ALAMEDA -- Having talked about stopping the run for the better part of the last decade, the Raiders are doing something about it.
Perennial bottom-feeders in terms of rushing defense, the Raiders are currently ranked 11th in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (102.1) and ninth in yards allowed per carry (3.9).
That's rarefied air for a team that gave up a whopping 5.1 yards per carry -- the most in the league -- and were ranked 27th against the run at 136.1 yards allowed per game last season.
Since finishing third in rushing defense in their AFC title season of 2002, the Raiders have finished no better than 22nd in the last nine seasons. They've been 29th twice, 31st twice and 32nd once.
After giving up 263 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to Miami in Week 2, those used to watching the Raiders struggle against the run braced for more of the same.
Instead, with the exception of giving up 165 rushing yards and a lot of second-half yardage in Denver, the Raiders have done an about-face.
"In the Dolphins game, we didn't have great run defense, and we had an attitude about it," linebacker Philip Wheeler said. "We don't want nothing like that to happen again."
Over the last three games, they gave up 67 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry against Atlanta, Jacksonville and Kansas City.
A skeptic would point to extenuating circumstances in the last two games, as Jacksonville lost running back Maurice
The Raiders, hoping to even their record at 4-4 against Tampa Bay on Sunday, can go along way toward proving their improved run defense is no fluke against a Buccaneers team led by rookie running back Doug Martin, the 11th-ranked rusher in the NFL with 543 yards on 129 carries.
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said by conference call that the heart of the Raiders defense is "they've got those two defensive tackles, (Tommy) Kelly and (Richard) Seymour. I think the front is a huge challenge."
Yet the Raiders have mostly the same faces up front they had a year ago, with dramatically different results. The defenses run by Chuck Bresnahan (2003 and 2011), Rob Ryan (2004-08) and John Marshall (2009-10) adhered to an Al Davis philosophy of basic four-man fronts and exerting physical superiority in winning one-on-one matchups.
Under coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver, the Raiders still use a 4-3 base defense, using a 3-4 as an infrequent changeup. They blitz more frequently and stress communication, with each player understanding his own assignment, as well as those around him.
"We have a new scheme and I think it took us a few weeks to get to where we could run it really effectively," defensive tackle Desmond Bryant said. "The first four weeks of the season plus the bye week, we were kind of able to figure out what we're doing, how we're doing it and how to do it better."
A key has been getting players to understand when it was OK to leave an assigned gap or area and pursue the ball, allowing for fewer rushing lanes and multiple tacklers.
"It's guys being accountable and being where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there," Allen said. "Run defense is where it all starts if you want to play a physical brand of football."
The ripple effect of stopping the run over the past three games has seen an improved pass rush (five sacks in the last two games and good pressure with no sacks against Atlanta), a 7-for-37 rate on the opponent's third-down conversion because of better down-and-distance and more three-and-outs.
During one stretch spanning two games, the Raiders forced 15 three-and-out possessions in 23 series.
"You can still be a playmaker, but you've got to play within the parameters of the defense," Wheeler said.