The Raiders aren't quite where they hoped when it comes to stopping the run, but tangible proof exists that they are making strides.
The Tennessee Titans amassed 205 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns in their 38-13 victory over the Raiders in the regular-season opener Sunday. But unlike many games in recent seasons, the Raiders succeeded far more times than not against the run.
"We did some good things, but we also had some bad things out there," free safety Michael Huff said. "We're trying to be an elite, top defense. To be that, you have to limit the long runs. You look at the stats and see the total yardage; the big run is added in there. We have to find a way to stop the big ones."
The big one was a 76-yard touchdown run by Titans All-Pro running back Chris Johnson late in the second quarter. Those 76 yards accounted for more than half of Johnson's 142 for the game. Johnson averaged a pedestrian 2.5 yards on his 26 other carries.
Twenty of Johnson's 27 carries went for 4 yards or fewer. Of those 20, 10 failed to net more than 1 yard.
Raiders coach Tom Cable said his defense appears closer to solving a glaring deficiency from last season and each of the past seven. He won't be satisfied until the backbreaking runs aren't so routine.
"You can't go back and do it," Cable said of the 76-yard run. "They don't give you runs over. The stats are what they are. We have (strong safety Tyvon Branch) in the hole on the long run, and we miss. That's it."
Still, the solid effort qualifies as a promising start, Cable and numerous players said.
"If you look at the rest of the day, it's really a pretty good day against that team and that particular back," Cable said, "But it's not good enough."
Stopping the run has been a huge issue in these parts since the 2002 season, when the Raiders defense finished No. 3 against the run at an average of 90.8 yards allowed per game.
The persistent problem plagued four head coaches before Cable, two defensive coordinators who preceded John Marshall and started with a defense that featured no starters from this season's team.
In the past seven seasons, the Raiders have allowed anywhere from 125.8 to 167.1 rushing yards per game and an average of 20.5 touchdowns per season.
Cable is determined to turn that perennial weakness into a strength. The Raiders traded for linebackers Quentin Groves and Kamerion Wimbley, signed run-stuffing defensive tackle John Henderson and drafted linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Lamarr Houston with an eye toward bolstering the run defense.
Grove said the Raiders have enough talent to succeed against the run consistently.
"We were just so keyed in and focused on, 'OK, we have to do this right, we have to do this right,' " Groves said of the Titans game. "We lost our edge and we were thinking instead of just playing fast."
The Raiders get another stern test when the St. Louis Rams and bruising back Steven Jackson come to town Sunday.
It's time for positive results from start to finish, Cable said. No more moral victories, what-ifs and taking away a run here and there from the overall total.
"This is the mode we have got to get out of around here," Cable said. "That's not good enough. We have got to stay to this level, to this vision that we have. A standard of play, if you will. And don't compromise it. Everyone wants us to, but you just can't."
The Raiders haven't finished higher than 22nd against the run the past seven seasons:
Year game Rank carry
2003 156.9 32nd 4.6
2004 125.8 22nd 3.7
2005 128.1 25th 4.0
2006 134.0 25th 4.0
2007 145.9 31st 4.8
2008 167.1 31st 4.7
2009 155.5 29th 4.5
2010 205.0 31st 5.3