Raiders defensive end Jason Hunter, who had a sack against the Colts, puts pressure on Andrew Luck. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Through four exhibition games this summer, the Raiders’ defense looked awful.
Then when the Colts put together two long touchdown drives to Indianapolis on its first two possessions of the regular-season opener Sunday, it looked like a replay of the preseason, complete with shades of awfulness from 2012, when Oakland’s D was consistently inconsistent.
But then a funny thing happened: the Raiders started playing defense.
After taking a 14-0 lead, the Colts were held scoreless until Andrew Luck’s game-winning touchdown scramble in the fourth quarter. Though the Raiders fell to 0-1 in 2013 with a 21-17 loss, the fact they held Luck & Co. scoreless for much of the game is a good sign as Oakland prepares this week for its home opener Sunday against the offensively inept Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We started playing football,” said Raiders veteran safety Charles Woodson, in explaining to ESPN.com what happened. “We put it together. We feel like we can go out there and stay with anybody.”
The Raiders began Sunday’s season opener with nine new starters on defense. Eventually, something clicked. One thing that started working was the Raiders’ pass rush. Last season, Oakland had just 25 sacks over 16 games. In one game, the Raiders had four against the Colts, as defensive coordinator Jason Tarver started blitzing players from all directions. Cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Tyvon Branch each had a sack, as did defensive ends Jason Hunter and Lamarr Houston.
In turn, with better pressure on Luck, the Raiders secondary was able to better lock on to Indianapolis receivers.
“Eventually we got him in a little bit of third-and-longer situations and we were able to get a little bit of pressure on him, and I think that’s the key,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen. “But with all good quarterbacks, you’ve got to be on your game every single play, and we’ve got to do a better job.”
Said Woodson, who was playing his first game for the Raiders since 2005: “We started to get a little pressure. Pressure bursts pipes. It doesn’t matter how good you are in this league as a quarterback, if you can get pressure on a guy, then you have a chance.”
All told, the Raiders defense held the Colts to 274 total net yards, including just 147 through the air. Starting corners Porter and Mike Jenkins looked solid, as did rookie D.J. Hayden, who made his first three pro tackles. Safeties Branch (five tackles) and Woodson (three) provided support, and the defensive unit was anchored by new middle linebacker Nick Roach, who had nine stops.
Now, the Raiders get ready for the arrival of the Jaguars, who were terrible offensively in a 28-2 loss to the Chiefs Sunday. In that loss, the Jags had seven three-and-out possessions, allowed six sacks and punted 11 times.
Said Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew: “I don’t know if, as an offense, we can do much worse than we did today.”
With a revitalized defense and an offense that now looks dangerous because of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders have a chance to get their first victory.
Tweeted cornerback Porter after Sunday’s loss to the Colts: “We didn’t start fast, but we FINISHED strong. Now we just have to put a whole game together.”