The Raiders defense is beaten up and worn down. Head coach Dennis Allen used the last phrase in reference to one unit, but it appropriately characterizes the entire team.
That’s why he’s eased off the throttle this week. Allen has relaxed parts of a regimented practice schedule in order to have his team as fresh as possible heading into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s week 14, and there has been a lot of banging around,” defensive end Lamarr Houston said. “That’s just how this game goes. As a coach, he’s doing a great job of pulling back on the reins and letting us rest up a little bit before the next fight.”
The starting lineup has taken a ton of snaps this season, especially as injury whittles this thin squad closer to a breaking point. That’s taken a physical toll, but there’s a mental strain stemming from so many close contests lost.
“Sometimes it’s not just a physical thing, it’s also a mental thing because when you grind that hard to try to dig yourself out of a hole, it takes its toll,” Allen said. “We’ve done some things this week to try to freshen them up. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that and we’ll be able to go out and fly around on Sunday.”
That’s the first admission that all the losing, all the close contests and worn on this proud group. The defense especially stood tall through most of the season and kept the Raiders competitive. Then, after losing a late lead to Tennessee when a win would’ve put them in line (temporarily, at least) for the AFC’s No. 6 seed.
That lost ate at the defense more than most. Since then, the unit’s shown signs of mental and physical wear. The defense lost control in the second half of a loss to Dallas and never had it Sunday, giving up 37 points to a disjointed New York Jets offense.
So many of their recent woes are uncharacteristic – missed tackles, missed assignments and far less quarterback pressure -- and could be part of a let down from a season that slipped away.
There are telltale signs of slippage, even in practice.
“It’s just watching them communicate,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “Even if your body is a little bit tired, if you’re saying the right things and you put your hips down at the snap of the play and you play for those four or five seconds and you talk to each other, then you feel pretty good (about a unit).”
There’s been more talking and less activity this week. That, in Tarver’s mind, is what the Raiders need to fix first. If they can rest as much as possible, but stay active and engaged over the final three games, they might be able to steal a win or two.
“Coach did some things in the practice schedule this week to alleviate some of the moving around on their legs,” Tarver said. “So, with that, even when we’re doing things maybe not full speed, you’ve got to talk to each other. And that’s the biggest thing about professional sports, sometimes you go into these (ruts) and sometimes that communication level wavers as you go through them. We need to make sure we do that because that’s one of our strengths. It’s the communication, whether or not you’re going through practice that will bring them back.”