It all started with a 93-yard touchdown run by quarterback Terrelle Pryor on the first play from scrimmage—the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history. While Pryor continues to steal the headlines, it's Oakland's defense that deserves the credit for the team's progress in 2013.
In the last four games, Oakland's defense has allowed no more than 18 points with an average of 17.3 per game. That's elite-level play from a defense with 10 new defensive starters, including eight mid-level free agents playing key roles and a couple of rookies.
The Raiders' defense was one of the worst in the league last year, but what they have been able to do is borderline miraculous considering the circumstances. With the exception of allowing 37 points to the Denver Broncos in Denver in Week 3, Oakland's defense has kept games close—even though the offense has been struggling.
"I thought our defense was outstanding," head coach Dennis Allen said after the game via the team's official website. "They did a great job; they made a lot of plays."
Pryor has been exciting to watch, but there is no doubt Oakland's defense has carried the team. In the last four games, Oakland's defense has scored seven points. It's safe to say the defense more responsible for the team's three victories than the offense, considering the offense has averaged just 18 points per game on the season.
As the Raiders defense goes, so does the team.
One of the things Oakland's defense has been able to do is keep opponents out of the end zone. In the last four weeks, Raiders opponents are just 8-of-16 in red-zone efficiency. Four of those scores have come in the fourth quarter with the Raiders in control of the game.
In the fourth quarter against the Steelers, the Raiders offense turned the ball over right after the defense had intercepted Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers got the ball needing only 11 yards to score and were able to get a touchdown, but in many ways that score is on the offense.
|Raiders Performing In Key Moments|
|Statistic||Last 4 Games||vs. Steelers|
|Red Zone Efficiency Allowed||50%||50%|
|Third Down Efficiency Allowed||30.4%||26.7%|
|Points Per Game Allowed||17.3||18|
In the last four games, Oakland's defense has also held opponents to just a 30.6 percent conversion rate on third down. The highest in any of those four games was 36 percent by the San Diego Chargers in a game the Raiders won easily.
When it matters most, on third down and in the red zone, Oakland's defense has been great over the past four games.
There isn't a single defensive starter for the Raiders who has played poorly. Tracy Porter, Charles Woodson, Kevin Burnett and Mike Jenkins have all made impact plays. Vance Walker, Pat Sims, Jason Hunter and Nick Roach have been solid veterans.
The play of Oakland's two rookie starters has also been notable. Cornerback D.J. Hayden seems to be getting better and better each week and linebacker Sio Moore is coming on strong. Moore had two sacks Sunday against the Steelers and has a total of three in the past two games.
Hayden was a ghost for the majority of the game against the Steelers, which usually indicates that the cornerback is doing his job quite well. Hayden has rounded out a secondary that has been a big part of the defense's performance.
"I think our secondary has really allowed us to do some different things," Allen said. "(Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver) has been able to implement a few more things we want to try do defensively, where we can be a little bit more aggressive."
You might say the Raiders are doing more with less talent defensively than any team in the league. The Raiders might not have a lot of big-name players on their defense, but they are getting the job done and then some.
"We probably wouldn't do very good in Hollywood," Allen said about the defensive additions. "I knew they were football players and they've done a great job for us so far."
As long as the defense continues to play well, the Raiders are going to be a tough team to beat. The Raiders might not win many awards or a ton of games, but their defense deserves a ton of credit for the team's success this season.