Raiders still trying to shore up run defense
ALAMEDA – Fixing a porous run defense has been one of the top priorities for the Oakland Raiders leading up to this season.
An 89-yard touchdown run by Chicago’s Matt Forte and a 49-yard run by San Francisco’s Frank Gore in the past two exhibition games show the Raiders still have plenty of work to do.
“Definitely took a step back last two weeks,” safety Michael Huff said Tuesday. “We stop them for 2 or 3 yards and then they break one for 60 or 70. Some of that comes down to me. Once it gets to me, it’s one-on-one and I have to make the tackle and get him on the ground any way possible. That’s what I am striving to. … We definitely have the pieces to the puzzle to stop the run.”
Huff was unable to catch up to Forte on his long run two weeks ago and was bowled over by Gore in last week’s game. But as the deep safety in Oakland’s defense, Huff is supposed to be the last line of defense so there are others at fault as well.
Coach Tom Cable said the problem against the Bears was a linebacker out of position, while against the Niners it was just a matter of wrapping up and tackling. Shoring up the tackling is one of the biggest things Cable is looking for Thursday night in the exhibition finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
“We’ll make sure every day in practice that we’re fundamentally addressing that issue,” Cable said. “You’ve got to do it. I’m a little disappointed in it because it has not been an issue for us, but it showed up the other night. When you’re hitting properly, taking things on the right shoulder and you’re square, now it’s a matter of squeezing the guy and putting him on the ground.”
The Raiders have had trouble doing just that the last seven years as the poor run defense is one of the biggest reasons the team has lost at least 11 games each season since winning the 2002 AFC championship.
Oakland has allowed an NFL-worst 143.7 yards rushing per game since then and 146 touchdowns on the ground – 15 more than the second-worst team, St. Louis. The Raiders were 29th in run defense last year but made big changes in the offseason.
They drafted middle linebacker Rolando McClain eighth overall and defensive end Lamarr Houston in the second round. They also added two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson as a backup, traded for outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and moved Richard Seymour from defensive end to tackle to shore up the middle.
One encouraging sign for the Raiders is that they played their best defensive game in the exhibition opener against Dallas when Seymour started. He has sat out the past two games while nursing a triceps injury.
“We still have to work out the rough patches,” safety Tyvon Branch said. “We changed a lot of stuff up coming into this year as opposed to last year. And then Seymour not playing I think is the biggest difference. He gets those guys fired up up front. Once we get him back it’s a tremendous change in the defense, tremendous.”
The Raiders hope the change is immediate. They open the season against last year’s rushing champion, Chris Johnson of Tennessee, and follow that up with a game against Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams.
Seymour and many of the starters are unlikely to see much or any playing time in the final exhibition game so it might take until the season opener to see the results.
“We’ve gotten better, but we’re still working,” linebacker Thomas Howard said. “We don’t play Tennessee until Sept. 12 so we have plenty of time.”
Notes: The Raiders cut TE Eric Butler to get down to the 75-player limit by Tuesday’s deadline. They will have to reduce the roster to 53 by Saturday. …QB Jason Campbell did not practice as he recovers from a sore right wrist and a stinger. … RB Michael Bush had surgery Monday on his broken left thumb and there is no word yet on how quickly he can return.