Raiders run defense faces another big test
ALAMEDA – Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley insists problems the Oakland Raiders had stopping the run last week against the Tennessee Titans are correctable.
They better be.
With Stephen Jackson and St. Louis coming to town for Oakland’s home opener, the Raiders won’t get much of a break as they try to avoid an 0-2 start for the fourth time in six seasons.
“We just had a couple breakdowns here and there,” Wimbley said Wednesday. “I don’t think it was anything with the scheme or the play-calling. We just had a couple mental breakdowns that gave them some big plays that allowed them to get that high on us.”
The most significant breakdown came late in the second quarter when Tennessee scored two touchdowns in a span of 1 minute, 53 seconds. Titans running back Chris Johnson provided the big blow with a 76-yard touchdown run after being shut down for most of the first half.
That helped turn what had been a promising start to the season for Oakland’s run defense into a nightmarish afternoon that ended with Tennessee handing the Raiders a 35-13 loss. It was the eighth straight season-opening loss for Al Davis’ team.
“We played well on Johnson for most of the game and he had that one big run that helped his average out,” Wimbley said. “Facing Jackson, he’s not necessarily as fast as Johnson is but he still has a lot of stuff that you have to be aware of and be careful about.”
Wimbley was part of Oakland’s offseason defensive makeover. The veteran linebacker was acquired from Cleveland in March in exchange for a third-round draft pick and broke into the Raiders’ lineup early in training camp.
Oakland also signed free agent defensive tackle John Henderson and used their first two picks in the draft on middle linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Lamarr Houston.
It all looked good on paper until Johnson’s big run, which brought to mind memories of 2009 when the Raiders ranked 29th against the run and 26th on defense overall. Safety Tyvon Branch whiffed on a tackle attempt near the line of scrimmage while linebackers Rolando McClain and Thomas Howard were sealed off perfectly, opening a huge lane for Johnson to burst through.
Oakland’s players and coaching staff said the mistakes were self-inflicted.
“We needed to finish a little better,” Wimbley said. “Once the score kind of got out of whack, I think we stepped it up a little bit, trying to bring it back close before the game was over, but by then it was already too late.”
Before Johnson’s long touchdown, which boosted his per-carry average from 2.54 to 5.3, Oakland’s defense had shut down the NFL’s leading rusher from 2009.
Raiders coach Tom Cable, though, isn’t interested in moral victories.
“See, this is the mode we have got to get out of around here,” Cable said. “That’s not good enough. We have got to stay to this level, to this vision that we have. A standard of play if you will, and don’t compromise it.”
Oakland’s offense got a boost when running back Michael Bush returned to practicing at full capacity. Bush sat out the season-opener after breaking the thumb on his left hand but worked out without limitations Wednesday. His playing status will be determined later in the week.
NOTES:T Erik Pears, who was with the team in training camp, has been re-signed. To make room on the roster, wide receiver/kick returner Yamon Figurs was released. Figurs started on special teams against the Titans and fumbled the opening kickoff, but Cable insisted that wasn’t why the move was made. … LG Robert Gallery did not practice because of a hamstring strain. His status is questionable. … CB Nnamdi Asomugha (groin), WR Chaz Schilens (knee), defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring), safety Hiram Eugene (hamstring), cornerbacks Chris Johnson (stinger) and Walter McFadden (hamstring) and linebacker Travis Goethel (back) were also held out of practice.