Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch had a heck of a game against San Diego on Monday Night Football. If Oakland wants to build off their success in that game, they are going to need another good performance from Branch this week in Kansas City.
Unlike LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson still has some good legs underneath him.
"Johnson is still a great runner," Oakland head coach Tom Cable said. "There’s no question about that, when he gets his pads downhill at you he’s a load, and he’s got great speed."
Look out, Tyvon Branch, if Johnson gets to the second level this week, you just make sure you get lower than he does...good luck to you.
Oakland's rush defense was in rare form last week. I remember seeing several replays where ESPN showed a backfield view, and you could see there was no place to go.
The Raiders did a great job of controlling their gaps and flowing with the movement of the ball. They held one of the better projected halfback combinations to just 78 yards rushing.
Now, Oakland's rushing defense faces a new challenge: to live up to new expectations. This week they face another division opponent in Kansas City.
Last week, the Baltimore Ravens shut down the Chiefs' running game. Larry Johnson ran 11 times and only managed 20 yards. Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs second year halfback from Texas, ran four times for only eight yards.
They had no touchdowns and are hungry for a few. Johnson is a powerful runner, who some have said has lost a step lately. Charles is a speedy back who is good on the perimeter.
You'd think this should be an easy game for the Raiders to keep improving, right? Not so fast. Baltimore only allowed 81.4 rushing yards per game last year. Oakland allowed 159.7 yards per game on the ground.
No, that is not a misprint.
However, in their last three games dating back to December 2008, Oakland has not allowed a 100 yard rusher. That, my friends, is called progress.
In fact, in those three games, Oakland only gave up an average of 97.6 yards on the ground per game.
What seems to be the key to the success of the run defense? Better time of possession on offense. When the offense struggles, the defense gives a bunch up on the ground, and it makes perfect sense.
Tyvon Branch had a great game against the Chargers. He had nine tackles, eight solo, and a pass deflection that was intercepted by fellow safety Michael Huff. He also had a tackle for a loss.
Branch will be a key component to shutting down Larry Johnson, who ran for 92 yards and a touchdown the last time the two teams met. Branch saw limited action in the Raiders first game against the Chiefs last year, and will try to prove himself in run defense against 6'1", 230 pound Larry Johnson.
It is important for Branch to keep making plays in the passing game as well, trying to help his secondary teammates control Chiefs wide receiver sensation Dwayne Bowe. Bowe led the Chiefs' receivers last year with 86 catches for 1022 yards and seven touchdowns.
Last week against that stingy Ravens defense, Bowe had four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. He is a former teammate of JaMarcus Russell, so maybe Tyvon could get some advice from the big quarterback on how to handle the 6'2", 220 pound receiver.
Last week, Branch had his hands full with Antonio Gates, the Chargers all-pro tight end. This week, Branch lucks out, somewhat, as the Chiefs traded their future Hall Of Fame tight end to the Falcons for a second round draft choice in 2010.
In addition, they really don't have many weapons on offense this year. If Branch plays as well as he did last week, the Raiders could end up with their first win of the year.
If Tyvon brings his A game, Oakland could pitch a shutout. If Branch fails, we could be in for another nail-biting heart breaker.