Raiders punching back

The Oakland Raiders started the year unable to fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Things have started to change, especially up front.

Don't look now, but the punching bags of the Oakland Raiders are punching back.

Oakland's offensive line, a running (and passing) joke the first two games of the season against formidable opposition, have made some headway following the bye week in losses to Cleveland and San Francisco.

Part of their improvement has to do with the skills of the opponents. The San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens limited the Raiders to 126 yards on 46 carries, or 2.7 yards per carry. Against the Browns and the 49ers, Oakland has 348 yards on 47 carries, or 7.4 yards per attempt.

Sacks are down from 15 in the first two games to five in the most recent two games.

While the rushing yardage against Cleveland was boosted by a 59-yard scoring run by LaMont Jordan and 48-yard run by Justin Fargas, the Raiders averaged 6.7 yards per attempt against San Francisco without a run over 19 yards.

Center Jake Grove, although disappointed by the 34-20 loss to San Francisco, felt as if he could go to film sessions Monday without the funny nose and glasses as a disguise.

"That is as complete a game as we have played in a long time around here (up front)," Grove said. "It wasn't one or two or three guys, it was all five of us that played well. Everybody had some plays they would like back, but across the board I thought we played well. Communication was good. If we can play like that and eliminate turnovers, we can be competitive."

Raiders coach Art Shell has preached patience since the rough start, stressing that he along with co-offensive line coaches Irv Eatman and Jackie Slater have radically changed Oakland's approach to blocking.

Last season, with Jim Colletto as line coach, the Raiders did more zone blocking. Shell wants the Raiders battling man-to-man and being aggressive, which can result in defenders coming free with one misstep.

"I thought overall it was a good effort," Shell said. "There's things we have to hone in on but for the most part in the running game and pass protection I thought we did much better this week than last week. Much better."

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