ALAMEDA -- The Raiders have played seven games. They have zero interceptions. They’re the only NFL team in such a drought, a badge of dishonor the Raiders prefer to discard posthaste.
It’s not just the unwelcome distinction that bothers them so. It’s also completely out of last year’s character. The Raiders had 16 picks last season. That’s one per game, and was a staple of a 30-takeaway campaign.
The Raiders gave up a lot of yards and points last year, ruined drives with well-times takeaways.
They have five this year, two of which came on special teams. That’s a detriment to winning games, and the Raiders know it.
“There are stats out there to show you win a lot of ball games if you get one turnover. Your percentages are higher when you get two turnovers in a game,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “Those things are really important to our winning. Winning, everybody likes to win. We need to continue to stack these wins together. To get those wins that we want, getting that ball is going to be a big part of it. So, turnovers are greatly emphasized.”
The streak could’ve been snapped several times. Reggie Nelson had one in his sights against the New York Jets. He’s had others bounce off his hands. David Amerson’s been in position, just inches from making a big play that ends up a big catch.
Nothing explains their bad luck like Keith McGill last week. The reserve safety tracked a deep ball well against Kansas City, only to have it clank backward off his hands, right to Chiefs receiver Albert Wilson. He cruised in for an easy touchdown.
The secondary understands it must do better, and are a bit flummoxed why the total remains at zero. Confidence hasn’t wavered, but they are working hard to ended a peculiar drought.
“We have the JUGS cranked up,” head coach Jack Del Rio said, with a hyperbolic slant. “I think we burned out a motor, we’re going at it so much. We’ll just keep going. Get a new motor in. Keep shooting them balls and try to catch the next one.”
A total of seven teams have had a longer interception drought. The 49ers went 10 games between the 1976-77 seasons, and Jacksonville had a nine-game drought to start last year.
The Buffalo Bills are protective of possession. The Raiders’ next opponent has but two picks and a lost fumble all year long. It’ll be tough, but aggressiveness around the ball could lead to a big play in the defensive backfield.
“The ball isn’t just going to come to you,” Norton said. “You have to go up and get it. You have to want it. You have to practice it. You have to play make it. You have to go up and make the play on it.
“...It’s going to happen. It’s our fabric. It’s who we are. It’s a matter of us continuing, emphasizing, working it, making it important. It’s going to come. We know it’s coming. It’s just a matter of we don’t want to wait any longer. Let’s do it now.”