively,
they believe a lesson was learned when they stunted and blitzed against San Diego and were soundly trumped by the running
of LaDainian Tomlinson. They got better when they simplified and figure to do the same this week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Raider defensive ends Tyler Brayton, Trace Armstrong and DeLawrence Grant must temper
their pass rush in order to keep QB Kordell Stewart in the pocket. RG Mo Collins faces an old Raider nemesis in DLT
Keith Traylor. Raiders WR Jerry Rice will face old San Francisco teammate CB R.W. McQuarters.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Bill Romanowski (concussion) is not able to even work out yet and is highly unlikely to do so or
to play. WR Jerry Porter's status is similar. The nine players listed as questionable are truly that -- the list ranges from those
almost certain to play (G Mo Collins, FS Rod Woodson) to those likely to miss the game (T Lincoln Kennedy).