THE RAIDERS REBOUNDED from one of their worst-ever losses with one of their least-expected wins Sunday, using a wholly unanticipated methodology.
"I don't know if you guys noticed it," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha helpfully informed reporters after the Raiders' 13-9 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at the Oakland Coliseum. "We were in the (Cover-)2 (defense), double coverage, blitzing with it, every snap."
It was impossible not to notice. Defensive coordinator John Marshall's game plan consisted of three parts blitzing and two parts more blitzing. The Raiders swarmed Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb from multiple angles all day, sacking him six times. The Eagles, who came into the game eighth in the
NFL in total offense and second in scoring, were held to 283 yards and three field goals.
The Raiders achieved all that, and their second win of the season, with a look they hadn't shown all season. Maybe for several seasons. Maybe for several decades. Team owner Al Davis isn't much for fancy-pants blitzes or zones, being a staunch believer in man-on-man battles in which your guy outplays the other guy.
Or not, depending.
"They're known for playing man coverage," McNabb said. "They dropped back in a lot of zone, more zone than we've seen in the early games. They came up with more of a blitz package today. They were able to get pressure."
With the tactical change came an attitudinal transformation. The Raiders played with unbridled aggression on both sides of the ball. It's something we've seen only intermittently from them the past six years, and not since their season-opening loss to San Diego.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who threw only 13 passes in the ghastly 44-7 loss to the Giants that was referenced several times in Sunday's postgame locker room, was turned loose for 28 throws against the Eagles. His signature moment was a short toss to tight end Zach Miller that turned into an 86-yard touchdown thanks to Miller's dogged — if decidedly subsonic — running, and receiver Louis Murphy's superb downfield blocking.
Running back Justin Fargas, who had 23 carries in the Raiders' first five games, ran 23 times Sunday in that inspiring kill-me-if-you-can manner of his, gaining 87 yards. He, Michael Bush and Gary Russell (five catches, 55 yards) defused almost every blitz the Eagles dished out.
But the real show was on defense, and it started early. Defensive end Trevor Scott sacked McNabb to snuff the Eagles' first two drives.
"In the (pregame) team meeting in the locker room," Scott said, "Coach Cable said, 'I don't care about the outcome (of the game). Just go out there and punch them in the mouth.' We talked all week about starting fast. Eventually, they laid down."
We'll attribute that last bit of bravado to adrenaline intoxication. But it's true enough that the Raiders played with an attitude that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the defensive strategy.
"It was fun," linebacker Kirk Morrison said. "Guys were in the right spot. I'm not going to lie, we messed up some blitzes today. But guys were relentless."
Defensive lineman Richard Seymour wasn't able to tell how often the team was sending extra pass rushers, since he starts every play at the line of scrimmage staring at a wall of muscle. But he was as relentless as anyone, recording two sacks for 13 yards. He might have had a third, but he tripped over the blocker he had just flattened as he was lining up McNabb for the kill.
"It wasn't even about the Giants," he said, invoking another reference about That Game. "It was about our level of play."
Which brings up another point. If the game plan fed into the Raiders' latent assertiveness, it also meshed with their residual frustrations after consecutive losses of 20, 23 and 37 points.
"I think that makes the statement that we have good enough players, we have a good enough scheme," Cable said. "It's a matter of whether we go out and fight to win. Today we fought to win. That's what you take from it."
You also take a question: Will the Marshall Plan live to see another week?
"He said that he might get yelled at for it," Asomugha said, "but he'll keep it going."
We'll see about that. Sometimes the Raiders' most spirited confrontations occur before they ever reach the playing field.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.