Al Davis used to hate teams like the 2002 Raiders. The Oakland boss once walked into an offensive meeting just in time to hear his coach say, "We're going to take what they give us."
Davis interrupted the session. "Don't ever let me hear you say that again," he said. "We don't take what they give us. We make them take what we give them."
What Davis gave them in the old days was Raider Football. The deep strike, the thrust into the heart. Cliff Branch, Warren Wells, remember them? Wells never averaged less than 21.5 yards a catch in each of his four years with Oakland, and one year the number was 26.8. The Raiders softened up the enemy with power running—big, hard-smacking bangers like Clemon Daniels, Mark Van Eeghen and Hewritt (Hewie the Freight) Dixon, a one-man train wreck. On defense Oakland collapsed the pocket, crumbling the quarterback under unbearable pressure that was backed up by corners tough enough to play bump-and-run.
Now the Raiders' passing game is diddly-dink, their running game is becoming a memory. When the mood seizes them, Oakland defenders will go after the passer with extreme pressure. They did that to the Chargers' Drew Brees on Sunday, but not until they had been awakened by a 79-yard drive that opened the second half and gave San Diego a two-touchdown lead. Worst of all, on that drive the Raiders played a soft zone and didn't blitz. The old Davis would not have liked what he saw on Sunday.
O.K., the all-throw, no-run approach did get Oakland back into the game and forced the overtime, but the Raiders still lost their second straight. People are saying that they ran up their 4-0 record against softies and that teams that smash them in the mouth will beat them. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown are crafty guys, but the only speed in the wideout corps belongs to Jerry Porter, which is why Oakland is in a three-wide set most of the time. Defenses can sit on Rice and Brown and defy Rich Gannon to go deep.
Which brings us to Kansas City on Sunday. The Chiefs have a potent offense (an NFL-high 239 points scored). So does every team that faces their defense (a league-high 230 points allowed). In its last two games K.C. blew 10- and 14-point fourth-quarter leads. The Chiefs' problems run deeper than Oakland's. The Raiders win it, but their defense had better be ready.
?There's no logical reason to pick Seattle over Dallas as my upset special. I mean, what better time for Emmitt Smith to get the yards he needs to pass Walter Payton than at home against the NFL's worst rushing defense? But I get a feeling that the Seahawks will rise to the challenge and turn in one of their best outings of the season.
?The Jets have figured out a way to get their much maligned linebackers making plays again. Their young quarterback, Chad Pennington, is piling up lots of yards. So let's give the Jets their second win in a row, over the Browns.
?After that slugfest against the Bucs, the Eagles are due for a letdown, but it won't happen on Monday night against a division rival that always plays them tough. Philly will beat the Giants. New England has had two weeks to patch the leaky ship. I'll go with the hunch and give the Patriots the win over Denver. The Bears will take a close one at Minnesota. The Steelers like to play in Baltimore. They've won their last five there. This will be number 6.
? Tampa Bay faces Carolina in a battle of ailing quarterbacks. The Bucs take a low-scoring affair. The Colts haven't won in Washington since 1967; they were flying the Baltimore banner in those days, and this was a neighborhood showdown. Everything has changed, of course, but I still like the Redskins at home.