In Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Giants, the Raiders gave their fans very little offense. The best play of the day, in fact, came from the defense -- a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown by Oakland cornerback Tracy Porter that gave the Raiders a 17-14 halftime lead.
But it’s been no surprise that Porter would make a big play. Though the Raiders have had their ups and downs this season, the addition of veteran cornerbacks Porter and Mike Jenkins has helped solidify a pass defense that was terrible in 2012.
Both cornerbacks had plenty to prove coming into 2013.
Porter, a second-round pick of the Saints in 2008 out of Indiana, was key player for New Orleans in its run to the Super Bowl in 2010. Porter’s interception of Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game that season helped lift the Saints over the Vikings. Then, against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, he intercepted Peyton Manning and returned the ball 74 yards for a touchdown. But Porter left the Saints and signed with Denver for 2012, where he was sidelined a couple of times by injuries and lost his job.
This April, he signed a one-year deal with the Raiders in an attempt to resurrect his career and shore up the Raiders’ defense.
Jenkins, too, is getting his career on track in Oakland. The former first-round pick of the 2008 draft out of South Florida by the Cowboys earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after the 2009 season, but injuries took their toll and he lost his job in Dallas. Like Porter, he signed with Oakland in April.
Porter leads the Raiders with two interceptions, is fourth on the team in tackles with 46 and has 1½ sacks. And, according to Pro Football Focus, Porter has been one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks against the run this season. In his career, Porter has had a history of making big plays, with 10 interceptions (three returned for TDs) in the regular season.
“Tracy’s a guy who’s made a lot of big plays in a lot of big game,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said recently. “A lot of the guys we brought in here kind of have a little chip on their shoulders. They want to prove they’re worthy of being top-notch players in this league.”
Jenkins, who has one interception, ranks sixth on the Raiders in tackles with 37.
Together, Porter and Jenkins have given defensive coordinator Jason Tarver more stability in pass coverage that has allowed the Raiders to do more blitzing and gambling. Sometimes – as against the Eagles – the defense has performed poorly. But on others – such as against the Giants Sunday – the D has been solid. Allen, in fact, said he was proud of the way the Raiders defense rebounded against the Giants after the loss to the Eagles the week before, when it gave up more than 400 yards passing and seven TDs through the air.
By picking off the Giants’ Eli Manning, in fact, Porter became the first player ever to return interceptions against both Eli and Peyton Manning.
Porter said the pick six vs. the Giants was just a matter of making the right read.
“It was just zone coverage and reading the quarterback,” Porter told the media. “He settled to get the ball to (Victor) Cruz. I just made a good read and he let the ball go and I made a great break and I ran it back for a touchdown.”
The way the Raiders’ offense is stalling in recent weeks, Porter and Jenkins may need to score a few more touchdowns. They’ll get their chance this Sunday, when the Raiders (3-6) travel to Houston to take on the Texans (2-7).