McDonald: Raiders Defense Finally Gets Some Help from the Offense

Gradkowski leads late drive that leads to win over Bengals
By Jerry McDonald
Oakland Tribune
Posted: 11/22/2009 08:22:50 PM PST

The Oakland Raiders’ Brandon Myers runs off the field after recovering a fumble against the Cincinatti Bengals.

A couple of touchdowns a week is all they ask. When Bruce Gradkowski finished off a two-minute drill Sunday – similar to the one that was so rudely interrupted the previous week  with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy, Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha could barely believe his eyes.

“Oh, my goodness,” Asomugha said following an improbable 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at the Coliseum. “When we saw them scoring and moving the ball, we were like, `Look. This is how games should be.’ ”

The Raiders defense takes a lot of heat for its occasional inability to stop the run and a historical penchant for playing straight up and believing in their own ability to win one-on-one matchups at the expense of more exotic schemes.
Occasionally, the criticism is richly deserved.

Other times, with Sunday a bone-jarring example, there is evidence that given even a moderate amount of help from its own offense in the form of crossing the goal line, the Raiders defense would be viewed in a different light.

“It’s tough to play defense on a team that struggles to score points and turns it over as much as we have thus far,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said. “I think in a lot of ways they get an unfair deal here, but it is what it is and hopefully we can grow from this offensively as well as on the defensive side.”

We saw a glimpse of it late last season when the Raiders offense showed some consistency and scored enough points to allow the defense to take a few chances and play with the additional inspiration created by points on the board. And while Gradkowski’s victorious debut in place of JaMarcus Russell, as well as a 10-point burst in a span of 18 seconds, will be the dominant storylines in handing the surprise leaders of the AFC North their third loss of the season, this win was made possible by the Raiders defense.

The Raiders trailed 14-0 with 7:12 left in the first half on a pair of 1-yard runs by quarterback Carson Palmer. Considering the Raiders hadn’t scored two touchdowns in a game since the season opener, it seemed a foregone conclusion the smallest crowd to see a game in Oakland since 1967 (34,112) would be sent home with another loss.

At that point, Palmer was 8-for-9 for 129 yards and the Bengals had run nine straight running plays, gaining 68 yards, for their second score. The Bengals would get nine more possessions the remainder of the game and score only three points. The first three times they had the ball in the second half, the Bengals got inside the Oakland 20-yard-line.

The result? Shayne Graham missed a 37-yard field goal, Graham kicked a 25-yard field goal, and Desmond Bryant forced and recovered a Jeremi Johnson fumble at the 15-yard line. Two more possessions ended in a punt, then Brandon Myers forced and recovered a fumble to set up Sebastian Janikowski’s game-winning 33-yard field goal with 12 seconds left. The game symbolically ended with Asomugha’s interception on a desperation heave from Palmer.

On the 40 snaps following their second touchdown, Cincinnati’s offense gained 150 yards, scored three points, punted four times and had a turnover. Bernard Scott gained 61 of those yards on a single running play. Minus that big play, the Bengals had 89 net yards on 39 snaps. The Raiders played on the other side of the line more than any time this season with 11 tackles for losses.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch had a monster game with 12 tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses and a pass defensed. With defensive cornerstone Richard Seymour out since the early first quarter with a lower back strain, Jay Richardson stepped in with six tackles and a tackle for loss. And had it not been for the late touchdown and gift fumble, the defense would have gone unrewarded, as it was seven days before when a Gradkowski-to-Darrius Heyward-Bey pass turned into a Chiefs interception.

“That would have been tough because it would have been a repeat of last week against Kansas City,” Asomugha said. “Just to see (the offense) go down with some juice and score, that was great.”

In terms of scheme, the Raiders brought more and different types of pressure than they have since a 13-9 win over Philadelphia.More impressive, the Bengals burned the Raiders on blitzes on a handful of early plays, as well as on Scott’s 61-yard run, and they never turned off the spigot and went conservative.

“When they open up the playbook and let us change things up, you can see the difference,” Branch said. In the Bengals’ locker room, Chad Ochocinco, who talked up the Raiders during a conference call with Bay Area media, was giving a resigned, “I told you so” of sorts.

“We played a great Raider team, despite their record,” Ochocinco said. “We saw it on film week, especially defensively. The front seven, the front four, whatever you want to call it. They’re really good. They get push, cause a lot of havoc.”
And all it takes is two touchdowns to see it in its full glory.

Staff writer Jerry McDonald can be reached by e-mail at

~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on November 23, 2009.

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