Instead of those two areas being part of the solution to making the Oakland Raiders a better team, they have continued to be a problem despite an overhaul in players and coaches.
In 2003, the Raiders had a 4-12 record, ranked 16th in the NFL in rushing offense and were dead last on defense in stopping the run. So, out went Bill Callahan and the West Coast Offense and in came Norv Turner, whose forte is the power-running game and vertical passing game.
Well, no one would tell this season as the 3-7 Raiders are averaging an NFL-worst 76.8 rushing yards per game. Defensively, Oakland is better against the run but when a team ranks No. 32 out of 32 teams it's impossible to get worse. This season, Oakland is rated No. 24 in stopping the run – not what it had in mind when it shelled out big bucks for defensive tackles Ted Washington and Warren Sapp along with bringing in Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator.
Of course, leave it to Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan to put a positive spin.
"They're giving up 3.7 yards per rushing attempt," Shanahan said. "That's only five teams in the National Football League giving up less than that. Their run defense, with the addition of a couple of guys has really improved."
The only real difference between the 2003 and 2004 Raider defense against the run is that this year, Oakland has stopped bad running teams unlike last season. Oakland's deficiency in stopping the run plays right into Denver's perennial strength, running the ball. The Broncos are No. 6 in the NFL in rushing offense.
Oakland's inability to run the ball coupled with their inability to stop the ground game has played a big role in the team constantly facing early deficits.
"If you don't control the ball, you can't get done what you want to get done," Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter said. "I don't know the exact stat but teams have controlled the ball against and have played ball control. They control the clock and get leads. We can't establish the run when we're down by 21 points. You're playing right into the defense's hands. They know what you're going to do."
Fair enough statement. However, in the Raiders three wins (Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Carolina), their biggest deficit was three points and they only ran the ball effectively in one of them. On the other hand, Oakland is 3-1 when giving up less than 100 yards and 0-6 when the opposition cracks the 100-yard barrier.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org