By Sam McPherson
The 2013 Oakland Raiders have been so close to success, yet amongst the many issues keeping the team from achieving more, it’s the defense that probably carries the most weight in terms of holding the team back this season.
No one is saying the Raiders are a good team; they’re probably right where they should be with a 4-7 record. But Oakland has been so close to overachieving this season, considering its three losses by a total of 12 points, but the defense just hasn’t been able to step up enough to help the team win those close ones.
Consider the Raiders 23-19 loss last Sunday at home to the Tennessee Titans. On the opponent’s final drive that ended in a touchdown with just 10 seconds left on the clock, the Oakland defense let the Titans go 80 yards in 14 plays. This included three third-down conversions, the final one the go-ahead touchdown on third and 10 from the 10-yard line.
In fact, this was the third drive of the day Tennessee mounted that lasted at least 14 plays – in the first quarter, the Titans marched 59 yards in 14 plays before kicking a field goal, and in the third quarter, Tennessee shredded the Silver and Black defense for 75 yards on 16 plays before scoring on another field goal.
Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t that good.
While it was nice the Raiders held the Titans to field goals on the first two long drives noted above, the Oakland defense was on the field for a long time, so by the time it came to the moment of truth late in the game, they were out of gas and gave up the winning score.
And those third-down conversions? It was a game-long issue, as Tennessee converted 10 of 18 opportunities on third down Sunday.
The inability of the defense to get off the field, despite forcing many third-and-long situations, may have cost the Raiders the game — and their slim chances at the playoffs.
The defense suffered the same late-game fate a few weeks ago in New York, in a 24-20 loss. Oakland gave up a 13-play, 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter to Eli Manning, letting the Giants kick the game-winning field goal. In that game, the Raiders had been up 20-14 in the third quarter.
One defensive stop? And maybe Oakland wins that game.
And remember the first game of the year, in Indianapolis? The Raiders defense gave up an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to the Colts and Andrew Luck, to watch a 17-14 lead evaporate into a 21-17 loss.
Consider those three losses, all of which were vanished fourth-quarter leads on very long, sustained, scoring drives by the opponent.
With some more timely defense, Oakland could be 7-4 right now.
Overall, the defense is doing an average job this year: the Raiders are ranked 17th in the league in overall defense. But the memories of these failed defensive stands in the fourth quarter – not to mention the blowout losses to Denver, Kansas City and Philadelphia, where Oakland lost by a combined 62 points – definitely gives firm belief to the notion that the defense has cost the team a lot this season.
So if, by chance, Thursday’s Thanksgiving game against the Dallas Cowboys comes down to opposing quarterback Tony Romo trying to lead a late, fourth-quarter drive against the Raiders defense to take the lead and win, we know what past precedent has been for the Oakland organization in 2013.
(But then again, it will be Tony Romo, right?)
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.