The Raiders are tied for last in the league in terms of turnovers on defense. Perhaps most glaring, the Raiders are one of only two teams without an interception this season.
Hence, there is what strong safety Tyvon Branch calls an added emphasis on getting that turned around. In a hurry.
The Raiders forced four fumbles, and recovered three, their first four games. Even so, that’s not the rate of return coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver want on their investment.
Never mind that the Raiders played against three veteran quarterbacks their first three games — Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, Allen and the players said. It’s incumbent upon the Raiders to force the issue.
“We call them takeaways, which means that we control them,” Allen said. “It’s not like the offense gives us the ball. We go out and take it away from them. So, yeah, there’s things that we can do.”
Branch said it’s as simple as tackling better on plays in which the quarterbacks checks down the ball and thereby forcing longer passes in traffic.
“Once we start tackling better, they got to start making high-risk throws in order to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Branch said. “So, football’s crazy. Once they start coming, they’re going to come in bunches.”
Turnovers come as a result of defense played at a fevered pitch, Allen said.
“We got to have 11 people flying around to the football, flying around like their hair’s on fire,” Allen said. “And that’s the way you play defensive football. It’s been that way since the beginning of time, and it won’t change.”
Free safety Michael Huff envisioned the Raiders defense being a top-five unit that imposed its will on opposing offenses. Part of playing that style of defense, naturally, would result in numerous turnovers.
The realization that the Raiders are without an interception through four games is something Huff has difficult grasping.
“I wouldn’t have believed it,” Huff said. “Even based off preseason, you could just see, it was a great defense when we play our defense. And for us not to have any picks and only a few sacks just boggles (the mind).”
— The bye week afforded Allen and his coaching staff added time to evaluate the roster and the first four regular-season games.
Allen had this to say about what he gleaned from the process:
“Obviously, there’s things that we can do better as a coaching staff to put our players in a little bit better position,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to players going out and executing and making the plays they get the opportunity to make.
“We’re all in this thing together and we’re continuing … This will be a constant thing, it is in the NFL. You never rest. You keep looking for ways to improve. Last week was a good week for us to kind of look at ourselves and what we’re doing and how we can do it a little bit better.
Allen said it was nice to be able to step away from the hustle and bustle of the season and see things from a fresh perspective.
In short, he said he learned some things about his team, as well as reinforced already formed opinions on some things.
“The season moves fast,” Allen said. “Sometimes you think you see something, and it’s not exactly the way you saw it. When you get a little bit of time to sit back and look at it, spend a little bit of time looking at it, it opens your eyes to a few different things. We looked at a lot of different areas from what we were doing well and what we have to improve on. We’ll move forward from there.”
Defensive end Lamarr Houston honed in on one aspect of his game during the bye week.
“As a D-line, we need to apply more pressure to the quarterback and we need to make more of an impact in the games,” Houston said. “That’s basically what I really was focusing on, because we’ve been pretty good in the run game, and we also need to improve on third downs, that’s a part of rushing the passer.”
— Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has passed all his concussion-related tests, as mandated by the league, and been cleared for full contact, Allen said.
Heyward-Bey looked at full strength in practice today, running multiple routes at full speed and doing everything asked of the other wide receivers.
Therefore, it’s likely that he will make his return Sunday against the Falcons. He last played in a game Sept. 23, when he was knocked from the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers safety Ryan Mundy.
— Linebacker Aaron Curry is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list Oct. 16. Once he practices for the first time, a 21-day window begins for the Raiders to decide how to proceed.
Here’s what the rule states:
“At any time during that period, the club can restore the player to the active/inactive list. If the player is not restored to the active/inactive list on the day after the conclusion of the 21-day period, and the club elects to carry the player on reserve/PUP or reserve/non-football injury, the player shall not be permitted to play in any games and is not allowed to practice or participate in team or individual drills during the remainder of the season (including postseason).”
Rookie Miles Burris has filled in for Curry the first four games at weak-side linebacker. If Curry is healthy enough to be activated, Allen has to decide how best to use Curry.
Curry missed all of training camp and some of the offseason workouts because of sore knees. It’s a stretch to envision Curry getting into football shape in a short amount of time, but he certainly could reach that point during the 21-day window.
Curry declined an interview for the second time in recent weeks. He said he isn’t allowed to speak with the media as long as he’s on the physically unable to perform list.
Allen said he’s eager to see where Curry is at when he returns next week.
“He has made some progress,” Allen said. “It’s different when you’re doing your rehab work as opposed to when you’re actually out there playing football. It will be a great deal for us to get him out here, get him working some football, running around and doing some football movement and really getting back into the swing of what we’re doing defensively because it’s been a while since he’s gotten an opportunity to participate.”
Curry missed some of the offseason workouts and all of training camp.
— Allen said the Raiders did not work out any free agents last week. However, there’s the “potential” to do so this week.
He added that the starting lineup figures to look much as it did when the Raiders last played a game.
“I wouldn’t expect just a bunch of wholesale changes,” Allen said. “We’ve put a lot of time into the guys out there that we have on the field. We’re going to continue to evaluate that as we go through and whatever lineup changes we feel like are necessary to maybe give us a boost and help us maybe play a little bit better, we’ll make those changes.”
— Tight end Richard Gordon (hamstring), rigth offensive tackle Khalif Barnes (groin) and cornerback Shawntae Spencer (foot) are making progress toward a return to the field. However, it doesn’t sound likely that they will be back in time for the Falcons game.
Allen said Barnes and Gordon are “week to week.” As for Spencer, his right foot still is in a protective boot. Spencer and Barnes suffered their injuries against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 16. Gordon got hurt in practice two days before the Broncos game the following week.
— Several players spoke about the anniversary of managing general partner Al Davis’ passing. Hers’s a sampling of what they said:
“We don’t really talk about it, but I can tell you there’s guys in here that were close to him, including myself, that you do kind of take a moment to yourself and just think about it and know you’re thankful for him and what he’s done and his family and the organization that he built from the ground up. And you’re just really appreciative of it.” — fullback Marcel Reece
“All I can say is, I’m going to make him proud as his last pick. I’m getting better every day. I know he’s looking down scheming over the Raiders because he loved football. All I know is, I’m going to make him proud and I’m going to be exactly what he thought I was going to be.” — quarterback Terrelle Pryor
“When you think about the Raiders, you think about Mr. Davis and what he meant, not only to this franchise, but to the NFL He’s an icon that surpassed, when you talk about leaving a legacy, he’ll always be remembered whether it’s the one-year or the 10-year, the century mark, decade mark, you’re always going to think about what it meant to put on the silver and black and just that mindset and mentality.” — defensive tackle Richard Seymour