Lester Hayes, L.A.'s left cornerback, has been a natural at it. Right cornerback was a problem, but when Davis obtained Haynes last November, the problem was solved. The Raiders could go back to bump-and-run. No team completed 50% of its passes against L.A. in the playoffs, and L.A. did a remarkable job of shutting down Joe Theismann and his wide-out attack in the Super Bowl.
The companion to the bump-and-run is pressure on the quarterback. "The Raiders proved that you can win in this era with great cornerbacks and a pass rush," says one NFL coach. The right defensive end is the Raiders' sacking end, as he is on most teams. But not every team goes to the same pains to find pass rushers—and develop them—as the Raiders do. It started with Ben Davidson, who'd been a skinny 6'8" hurdler in college. Davidson washed out of three NFL camps, but Davis got hold of him and did a psychological reclamation project, turning the timid youngster into a raging terror. Davis has brought in older vets to man the position—Pat Toomay, Cedrick Hardman and, the most successful of all, Lyle Alzado—and he has gone with rookies. He's had power rushers like Davidson and speed rushers like Toomay, Dave Browning and the current sack specialist, Greg Townsend. But pass rushers have always been there. Davis has to have them.
The Raiders don't blitz much. Their rush comes mostly from the down linemen ("I got 12 of my 13 sacks last year off a three-man line," Long says). L.A. shoots for mismatches, trying to get the strongest defensive lineman on the weakest blocker. Occasionally, the Raiders will concentrate their whole game plan on an opposing offensive lineman, as they did with Cincinnati's inexperienced center, Dave Rimington, early last year, giving him an ungodly assortment of shifts and stunts to worry about.
They're Al's babies, those defensive linemen, and they're handled very carefully. "They'll try to save your legs," Alzado says. "Leggett is very conscious of that. He doesn't want you standing around when it's 40 below zero, like some clubs."
"They're especially easy on middle guards," Long says. "They know a middle guard's legs only have two full practices in them a week. They're teachers here, too. When I came here I didn't know anything. I didn't even know what the formations meant. Now I can pick them apart, piece by piece, and put them together again."
Most of the Raiders' blitzing is done by the strong safety, Mike Davis, a 205-pound former high hurdler who was drafted to pressure quarterbacks. "Jet Rip Blue Slash," Long says. "That's our safety blitz. In the Super Bowl, Mike came in clean on it twice in a row...he had a clean shot on Theismann. Just give me one shot like that and Theismann won't be doing Igloo cooler commercials anymore. He'd be doing spots for a nursing home."
The phrase in football that Davis finds most annoying is: "We've got to control the ball and keep our defense off the field."
"I heard one of our coaches say it in a meeting once, a new coach," Davis says. "I was on my way to the parking lot. I came back in and told him, 'Look, the idea is to outscore 'em,' and all the coaches started laughing. Tom Flores said, 'I just told him that.' "
Everyone knows that the Raider offensive trademark is length. Patterns stretch longer, quarterbacks hold the ball longer, linemen hold their blocks longer. It's the big strike, concept, a throwback to Davis's early years on Sid Gillman's Charger staff.
"Attack, fear, pressure," Davis says. "Don't take what they give you. You're going deep and they're not going to stop you by design or location. They have to do it on the field. Screw it. You say you can stop us. Prove it."