Shell Isn't Contending Raiders in Contention : Pro Football: Coach downplays team's success, other than to say it has played well at 4-1 since he took over.


They're dancing in the hallways at the Raider facility in El Segundo but in the coach's office, calm prevails.

A contender at last?

"As I've said to you, I don't even want to speak in those terms," Art Shell said Monday, a day after his team, for the second consecutive week, made a meal of what was advertised as a quality opponent.

"We're playing good football. We're playing tough football. I don't want to predict what we will be. All I know is what we're doing and that's playing competitive football."

Shell kicked off this rally by taking the pressure off his players who were dragged along into Mike Shanahan's pressure cooker.

Now that Shell is actually up there with the playoff hopefuls, he is maintaining his posture of trying to deflect everyone's attention from the bottom line.

On the other hand, the Raiders are contenders, know it and are delighted.

If the season were over, they'd have the first wild-card spot and would play host to Cincinnati in the wild-card game.

Here's the way the American Conference wild-card candidates go, with their won-lost and conference records, which would break ties:

Raiders, 5-4, 4-3; Cincinnati, 5-4, 4-3; Miami, 5-4, 4-4; Houston, 5-4, 3-3.

Moreover, the Raiders have a chance to be something the AFC has rarely had since the last heyday of the silver and black: a dominating team.

Since Shell took over, the Raider defense has allowed an average of 91 yards rushing a game and 3.5 an attempt. Over a full season, this would make the Raiders No. 3 in the league in both categories.

The Raiders, meanwhile, have averaged 161.6 yards rushing and a startling 4.99 a carry. Over a season, that would project to Nos. 2 and 1, respectively.

In Shell's tenure, the Raiders have recorded 14 sacks, allowed eight.

Under Shell, the Raiders have taken the ball away 17 times, and given it away 10.

The explosion of the Raider game owes much, of course, to Bo Jackson and his 7.4-yard average, but there's more working here.

Fullback Steve Smith, a fine blocker--his lead block sprang Jackson on Sunday's 92-yarder--and a good receiver, has a 4.1 average, and has had it all season. He was at 4.4 when Bo began playing.

The young Raider line, with 28-year-old Don Mosebar the only starter over 26, has come a long way. The new left tackle, Rory Graves, has slowed his string of holding calls. The new right tackle, Bruce Wilkerson, has been solid.

Against Philadelphia, while helping hold Reggie White to no sacks, Wilkerson irritated the dreaded Eagle into accusing Wilkerson of holding, which any offensive lineman would recognize as a compliment.

Here's a higher compliment: rookie right guard Steve Wisniewski has been as good as the Raiders hoped he would be on draft day.

"I told him this morning, 'You're playing at a level of performance that's just as good as any guard in this league, whether it's an old guy or a new guy,' " Shell said.

"All his future's ahead of him. He's going to be an outstanding lineman in this league. I expect him to play in the Pro Bowl within two years. That's the kind of player he's capable of being."

Raider Notes

The Steve Beuerlein watch, Week 2: Art Shell says that if Beuerlein's back, he'll start. Shell says he expects Beuerlein to practice this week, too. . . . Jerry Robinson didn't dress because of his concussion. Shell: "He was on the sideline. I told him, 'You're an assistant coach, unofficially.' He asked me: 'Do I get double pay?' I said. 'Not with the money you earn, you don't.' " . . . Safety Eddie Anderson was held out with his hamstring pull, though Shell says he could have played, if needed.

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