Topic of conversation

Hushed tones carry the weight of this debable. No one wants to make an audible sound. But bones are being passed around under the table at the Raiders complex as they look to eradicate the demons in an effort to keep the turnover spirits happy.

It's an embarrassing statistic Oakland Raiders defenders are aware of, but it hasn't been a big topic of conversation in the off-season.

No sense dwelling on being the NFL's pick-less wonders, to whom interceptions were a rare occurrence.

In 2005, the Raiders intercepted just five passes -- the lowest team total in NFL history over a 16-game season, one less than the St. Louis Rams had the previous year.

One of those was a Charles Woodson theft in the end zone at the end of a half on a Hail Mary pass. The other was a ball plucked out of the air by Warren Sapp on a play that was originally ruled a Donovan McNabb fumble.

Free safety Stuart Schweigert had two interceptions and nickel back Renaldo Hill had one.

"I really don't understand how a team can not have any interceptions," Schweigert said. "It's not like we were missing opportunities, dropping balls and that sort of thing. I don't know what we can attribute that too. It's been a huge emphasis (this off-season)."

The talk has been about getting interceptions, rather than how they somehow managed to not get them at a record rate.

"We kind of think, 'It's done, it's over with, let's start over,'" Schweigert said. "Let's just get as many interceptions as we can. Our goal is to lead the NFL in interceptions this year."

For the record, the Cincinnati Bengals led the NFL with 31 interceptions in 2005 -- three more than Oakland's total for the last 48 games.

It's not as if 2005 was as aberration. It was in fact a bottoming out of a downward spiral. Oakland dropped from 21 interceptions in the AFC championship season of 2002, to 14 in 2003 and nine in 2004.

The last two seasons are the only two in club history in which the Raiders failed to intercept 10 passes in a season -- including a nine-game strike season in 1981 when they had 18.

In their last 32 games, the Raiders have 14 interceptions in 996 attempts by opposing quarterbacks, or one every 71.1 attempts. The Bengals in 2005, by contrast, had an interception every 16.7 pass attempts.

Theories abound on why the Raiders have so few interceptions. They play a lot of man-to-man defense, which often leaves defenders with their backs to the ball. Their pass rush has been anemic, giving quarterbacks more time to throw.

AFC West quarterbacks haven't thrown many interceptions. Still, that doesn't explain why Oakland's interception total would drop after signing Derrick Burgess, the NFL's leading sacker with 16. Or why cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha could play in 47 games in three years with 23 starts and still not have an interception.

The Raiders imported two veteran players that they hope will add to their total. Free agent Duane Starks had 25 career interceptions -- three more than the combined total of the rest of Oakland's secondary. And that includes 17 by Tyrone Poole, another free agent import.

"Look, we know we have to get more interceptions," Schweigert said. " The name of the game is turnovers, and we can't survive with a fumble here, a fumble there.


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