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Understandably lost in the tumult of Sunday’s emotional Oakland victory was the Raiders’ performance against one of the NFL’s best rushing teams.
Just a day after the death of owner Al Davis, the Raiders held on to beat the Houston Texans thanks to clutch performances all over the field by such players as Michael Huff, Sebastian Janikowski, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rock Cartwright.
But also playing a big role was the front seven’s ability to stop Arian Foster and the rest of the Texans’ running backs.
Though Oakland was gashed for 473 yards by Houston, much of it was through the air. The Raiders’ 29th-ranked rushing defense finally stepped up, allowing just 70 yards on 25 attempts, with Foster – one of the NFL’s best -- limited to 68 yards.
Raiders head coach Hue Jackson had said in the week before the game that if he were the Texans coach, he would run at the Oakland defense because it hadn’t proved it could stop anyone.
On Sunday, it did.
“They decided to step up, just like I told you we would,” Jackson told the Oakland Tribune. “We played against a good back and a good running team. I think our guys stepped up and made some plays. I am truly impressed with those men.”
Jackson said in practices the previous week that defensive linemen had been working on staying in their zones, beating blocks and going to the football.
Against the Texans, that formula worked.
“They were staying in the box,” Foster told reporters. “They were doing a good job of staying disciplined in their gaps.”
Obviously, the Raiders defense can’t continue to give up 400 yards passing, as it did to Matt Schaub Sunday. But stopping the run has been a focus for Jackson.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour said the Raiders can’t continue to allow opponents to run on them.
“We’d rather give up passing yards than rushing yards, because it’s demoralizing as a team when they can rush the ball at will,” Seymour told Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune.
Still, there’s more work to do. Five games into the season, the Raiders still rank 22nd in the NFL vs. the run – allowing 122.8 yards per game. And overall, the Raiders are 30th in the league in total defense, allowing more than 422 yards per game.
Sunday was a step up, but there appear to be many more to be taken.