Forgotten Raiders’ defense ready to score knockout
Sunday, January 26, 2003 – SAN DIEGO — Yes, defense does win championships. And yes, defense will win Super Bowl XXXVII today.
But here’s the rub: It won’t be Tampa Bay’s top-rated defense that delivers the knockout blows and the Pete Rozelle Trophy. It’ll be Oakland’s formidable but almost totally forgotten unit.
All week, the media mobs have been tub-thumping the Raiders’ top-ranked offense against the Buccaneers’ No.1 defense, and for good reason. It’s a classic toe-to-toe heavyweight confrontation, the first of its kind in Super Bowl history.
“But will their defense and our offense be the only ones playing the game?” linebacker Bill Romanowski posed. “I don’t think so.”
Indeed, what absolutely no one seems to be paying attention to is the undercard. That is Oakland’s 11th-ranked defense against Tampa Bay’s offense, only 24th best in a 32-team league. Overlooking it is a big mistake, though, because that’s where the mismatches are, and that’s where the Raiders will take over and win the game.
The Buccaneers’ offense is tailor-made for the Raiders to dissect and ultimately decimate — plodding running game, possession passing game, stationary quarterback. Oakland is going to feast on all three and win this game 27-13. And the Bucs might even need a defensive touchdown to reach double figures.
What’s clear is that a Raiders defense, which got markedly better as the season progressed, is laying low, almost delighted that all the attention is going to Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and Co. and that they’re preparing in a publicity vacuum.
“Why are you even talking about it?” tackle John Parrella mused with a grin. “C’mon, we’re trying to keep it quiet.”
“We’re not what the media wants to portray,” linebacker Eric Barton maintained. “But that doesn’t bother us. Right now we’re here to win a Super Bowl, and we’re not really into who gets ranked highest or who gets the most publicity.”
It shouldn’t be much secret how they’re going to try. Re-employing a formula that worked so well for them in previous Super Bowl victories, the Raiders very likely will stage a blitzkrieg against Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson and try to take him out of the game.
Johnson’s a solid, smart, accurate quarterback who can elevate an otherwise dull and limited attack.
But as was demonstrated when Johnson was out of commission with a back injury for the final two regular-season games, Tampa’s offense almost becomes paralyzed without him. Backups Rob Johnson and Shaun King both received opportunities to run Jon Gruden’s offense in Brad Johnson’s absence, and both failed miserably.
The Raiders understand that and will make Johnson a target, trying to decapitate the Bucs’ offense by — well, trying to take Johnson’s head off. They’ll do it with base pressure against Tampa’s decidedly average line, but they’ll also do it by shooting their speedy linebackers and trying to deliver a knockout hit on Johnson as soon as possible.
Even if they don’t knock Johnson out of the game, they definitely don’t want him getting comfortable.
“If you can force the quarterback to throw quickly and not on a rhythm all the time where he sits back, reads his keys and picks where he wants to go, that makes all the difference in the world,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. “And our front seven, whether it be with a four-man rush, a 30-nickel where the extra linebacker rushes or some other combination, it doesn’t make a difference.
“As long as we get pressure and we force our opponent to throw off-balance, that’s been a big key for us.”
A direct hit is likely. Consider how many shots the Raiders got on Tennessee’s Steve McNair in last week’s AFC Championship Game, even though McNair is significantly bigger and more mobile than Johnson and possesses a more efficient offensive line.
Tampa’s line surrendered 41 sacks during the regular season, tied for 10th most in the NFL, and Oakland simply got better applying pocket pressure as the season progressed.
Tampa has a substandard running attack with Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott — 27th best in the league — and Oakland’s run defense is third-best. So Oakland perhaps can cheat a bit in defending the passing game either by adding an extra pass rusher or defensive back, depending on the situation, and not have to worry about getting burned by a run.
But regardless of tactics, the Raiders defense quite simply isn’t that far off the level of Tampa’s. The statistical differences in yards and points allowed, turnover ratio and sacks are fairly negligible.
Moreover, the Raiders have gotten better defensively as the season has progressed, not only in terms of execution but also in developing a nasty attitude.
That attitude has been suppressed all week, but it’s about to be released like a caged tiger.
“After the game is over and we win, then we’ll get the recognition,” Charles Woodson said.
You bet they will, because the Raiders defense will dramatically upstage the battle of No.1s.
Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at
“But regardless of tactics, the Raiders defense quite simply isn’t that far off the level of Tampa’s. The statistical differences in yards and points allowed, turnover ratio and sacks are fairly negligible.”