ALAMEDA — Any surprise regarding how the Raiders defense played in their season-opening win against the Tennessee Titans came from outside the team’s headquarters near the Oakland airport.
The Raiders simply saw it as business as usual and not a big deal at all.
That might be a hard sell coming from a defense that has finished in the lower third of the NFL rankings for much of the past decade.
Yet in almost every facet, Oakland showed signs of improvement against a Tennessee team many pegged as playoff contenders before the season.
Shocked? Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. wasn’t.
“Oh my goodness, there was no surprise,” Norton said Thursday. “A lot of things are involved in playing your best football. The way the young players have grown, the way the older players are leading and making their plays, there’s no surprise at all. We expect to play well and to play solid football.”
Heading into the season it was widely assumed that Oakland’s offense would be one of the best in the NFL. The only question was whether the defense could hold up its end of the bargain.
Against the Titans, the answer was a yes.
The Raiders allowed a touchdown on Tennessee’s opening drive, but held the Titans out of the end zone after that. Three of Tennessee’s final six drives ended in punts. The other three were field-goal attempts, one of which missed.
That helped alleviate pressure off the Raiders’ offense, which took off in the second half after a slow start.
“I thought overall the effort, the urgency, the attention to detail was really strong,” coach Jack Del Rio said.
“We certainly knew we were going to start out with a good opponent, that knew how to run it well, had good backs, good lineman, good design, all that. It was a good test.”
Some of it was good fortune.
The Raiders started two rookies — middle linebacker Marquel Lee and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. Oakland also rotated Sean Smith and TJ Carrie at right cornerback, with Carrie starting before moving to the nickel slot midway through the first half.
Smith’s status for Sunday’s home opener against the New York Jets is uncertain. The veteran cornerback was limited in practice earlier in the week with a neck issue and was held out Thursday.
In spite of that, Norton said the results were promising.
“We were very encouraged by how hard we were playing, about the way we were scrapping, clawing, competing to get the ball,” Norton said. “With that setting the tone, we knew that we were ready to go.”
Even with that, Norton cautioned his players not to get too caught up in the hype.
“This one game doesn’t make a reputation or a season,” Norton said.
“I think it’s important to have the consistency. I want to see how they respond. It was important for the young players to see what NFL ball is like. Now they have a great idea of what it’s like. We have a standard we want to set and I feel like our direction is going in the right way.”