The defensive line harassed the Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks and smothered their running backs, thus allowing the Oakland Raiders defense to hold America’s Team out of the end zone for the entire game en route to a 17-9 victory.
Rookie defensive end Lamarr Houston, who’s aggressiveness has been the talk of camp, and second year defensive end Matt Shaughnessy both sacked Cowboys quarterbacks twice. Chris Cooper and Trevor Scott joined the sack parade with one each, with Scott stripping the ball from Tony Romo on a third and long inside forcing the Cowboys to settle for a field goal.
Even more remarkable considering the Raiders recent past against the run is that the Cowboys were held to only 3 yards per carry. They ran the ball 22 times and were only able to get 66 total yards, with the Raiders defense stopping them for a loss three times. The longest single run the Raiders surrendered was a nine yarder.
The defensive line had been a position of need for the Raiders for a number of years, and in the past two years they have found ways to address it, as they have remade nearly the entire line in that time. The acquisition of undrafted rookie free agent Desmond Bryant, and drafting Matt Shaugnessy in 2009, as well as the trade for Richard Seymour immediately prior to the 09 season was the first part of the defensive line makeover. The drafting of Lamarr Houston in the second round and picking up John Henderson as a situational inside player seem to have further strengthened the unit..
Beyond the changes in personnel, the defensive line played with an intensity and ferocity that has been missing in the recent past. Even on plays where there wasn’t a sack, there was at least one defensive lineman in the backfield making life hard for the quarterback.
The conventional wisdom is to not get carried away by a performance in the preseason opener, however both of Houston’s sacks and Scott’s sack were against the Cowboy first team offensive line, in fact, they were on the opening drive. The first of Shaughnessy’s two sacks was in the second quarter.
More than the actual stats was the way that the guys along the line were continually winning their matchups and getting off the blocks to make the play. Veteran Tommy Kelly was not an obvious contributor, but with his move to playing more of a nose tackle, his job is to swallow up blockers so those around him can do their jobs. Those around him were able to do their jobs, and they did them well.
Lamarr Houston gave credit for the strong defensive line performance to coach Mile Waufle. Houston said that the coach had taught him the same things “(Michael) Strahan and (Osi) Umenyiora” learned.
It looks like the Raiders are finally turning the corner in their struggle to put together a defensive line that can take over a game. That is what they did on Thursday Night in Dallas. It gives them a foundation to build upon when they go back to Napa to continue preparing for the regular season.