Game Snapshot: Raiders - Bears

<b>Oakland Raiders</b> (2-2) at <b> Chicago Bears </b> (0-3)<br><b>GAME SNAPSHOT</b><br><b>KICKOFF:</b> Sunday, 1:00 ET<br> <b>GAMEDATE: </b> 10/05/03<br><b>SURFACE:</b> Grass<br><b>TV:</b> CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Bonnie Bernstein<br><br> <b>SERIES:</b> 11th meeting. Raiders lead 6-4 but the teams have met just twice in the last 10 years. The Raiders won the last meeting, 24-17 at Oakland in 1999.

2003 RANKINGS: Raiders: offense 23rd (26th rush, 16th pass); defense 31st (30th rush, 28th pass). Bears: offense 32nd (15th rush, 30th pass); defense 30th (32nd rush, 15th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bears made some personnel changes this week in an effort to turn around the league's third-worst unit, and it won't take much time for Raiders QB Rich Gannon to test new starters CB Charles Tillman and LB Lance Briggs. The good news for Chicago's last-ranked run defense is Oakland passes twice as much as it runs. To stay close, the Bears will need to be just the opposite. With RG Chris Villarial back in the lineup last week, RB Anthony Thomas flashed the big-play potential that has been missing since his 2001 rookie season. He needs another big game to help Chicago control the clock and keep the defense off the field.

FAST FACTS: Raiders: Gannon has thrown only one interception in 138 pass attempts, and has pass for at least 300 yards in 11 of his past 20 starts. Bears: Have lost 15 of their past 17 games. ... Thomas is the fourth player in team history to reach 2,000 rushing yards in his third season with the team. ... WR Marty Booker has caught at least one pass in 48 consecutive games.

PREDICTED SCORE: Raiders 31, Bears 24


LB Bill Romanowski (concussion) is now officially out of Sunday's game in Chicago.

WR Jerry Porter was not happy when the medical staff nixed the notion of him returning Sunday against the Bears. After being declared out, officially, he greeted all questions with total silence Thursday.

G Mo Collins (knee) practiced again Wednesday and vowed he would play Sunday.

S Derrick Gibson (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis Thursday after being held out of practice the day before.

RB Ronney Jenkins (ankle) also practiced on a limited basis Thursday after being held out of practice the day before.

T Lincoln Kennedy (torn calf muscle) missed his second day of practice and is probably a long shot to face Chicago.

TE O.J. Santiago (hamstring) was held out of practice for a second straight day.

C Matt Stinchcomb (shoulder) was also held out of practice for the second day in a row.

DT Dana Stubblefield (ankle) has seen his situation worsen. He did not practice Thursday for the second ay in a row.

DE Sam Williams (knee) did not practice again.

S Rod Woodson (knee) was given another day of rest in order to rest up for games.

DT Keith Traylor (knee) did not practice Thursday and will be re-evaluated on Friday.

RB Anthony Thomas (shoulder) practiced on Thursday but was held out of contact drills. He is expected to start Sunday, but he is bitter that he didn't carry the ball in the first quarter of Monday night's loss. He still wound up with 110 yards on 13 carries.

DT Alfonso Boone would start Sunday if Keith Traylor cannot. Boone has never done much to impress, but neither have most of the Bears defenders. Boone is more effective as a run defender than against the pass, and the Bears need all the help they can get stopping the run.

QB Kordell Stewart says he's never taken a beating like he has in the first three games this season, during which he's been sacked 13 times and pressured almost every time he drops back to pass.

CB Jerry Azumah has been demoted to nickel back but has added the kickoff-return duties. In 2001, he returned four kicks for 65 yards with a long of 23, but he is one of the fastest players on the team and was a Division I-AA record-setting running back at New Hampshire.


The Raiders expected that if anything improved this year, it would be their 23rd-ranked pass defense. Broken legs and one broken shoulder hit their starting cornerbacks last year.

It hasn't worked out. They rank 28th in the league, allowing 236.5 yards a game. That compares to 220.4 yards a year ago.

