Once upon a time, they struck terror into the hearts of anyone foolish enough to venture across the line with a football in hand.
It seemed fitting that they wore black because they were the bad guys of the league. They put the bump in bump-and-run. Those were the days of Jack Tatum and the Tooz, of Lyle Alzado and George Atkinson. They took the outcasts and the outlaws that nobody wanted and put together teams that nobody could stop.
They were the Raiders, in name and deed. Take no prisoners. Give no quarter.
These days the Raiders still wear black, but now it better describes their mood. When you call them the bad guys, it carries a different connotation.
The gloom this week at the team’s El Segundo headquarters has swept in like the early-morning fog that traditionally blankets the area at this time of year.
A punching bag outside the locker room has been getting quite a workout the last few days. Mike Tyson would fit right in, mood swings and all.
These are frustrating days for an organization that is used to tackling its problems head on.
Sure, things could turn around quickly. Sure, despite a 2-3 record, this club is only a game out of first place in the AFC West. Sure, they are just 10 days removed from a remarkable comeback victory.
And yes, with quarterback Jay Schroeder working his way into the offense and the offensive line just about back at full strength and Bo Jackson on the horizon, better times do seem ahead.
For the offense.
But what has the Raiders so concerned these days is the defense. The defenders have not only been getting beat, but beat up. The only heart they are striking terror into is the one thumping in Al Davis’ chest.
The Raiders are 26th in the league in total defense, having surrendered 1,876 yards, a total exceeded only by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants.
The 45 points the Raiders surrendered to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday was the most given up by the team since it moved to Los Angeles in 1982. This was not an isolated instance, either. The Raiders have given up 145 points this season, most in the National Football League. Nobody else in the AFC West has given up 100.
The problems in the secondary are understandable. Injuries to Vann McElroy, Stacey Toran, Terry McDaniel and Lionel Washington, all starters at one time or another, have left a crew largely made up of players previously cut, a rookie fifth-round draft choice, Dennis Price, and a player switched from running back, Zeph Lee. Only Mike Haynes remains from the opening-day lineup.
But that has not been the No. 1 problem area. The biggest holes have opened up in front, where the regular starters have been operating. The Raiders have been giving up large chunks of yardage on the ground--111 yards to San Diego, 156 to Houston, 140 to the Rams, 189 to Denver and 164 to Cincinnati.
“We’ve just got to play the way we know we are capable of playing,” said Greg Townsend, a member of that defensive front. “I’ve been on this team when we’ve been going as good as anybody. There’s no way we suddenly forgot how to play.
“What we’ve got to do is stuff it back in their faces on 1st and 10. When we do that, we can dictate the game. But what they’re doing is running a lot of draws and screens on us on first down and picking up yardage. We’ve got to sacrifice our bodies, sacrifice everything.”
Asked if he could put his finger on the problem, he replied, “Looking at the last game, there was nothing you couldn’t put your finger on. Whether it’s us getting mentally ready, or physically, or just what it is, that’s hard to pinpoint. You look at the film and see (the Raiders) get into their blocks right and the other guy still makes 5 yards. What the answer is, I don’t know.
“We’ve had some bad games before and we always came back and made the plays. If we win the next two or three games, people will be saying, ‘Yeah, everything is great, peachy.’ Everybody will be happy. This is a weird sport. But it’s much too early to panic.”
Tackle Don Mosebar, recovered from a sprained ankle, will be back in the starting lineup Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at left tackle. Rory Graves moves from there to right tackle, knocking Steve Wright out of the starting lineup. . . . Vann McElroy, recovered from strained ligaments and a twisted knee, hopes to play, but, according to Coach Mike Shanahan, McElroy won’t start.
Shanahan said he may send someone down to Bo Jackson’s home in Alabama to brief him on the new Raider offense.