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Fossum: Del Rio & Raiders Must Vanquish 3rd & Long

Fossum: Del Rio & Raiders Must Vanquish 3rd & Long

Senior columnist and Editor Emeritus Jim Fossum takes a look at the Raiders defense and the key to holding opponents on third-and-long.

“Third and long” . . .

Rarely do such simple words evoke such disparate emotions on opposing sidelines than the desperate decree that it’s now or never if you truly covet possession of the football.

Nowhere is that more steadfast and significant than in the National Football League.

Maintaining command of the ability to score is perhaps the game’s most potent potion for success. Scour the box scores after Sunday’s slate of Week 2 games and you’ll invariably find the teams on top will be led by offenses that best avoid dastardly down-and-distance situations — and the defenses most capable of stopping them.

Each week, there’s a new test, a new type of approach, things that you have to game-plan for, but I thought it was a good start. We now have an opportunity to do a few things better, particularly in the third-down passing game, but the experience was just outstanding. – Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio

Look no further than last week’s 26-16 season-opening Raiders victory at Tennessee. Look again Sunday evening when it’s time to dissect the defenses and distinguish the differences in the decisiveness of the outcomes.

“You’re a lot more effective when you’re able to get off the field on those long third-down situations,” Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio, a former All-Pro linebacker who should know, said.

Raiders Jack Del Rio

Head coach Jack Del Rio of the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Thearon Henderson/Getty Images

The Titans converted three third downs of eight yards or more while taking their opening possession the distance for their only touchdown, but failed to convert another long third-down requirement while being outscored 19-9 the rest of the way.

While negotiating demanding third downs with improbable big-gainers is an offense’s obvious desire, it comes with a risk — mostly bad things can happen. That certainly could hold true Sunday when the turnover-minded Raiders try to start a season 2-0 for the first time in 15 years against the substandard Jets.

Led by former Oakland QB Josh McCown, new offensive coordinator John Morton’s undermanned squad will trade touches with an improved Raiders unit that tied for the NFL lead in turnover ratio a year ago, but is hungry for its first one this season.

Wide receivers coach in New Orleans for the past two seasons, Morton will arrive at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday with the understanding that the Raiders’ 12-4 record last season was largely compiled on their ability to win the takeaway battle. Oakland went 11-2 in games where it didn’t surrender possession of the ball as frequently as its opponent.

“Looking for turnovers certainly will be a key for us going forward,” Del Rio told his weekly Monday morning press gathering. “But I thought overall, the effort, the urgency, the attention to detail, was really strong.”

Behind solid line play at tackle and both ends, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s revitalized unit nullified Tennessee’s heralded front seven and stifled its cache of big-name offensive threats. Three-time Pro Bowler and former NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray ran 12 times for just 44 yards; fleet-footed QB Marcus Mariota managed 26 on three carries; and fellow Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry mustered 25 on six attempts.

“We kept the backs in check for the most part,” Del Rio said. “We knew that was a key coming into the game.”

Jets’ All-Pro receiving acquisition Jermaine Kearse will impose additional long-yardage coverage demands on safeties Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson, who led the Raiders with nine and eight tackles, respectively. Joseph, who had six solo stops, also deflected a Mariota pass in the end zone.

The defensive backfield, missing promising injured rookie safety Obi Melifonwu, enjoyed capable containment, in part, by rotating Sean Smith and TJ Carrie at right corner. Del Rio promised more of the same against the Jets.

“We’ll rotate where we think it’s smart to, and where we want to open up competition and let guys go for it,” he said.

Raiders Jets John Morton

Jets Offensive Coordinator John Mortion

Probably salivating, NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, who along with quarterback Derek Carr made his NFL debut three years ago against the Jets, will lead a speedy front that went back to the basics in holding the multi-faceted Titans to under 100 yards rushing and 350 yards total offense.

“We tackled well,” Del Rio said. “We spent a lot of time on fundamentals in camp. If you play good defense, you’re tackling, leveraging well. Those things occurred with high frequency.”

While 60 minutes against teams of decidedly different abilities is hardly a proper barometer of a team’s true standing, the Raiders finished opening week 19th in rushing, passing and total defense, but eighth in red zone and scoring defense. The early long-yardage lapses left Oakland tied for 23rd in third-down efficiency. The Jets, who lost 21-12 at Buffalo, are 23rd in third-down offense.

“Each week, there’s a new test, a new type of approach, things that you have to game-plan for, but I thought it was a good start,” Del Rio said. “We now have an opportunity to do a few things better, particularly in the third-down passing game, but the experience was just outstanding.”

“Third and long” is a situation Del Rio and the Raiders must vanquish.

Former longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal Sports Editor Jim Fossum brings nearly 40 years of award-winning experience covering virtually every facet of print and digital journalism to Las Vegas Raiders Report. Fossum is the site's senior columnist and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus. Recently retired, the 1980 Northern Arizona University graduate began his 25-year Review-Journal career in January 1981 as tennis, golf and football beat writer. He was lead writer for the annual Alan King/Caesars Palace Tennis Classic, featuring Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg; all three of Las Vegas’ major professional golf tour stops as a longtime member of the Golf Writers Association of America; and the celebrated “Randall Cunningham Era” of UNLV football. Also a copy editor and page designer who became R-J sports editor at age 33 shortly after covering UNLV in the 1991 Final Four, Fossum was named Nevada Sportswriter of the Year in 1998 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Winner of numerous writing awards from the Nevada Press Association, his reporting experience includes ringside coverage of several of boxing’s most anticipated world championship prize fights, including the highlight of his career -- the September 1981 world welterweight title bout between Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesars Palace. Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Larry Bird are among the many superstars he has interviewed, in addition to helping document the careers of Las Vegans Andre Agassi and Greg Maddux. Honored with numerous community service awards from local charitable organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the American Cancer Society, Fossum was cited in the late 1990s by the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame for his contributions to local athletics. A longtime member of the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), he helped oversee the organization’s annual West Regional Convention for several years at various Las Vegas Strip resorts. He helped recruit APSE’s national convention to the MGM Grand in 2006 after annually attending weeklong seminars at many of the country’s largest and most respected major dailies. In 2005, he was honored with Lake Havasu High School’s Distinguished Alumni Award and delivered his alma mater’s Class of 2006 commencement speech 30 years after graduating. Review-Journal sports editor for 16 years, Fossum retired to the Oregon Coast at age 48 in January 2006. Most recently, he was founder/publisher/editor of OregonCoastSports.com (previously SportsLincolnCounty.com), an independent website dedicated to area youth. He also worked at two weekly community newspapers (Newport News-Times and Lincoln City News Guard) as section editor, reporter, photographer and page designer.

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