NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Raiders defense took some heat this preseason. It came from the press, the fans and even the coaching staff.
Head man Jack Del Rio said his defenders weren’t on the same page. They weren’t communicating well. They weren’t doing the little things right.
That wasn’t the case in Sunday’s 26-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Wrongs, Khalil Mack points out, were righted.
“Guys were playing disciplined football,” the edge rusher said. “We were on the same page, especially going down the stretch. We didn’t want them scoring touchdowns.”
The Raiders defense was adept at stopping the run. That’s always a team effort. They put Tennessee in check early on. And, after an opening drive hiccup, they consistently got off the field on third down.
That’s winning football. That’s how the Raiders allowed just one touchdown in nine series. That’s nothing like how the Raiders played defense this summer.
“We always believed in ourselves and what we were capable of,” strong safety Karl Joseph said. “We’re still learning how to play smarter and how to play together. We just have to keep improving.”
Improvement was evident on the opening drive. Tennessee marched 75 yards on a 10-play drive capped by Marcus Mariota’s 10-yard run. The Titans converted three third-and-long opportunities, a seemingly bad omen in the season opener.
Not so. The Raiders clamped down after that, allowing 4-of-11 third down conversions and 2-of-7 in the second half. The Titans never saw the end zone again.
The opening drive was disappointing. The second was a three-and-out. Joseph set the tone on the third. Tennessee was eight yards from pay dirt when the second-year pro made a great open-field tackle of Eric Decker. Joseph’s finest play came next when he high-pointed the ball and broke up a seemingly sure touchdown pass.
“Coach Del Rio says you have to go hard every time because you never know what play’s going to make the difference,” Joseph said. “I gave it my all, and made two plays. That was important for us. It’s about us on defense. We came prepared. We came to play.”
Raiders defenders believe Sunday’s performance was a sign of things to come.
“We wanted to make them earn everything,” David Amerson said. “Even the balls they caught, everything was contested. You’re going to win some battles and lose some. You just want to keep competing. As long as we do that, we’ll have more games like this.”