Behind Enemy Lines

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Behind Enemy Lines: An Inside Look at the Raiders


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans return to Nissan Stadium on Sunday to take on the Oakland Raiders.
The Titans are coming off a dramatic, 16-15 come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions. The Raiders, meanwhile, lost 35-28 to the Falcons.

Both teams are 1-1. The Raiders enter the contest ranked No.1 in the NFL in total offense, and 32nd in the league on defense.

This week, I caught up with Vic Tafur, who is in his seventh season covering the Raiders for the San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow Vic on Twitter @VicTafur.

Wyatt: Hey Vic. I appreciate you taking the time. I'll get right to it. After a gutsy win in Week 1 over the Saints, the Raiders lost a close one on Sunday at home to the Falcons. What's the mood of the team as it prepares to face the Titans?

Tafur: Well, I think they're a little shell-shocked. They gave up a lot of yards (507) to the Saints, but I think that was overshadowed by the fact they won the game, and by Jack Del Rio's dramatic decision at the end to go for two and get it. But then they gave up a lot of yards again against the Falcons, and it's looking like there's some glaring issues on defense. And now they're going to make changes. I think they're going to replace their inside linebacker, Ben Heeney, with rookie Cory James. They're going to finally get (safety) Karl Joseph some action this week. So I think they are trying to get some things figured out. So far, (defensive end) Khalil Mack has zero sacks and only a couple of pressures.  He's been pretty much put under wraps with a lot of chip blocking and getting double-teamed, so there has not been much of a pass rush the first two weeks and they know that is something that has to change.


Wyatt:I've noticed the Raiders have been on fire on offense. The team is ranked No.1 in the NFL in total offense, and quarterback Derek Carr has already thrown for 618 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating is 107.4. The Raiders have scored 63 points in two games. Has it been as good as the stat sheet makes it look?

Tafur:The offense has been great. They should probably be scoring even more points. Carr has been great, and (receivers) Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have played well. They are averaging six yards a carry running the ball, so the offensive line has been great -- they've been creating space and mauling people, so it looks like the offense is going to be really good. It's definitely been the strength.

Wyatt:So what's going on with the defense? After two games, the Raiders have allowed 69 points, and they've given up an average of 517.5 yards per game (113.5 rushing, 404.0 passing). What's been the biggest problem so far?

Tafur:I'd say it always comes down to pass rush and coverage, and they have not been able to get enough push inside, and since teams have been able to handle Mack on the outside, it's made it tough. The secondary has been shaky. (Cornerback) Sean Smith got benched in the opener, and last week he started again, but he has not been great. And they have been exposed deep a couple of times, too. They have a lot of holes, and they're not playing well at all on defense right now.

Wyatt:Looks like Del Rio is trying to do his part to fix the defense. He took over the play-calling during the game last week in place of defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. So what's the plan moving forward and what's the fallout been since that move on Sunday?

Tafur:I think once you do it, you'll do it again if the chance arises. I think there was a concern about getting the plays in on time, and getting guys lined up in the right spot. I think that's part of the issues they've had the first two weeks. It's hard to pin all of that on the defensive coordinator, but obviously you have to find some answers. So I think Jack will be more hands-on, and they'll probably try and do some more blitzing. They've tried over the first two weeks, but when they have tried they've had no success. It's like running into a brick wall when they've done it. So they have to find some answers to get more pressure.

Wyatt:Just two more question from me. I'm curious about the fan base, and the expectations of this year's Oakland team. Leading up to the season, I saw some national prognosticators pick the Raiders to win the division, and be one of the top teams in the AFC. Others didn't sound quite as sold. What's the mood of the Raider Nation after some highs and lows already?

Tafur: Well, fans have high expectations for this team. There was a lot of hype before the season started. The national experts did say the Raiders were going to be a playoff team this year, and I think the players bought in. They didn't back away from it. They've said, "This is our year, we're going to do it." So fans were sky high coming into the season, and after the first week they were really fired up, thinking they were going to go all the way. Obviously last week was a pretty sobering home opener. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for a bunch of yards, and guys were open all game. I think the fans are a little bit skittish after what they saw, and now they're worried about Tennessee. They're worried about Marcus Mariota, and the Titans running game and the receivers. There's a lot of concern right now among the Raiders fans.  *
Wyatt:OK, Vic, last one here. The Raiders and Titans have some familiarity. The two teams played in the preseason, and the Raiders came to town and beat the Titans last season. What do you think concerns the Raiders most about the Titans?

Tafur:* *I'd have to say it's probably tight end Delanie Walker. The Raiders had trouble with tight ends last year, and they've actually gotten worse this year against the tight end. The Falcons had two guys who are not great by any means, and they combined for 10 catches for 180 yards, so I think Delanie Walker is a big-time threat. They have to figure out a way to stop him, and everyone else. It's been a combination of scheme and personnel for them there. I think they'll do some different things to try and improve in that area, but until they prove they can stop the tight ends, it's going to be a problem, and a concern, for them. looks back at the all-time series against the Oakland Raiders. (AP Photos)

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