Proof has to come from the trenches

Times have turned ugly for the Oakland Raiders. If the offense isn't getting a boot in the throat, the defense is.

It started out as an annoyance, became a problem and now it's a full-fledged crisis.

There's a bull's eye in the middle of the Oakland Raiders defense, and opponents are hitting it like marksmen at a shooting range.

"We've got to stop the run," coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's shortening games. We don't get as many series. We need to stop the run and get the ball back. It's something we've talked about all the time."

If only words were the same as tackles.

The Raiders are ranked 30th in the NFL against the run, giving up 152.5 yards per game. A few weeks ago, Kiffin, embarrassed by the 5.6 yards per carry figure his defense was giving up, called it "high school" and said it had to change.

At the midway point of the season, the Raiders are giving up 5.1 yards per carry, the only team in the league giving up 5 yards per carry.

The Raiders have given up 100 yards rushing to six runners in eight games -- San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (198 yards, 24 carries), Miami's Ronnie Brown (134 yards, 15 carries), Tennessee's LenDale White (133 yards, 25 carries), Denver's Travis Henry (126 yards, 26 carries), Houston's Ron Dayne (122 yards, 21 carries) and Kansas City's Larry Johnson (112 yards, 24 carries).

"We can't do anything until we get this run defense sorted out," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said.

The Raiders' numbers defending the run weren't great last year when they were the third-ranked overall defense. Oakland gave up 134.0 yards on the ground, No. 25 in the league, while having the top-ranked pass defense.

But Oakland also surrendered a full yard less per carry last season and had the added disadvantage of being on the field more than any defense in the league because of an inept offense that scored just 12 touchdowns all season.

With that in mind, the thinking this year was that with an improved running game -- the Raiders are averaging 140 yards per game -- the defense would be fresher and more stout.

In the offseason, Oakland made what it thought was a key signing when it re-upped Terdell Sands, a massive 360-pound defensive tackle who would serve as the anchor of their defensive line.

It hasn't worked out that way.

Sands lost his starting job three weeks into the season to Gerard Warren, regaining it when Warren went down with a quadriceps injury.

Warren could return this week against Chicago, but Tommy Kelly, a 300-pound base end who might have been Oakland's best run defender, is out for the year after having a torn ACL repaired.

The Raiders hope to get well this week against a Chicago team that is averaging an anemic 78.9 yards per game. Cedric Benson, the Bears' top runner, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.

It's a similar setup to the Week 8, when Dayne came in averaging 2.9 yards per carry for a run-challenged Houston team and promptly gained 122 yards.

Raiders safety Michael Huff concedes he is not sure exactly what has gone wrong with the run defense, only that players need to pay more attention to their assignments and be more fundamentally sound.

"If we can put together a good game or two, we can turn it around and get the momentum going the other way," Huff said.

Kiffin said the Raiders' problems don't have anything to do with having a series of 5-yard carries as much as surrendering big-yardage plays that allow teams to cover drives quickly.

He noted that the Raiders probably play as many eight-man fronts as any team in the league, so it's not as if they aren't committing bodies up front. But when assignments are missed with a safety in the box, there are gaping holes in the defense.

"We have more explosive runs than any team in the league," Kiffin said. "It's not a numbing 5 yards, 5 yards, 5 yards. We actually have a number of negative stops -- in the upper third of the league. It's those three explosive runs a game that hurt us."

The Raiders have given up 12 runs of 20 yards or more this season, tied for the highest figure in the league. They gave up 10 all of last season. Oakland has surrendered four plays of 40 yards or more on the ground after giving up two last year.

Opponents have 12 rushing touchdowns against Oakland after getting 10 in 16 games last year.

"We know how it is," linebacker Kirk Morrison said. "They're going to keep coming at us until we prove we can stop it. So far we haven't."


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