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COMMENTARY

Raiders' Potent Offense Reminiscent of Rams

November 12, 2000|BOB OATES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The proposition that the Oakland Raiders are finally a Super Bowl team again this season will be tested, for perhaps the last time, in the Game of the Week Monday night at Denver.

If the Raiders win that one, their bright future will be more fact than proposition.

For there's nothing much left on their schedule except teams that don't score much, teams like Pittsburgh and Atlanta and Seattle.

Even the opponents they're likely to get in the playoffs, Indianapolis and Tennessee, don't score very often; and, lately, Indianapolis hasn't even won very often.

The Raiders, who blasted Kansas City last Sunday, 49-31, on a big afternoon for quarterback Rich Gannon and running back Tyrone Wheatley, are a scoring machine when they put their minds to it--reminiscent of the days when the St. Louis Rams had Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk.

And that's Oakland's edge.

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NFL'S BEST? Not long ago when the Rams and Raiders were based in Los Angeles, there was always a chance that both would reach the Super Bowl in the NFL equivalent of baseball's subway series.

This season, there's even a better chance they'll both get that far; and in each instance, the explanation is the same.

Assuming that all hands are uninjured, it's the two-way Warner-Faulk threat that drives the Rams, who lost at Carolina last week, 16-15, while playing without Warner AND Faulk.

At Oakland, even though Wheatley was well under 100% physically, it was their two-way offensive threat that drove the Raiders past Kansas City.

As Wheatley ran for 112 yards and Gannon passed for four touchdowns, the Raiders looked like the best team in football.

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TYRONE'S TEACHER: Most pro clubs assume that running backs don't have to be taught, that ballcarrying is instinctive.

And maybe in most cases that's true.

But when Wheatley joined the Raiders in August, 1999, he didn't seem to be much running back, whereas, in November, 2000, he is.

By August, 1999, two NFL teams had given up on him--two that badly needed running backs, the New York Giants, who in 1995 had drafted Wheatley on the first round, and the Miami Dolphins, who in their Dan Marino days always appeared to be one running back short of the Super Bowl.

Jimmy Johnson, the 1996-99 Miami coach, would probably still be in football if he could have taught Wheatley how to run the ball.

At Oakland, someone's taught him--and that someone is probably running-back coach Skip Peete, Willie's son and Rodney's brother, who, until he moved to the Raiders in 1998, had spent virtually his whole career in college football- -where the good coaches don't assume, they teach.

In August, 1999, moreover, somebody at Oakland saw something in Wheatley at a time when nobody else did, and that somebody could have been Peete or Jon Gruden, the coach, or Al Davis, the owner.

Such a thing has happened before in the Davis organization.

Over and over and over.

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DEFENSIVE CHIEFS FAIL: On a San Diego playing field, Oakland's G-Men, Gannon and Gruden, were held without a touchdown only seven days before their seven-touchdown explosion against Kansas City--but the 15-13 victory over the Chargers that day was accomplished by an unemotional Raider team.

During the long season, good teams have to try that--they have to take some opponents in stride--for no pro club can be emotionally ready every Sunday.

And the test on such days is not whether you score, it's whether you win.

In the Oakland-Kansas City game Sunday, it was the Chiefs' pass defense that was tested--and failed.

While Gannon was going for the 14-0 first-quarter lead that took the suspense out of the game, he converted on four consecutive third-down passes-- on third and four, third and three, third and seven, and third and 17--and such plays are almost always a test of the defense, not the passer.

It's a football truism that on third-down plays, the good defense almost always finds a way to handle the good passer.

Defensively, however, the Chiefs failed to get a grip on all the Oakland talent--on Tim Brown and Andre Rison, on James Jett and Rickey Dudley, on Napoleon Kaufman and Gannon and Wheatley.

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OFFENSIVE CHIEFS OK: On offense at Oakland, the Chiefs were good enough to win, and, probably, they would have won if their defensive team had played with even a modicum of success.

It was following a 3-3 start this season that Coach Gunther Cunningham, impressed with the Ram offense, converted the Chiefs into a passing team, whereupon they became the first to outscore the Rams, 54-34.

Against the Raider defense, the quarterback of the Chiefs, Elvis Grbac, became the NFL's eighth 500-yard passer of all time.

The first of the eight, Norm Van Brocklin of the 1951 Los Angeles Rams, also won the NFL championship with a long pass that year.

In championship terms, the difference between him and Grbac is that Van Brocklin had a defense.

The specialists in what academics call the scientific method maintain that no procedure is valid until someone replicates it.

That has been Cunningham's role this year in Kansas City.

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