"We've just been making mistakes back there," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We're not staying disciplined and we're playing a lot of zone coverages. Mainly that's what it is. We know what the problem is."

And he thinks it is easily solvable.

"We just need to go out and play football and we'll be all right," he said.

Although coach Bill Callahan denies that the Raiders are playing more zone this year, the players in the secondary notice a change.

"We mix it up, but we played a lot of man last year and got a lot of pick routes happening against us," free safety Rod Woodson said.

"We're having one, two breakdowns a game," said right cornerback Terrance Shaw. "The long ball is killing us the 37 yarders, the 40 yarders. Every game we have that one long ball, one little breakdown in coverage."

The question begs: given the breakdowns in communication that are occurring within the zones, why are the Raiders even bothering to play more zone? They were built to be a man-to-man, bump team.

Blame the success that Miami and then Tampa Bay had against them late last year. The "Tampa-2" defense is now de rigeur in the NFL.

Also blame the fact that opponents are attacking them on the edge with their running game. In zone, the corners can come up and help turn those plays.

The Raiders defensive backs are insistent that once they play in concert with one another, things will change. Rod Woodson thinks the statistics are misleading.

"We've played bad and we're 2-2," he said. "All we have to do is play as good or a little better than we did last year and then the sky is the limit this year for us."

But so far the sky has been falling on them.

In 1960, George Halas' 5-6-1 team was beaten 41-13, 42-0 and 36-0 to end the season, a three-game yield of 119 points. That's the only time in the 84-year history of the Bears that a team in a three-game stretch of the same season has allowed more than the 111 points that this year's group has permitted.

In response, rookies Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Lance Briggs have been promoted to the starting. Tillman replaces cornerback Jerry Azumah, whose missed tackle resulted in Ahman Green's 60-yard touchdown run to open the scoring Monday night. And the hard-hitting Briggs takes over at strong-side linebacker for Bryan Knight, who has been overpowered at times while making 14 tackles.

"Lance has the ability to make plays," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "He's got to get more discipline, he's got to play more consistently. We're at a point where we feel like it's worth the change."

Azumah has made a difficult conversion since being drafted in the fifth round in 1999 out of New Hampshire, where he was a record-setting running back. But he has just 2 career interceptions, none since 2001, and the Bears' defense is desperate for big plays. Only the Cardinals have fewer sacks than the Bears' 3, and only the Falcons and Eagles have fewer interceptions than the Bears' 2.

"I think that guys have to venture out, not play scared and play with some confidence and take a chance and make the play," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "What we're trying to do is get more playmakers on the field. To win in the NFL, to win at any level, you need playmakers.

"Two years ago we made as many, probably more mistakes. (But) we were making big plays, we were intercepting balls, we were recovering fumbles, we were scoring touchdowns on defense. We were doing things to overcome our mistakes. Right now we aren't."

Both demoted players still have important roles. Azumah simply flips assignments with Tillman, becoming the fifth defensive back when the Bears are in nickel coverage. As one of the fastest players on the squad, Azumah will also get an opportunity to return kickoffs. Ahmad Merritt, whose roster spot is far from secure, has struggled in that role, averaging just 19.6 yards per attempt, which ranks No. 34 in the league.

Knight will focus more on special teams and as an extra pass rusher, areas he showed promise in last season.

"We just think it'll make us stronger," Jauron said of the changes. "We think Charles is going to be a fine player. He needs an opportunity to play. Jerry will kind of step back to the role that he had in the past, and we think he'll do an outstanding job there."

Blache said it was more a case of Tillman winning the job than Azumah losing it. Hopefully the change will benefit both. Azumah was used mostly as an extra corner and occasional starter prior to last season when he became a full-time starter.

"Actually he didn't play poorly," Blache said of Azumah. "The other kid played better. He's a kid we think may be a playmaker. When (Azumah) was a role player for us, he was excellent. He made plays. He may be better as a sixth man, coming off the bench."

As a nickel back in the playoff loss to the Eagles after the 2001 regular season, Azumah returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown and also had a sack.

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