The long time football adage of the game being predicated on running the ball and stopping the other team's ground attack succinctly applies to the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders' defensive improvement in the latter category is a crucial reason why they appear to be suited for postseason success. Oakland, the AFC's top seed in the playoffs, began the season with literally an entirely new defense. Cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive end Tony Bryant were the only returning starters. Bryant is now on injured reserve with a neck injury while Woodson has been shelved for an assortment of injuries but could return for the playoffs.
Oakland, which will learn of its first round AFC Divisional playoff foe by Sunday, enters the postseason as the NFL's third-ranked defense against the run after being No. 22 last season. The Raiders have faced top-notch running attacks throughout the season.
Oakland faced seven of the 10 AFC running backs that that cracked the 1,000 yard mark and one more, Seattle's Shaun Alexander, from the NFC. The Raiders will face either Saturday's Indianapolis-New York Jets winner or Cleveland in the divisional round. All three feature quality running backs.
There is ample evidence to support the notion that run defense will go a long way toward determining Oakland's playoff success. The Raiders started the season winning four in arrow before losing four in succession to fall to 4-4. Oakland finished the year winning seven of its last eight games to win its third straight AFC West title and earn the conference's No. 1 seed.
In that four-game losing skid, the Raiders gave up an average of 153 yards on the ground. In contrast, Oakland yielded just 64.7 yards in the final eight games. Defensive tackle John Parrella, who signed as a free agent from San Diego, was one of those hired guns Oakland counted on to improve the run defense.
"Any time you have new starters it takes time to reap the rewards," Parrella said. "The coaches are smart with the things they do and it's been a total defensive effort."
One theory for the Raiders defensive success was coordinator Chuck Bresnahan deciding to simplify the scheme. Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris did not concur with that idea.
"I feel like we're pretty much running the same stuff," Harris said. "We're just doing a better job executing. We definitely wanted to make the run defense the focal point. We wanted to be in the top five against the run but to be third is a great complement to our defense."
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com