Defense a question mark


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By Jeremy Palguta
Baltimore, MD

One of the biggest questions heading into the 2007 season that might have been being overlooked is whether the Raiders can repeat their defensive performance from a year ago.

The third rated defense according to yards-per-game statistics (first passing/25th rushing), the Raiders defense showed signs of dominance yet enough glaring weaknesses that cause concern for the upcoming season.

The number one cause for concern has to be their run defense. Despite having a line that consists of Warren Sapp and Derrick Burgess, Oakland still lacks a proven run
stopper and a pass rushing threat opposite of Burgess.

The Raiders re-signed Terdell Sands and are hoping he can take on the lead role in a defensive tackle rotation that consists of Sapp, Anttaj Hawthorne, and Tommy Kelly. With the same cast of characters, the Raiders will need to see improved performances across the board.

Oakland also added a couple of defensive ends in the draft in hopes of teaming Burgess with a
legitimate passing threat, so he can avoid double teams.

The run-heavy AFC West has three of the best backs in the NFL with LaDainian Tomlinson, Travis Henry, and Larry Johnson.

It is imperative that the Raiders look to stop the run first and dare the inexperienced
quarterbacks in their division to beat them (Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Brodie Croyle). Although the
defense ranked near the bottom of rushing yards allowed per game, they were on the field more than any other defense in the NFL and held them to a
respectable yard per carry average.

On the bright side, Oakland saw the emergence of several players in 2006, most notably Nnamdi Asomugha and rookie Thomas Howard. Asomugha had eight interceptions in 2006, and Howard had one of the most productive rookie seasons recording 110 tackles.

The Raiders have improved in each of the past three seasons under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Stockedpiled with first- and second-round draft picks, the Raiders not only have the talent but have been building a chemistry over that past three to four years that few teams have under today’s current NFL structure.

The defense has a solid mix of veteran leadership with Burgess, Sapp, and newly acquired
Donovin Darius, and exiting youthful talent with Howard, Kirk Morrison, Asomugha, and last year’s first round pick Michael Huff.

Despite some questions, look for the Raiders to improve upon their chemistry and become an even more dominant defensive unit in 2007.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer