The pink elephant in the room is richer than all of the other elephants in his jungle. He moves about on a repaired knee and with sore shoulders. Upon these shoulders, much of the responsibility has been placed for the success of the Raiders' 2008 season.
Stop the run. Penetrate. Don't wear down. Stop the run! Can he deliver on these expectations? If we're supposed to learn from history, then the answer is a discouraging "no".
In the early 2000s, when Oakland was dominating the AFC West, the team trotted out monsters like Darrell Russell, Grady Jackson, John Parrella, and Sam Adams. Thou shalt not run on us—and teams did not.
The run defense was consistently in the top 12, and Oakland enjoyed playing meaningful games in December and January.
This year's ferocious collection? Tommy Kelly, Terdell Sands, and Gerrard Warren. The problem? We had this exact same trio to begin last season. They were absolutely shredded week after dreadful week.
Along with defensive ends Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson, Oakland returns the exact same defensive line. Somewhere, there's a shred of hope, right? I tried to find an excuse.
"Well, Tommy Kelly was hurt last year!" Unfortunately, I looked at the numbers that the opposing rushing offenses hung on us during the first seven games of the 2007 season (Kelly was injured during Week Seven).
So what did Kelly help the Raiders achieve during that timespan? Here is how each opposing offense fared in their rushing attack Weeks one through Seven:
vs Detroit 5.1 avg. 108 yards
at Broncos 4.8 181
vs Browns 4.6 88
at Dolphins 7.1 141
at Chargers 6.4 206
vs Chiefs 3.9 126
at Titans 5.3 192
The Raiders defense allowed a cover-your-eyes-awful 5.3 yards per carry. At the end of the season, Oakland 's defense had the worst yards-allowed-per-carry average, at 4.8 yards. So...doing the simple math... the team was even MORE horrendous with Kelly in there.
And, as we all know, neither the defensive personnel nor the scheme have changed between then and now. Time to try and find another excuse.
Well, could Terdell Sands have a better season this year? Unlikely, as he's already had his knee drained this preseason and missed practice time due to this. When he did practice, the results weren't that impressive. This week, Kiffin prodded Sands: "Push yourself Sands, push yourself!"
Guys who know they're an integral part to the team's success should not need to be motivated by coaches. If Sands was ready to become the force we need him to be, he would be eating Jake Grove and Robert Gallery for lunch every practice. No such luck.
This Friday's game versus the run-oriented Titans team should be a good measuring stick for the Silver and Black's run defense. Chris Johnson's speed, LenDale White's power, and Vince Young's elusiveness are enough to give any defense fits. The Titans are coming off a ridiculous 340-rushing-yards performance against Chris Long and the St. Louis Rams.
If our guys don't kick down the door and make a statement, our best hope for 2008 will be that our offense exceeds expectations, takes early leads in games, and makes opponents play catch up through their passing attack.
For all we know, drafting Darren McFadden may have been our best move at shoring up the porous run defense. One way or another, Friday night lights in Tennessee will shine the truth.
So, what are your thoughts, Nation? What is our hope for the 2008 Raider run defense? Will it be our downfall? Looking ahead, is the defensive tackle position priority No. 1 as we prepare for a very possible 2009 playoff season?