When the dominator becomes the dominated. . . .
The Raiders' inability to keep other teams from running the ball down their throats is nothing less than their history-turned-upside-down.
Their defense has long been their heart and soul: the dreaded "Blackshirts," cocky, loud, aggressive, the chest-thumping foundation on which all else was built.
First and foremost, they stuffed the run. All defense is predicated on this and as recently as 1987, the Raiders' was among the best.
Non-winning seasons in 1986 and '87, when the offense was the problem, begot changes in coaches, personnel and design. The Raiders have a new defensive coordinator, almost an entirely new defensive staff, and are playing a new scheme.
Their personnel edge has waned. With Jerry Robinson, Scott Davis, and Howie Long limited by injuries, it's no edge at all.
Raider coaches insist that unfamiliarity with the new scheme isn't the problem, but they had better hope it is. It wouldn't be good for them if these guys actually are this bad.
Here's how it's gone:
1985--The Raiders allow 100.3 rushing yards a game, 3.5 a carry. No back gains 100 yards against them until the New England Patriots' Craig James does it in the playoffs. Regular-season record: 12-4.
1986--Lyle Alzado retires but Sean Jones steps right in. They allow 108 yards a game and 3.9 a carry. They start 8-4, finish 8-8.
1987--Charlie Sumner, the former untitled defensive coordinator, returns to take over for overmatched Bob Zeman. The season is a strike-marred 5-10 disaster, but the front holds. The Raiders allow 109 yards a game--fifth best in the league--and 3.5 a carry.
1988--Sean Jones is traded to Houston, apparently the byproduct of his role as player representative in the strike. They drafted cornerback Terry McDaniel with Houston's pick acquired in the Jones' trade and had hopes that Bob Buczkowski could take over for Jones (no comment). Howie Long misses most of the season and the averages jump to 138 yards a game--23rd in the league--and 4.1 a carry.
1989--Line coach Earl Leggett, who all but raised the Long-Jones-Greg Townsend-Bill Pickel nucleus from pups, resigns and heads for the Denver Broncos. Sumner is replaced by Dave Adolph. Linebacker Matt Millen, the 255-pound run stuffer who is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, is cut. Millen tells a couple of the defensive coaches, "You don't know how much you're going to miss me." Several of Millen's teammates say to themselves, "Amen."
They allow 178 yards and a 4.9 average in exhibition games. In the regular season, it's 161.5 and 4.8.
It's no overnight phenomenon. It has been years in the making.
A stalwart in this mess?
Bob Golic, the new Plan B nose tackle from Cleveland, had 10 tackles. Said Mike Shanahan: "Bob Golic played a fine football game."
And a victim:
Because of his stature, salary and the drop-off in his sack totals, any problem on the line is laid at Howie Long's feet. This is true both inside and outside the organization, but the fact remains, whenever Long has been injury-free, the Raiders have had a good line. Shortly before he went out last season, he had a monster game in Houston, forcing a fumble on a sack of Warren Moon deep in Oiler territory, intercepting a Moon pass and returning it 73 yards.
His problem is that he is hurting. He has reaggravated his ankle sprain several times.
"That ankle is still bothering him," Shanahan said. "That's why he's not playing, except in certain situations."
Injury report: Mike Shanahan said Don Mosebar's sore knee makes him doubtful for Denver but that reserve Dan Turk had an "excellent" game in Kansas City. Steve Smith's ribs were X-rayed and found to be bruised but not broken. Steve Wisniewski's ankle injury is a bad sprain, but, as with Smith, the Raiders won't learn if he can play until later in the week. Jay Schroeder's previously separated, newly bruised left shoulder turned black-and-blue after the game, but Shanahan thinks he will be OK.
Is newly signed ex-Bronco Mike Harden due for a quick promotion to starting strong safety? "We didn't bring Mike in because we didn't think he could help us," Shanahan said. Zeph Lee is still trying to learn the position on the job. In Kansas City, he let tight end Jonathan Hayes get five yards behind him and would have been beaten for a touchdown, but Hayes dropped Steve DeBerg's pass. . . . There goes the Boy Scout image: Kansas City Coach Marty Schottenheimer, protesting a call into a referee's microphone that he didn't realize was open, said over the Arrowhead Stadium public-address system and directly to the folks watching TV at home, "You've got to be (expletive for joking)."