Oakland Raiders: Lamar Houston

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- We already know that Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is not afraid to let referees know how he feels in the heat of a game. But really, how does he feel about what his defense has accomplished through seven games of his second season in Oakland?

Despite 10 new starters on defense, and the lone returner, defensive end Lamarr Houston, having switched from the left side to the right, Oakland has the No. 10-ranked defense at the midway point of the season.

[+] EnlargeJason Tarver
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsDespite a good deal of turnover, Jason Tarver has the Raiders' defense playing well.
But as the Raiders prepare to host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Tarver, with his college degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, refuses to take credit for his formula, so to speak.

“There are no perfect calls; there’s only perfect execution,” Tarver said Thursday. “That’s how we approach it. ‘Hey, look, do your job. Do your job and do it with that kind of passion and if you’re not doing it with passion, you’re going to hear about it.’

“But there’s very few of our guys that are that way, and that’s where we’re very thankful for Reggie and Dennis for who they’ve brought into our room, and they keep bringing in our room. Because these guys want to be great.”

Indeed, it’s a team effort, from general manager Reggie McKenzie to coach Dennis Allen on down through the defensive coordinator, the position coaches and the players.

Fourteen different players are responsible for the Raiders’ 21 sacks – they had 25 sacks all of last season – with Houston leading the way with four. And five players have combined for five interceptions, from safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young to cornerbacks Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter and first-round pick D.J. Hayden.

“Charles Woodson is a cat that’s been around for a long time and can still make plays,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher. “And Houston, he’s a guy who can make plays and who stands out. And also, the way they structure their blitzes, they look good. They’re a fast group and a lot of credit to that defense.

“I’ll tell you what -- it seems like they all have a big motor. They know who they are. They all work hard for the ball. They’re a big athletic group, they play well together. It’s going to be a tough game. They play extremely well against the run. I’m curious to see what happens.”

The Eagles have the fifth-best total offense, and are second in rushing, averaging 150.4 yards on the ground despite being a spread-attack offense. The Raiders have the sixth-best defense against the run, allowing just 89.9 yards per game.

“You have to be able to get lined up and you have to be able to attack the line of scrimmage,” Allen said. “You have to get 11 hats around the ball. That’ll be critical again because this guy [McCoy] is a good back and he can make a guy miss in space. So we have to try to limit the space that we have to make tackles in, and then we have to get multiple guys to the ball to make sure we get this guy down.”

And that assignment comes down to the Raiders’ mad scientist of a defensive coordinator. Tarver is relishing the challenge.

“We’re turning bad [defense] into good,” he said. “Now, if you slow down this running game, you’re turning good into great. When we go in there, we’re looking for ways to do it, but most of it is the execution of whatever calls you put them in quickly against this team to do what we need to do.

“Greatness is not one thing. It sure as heck doesn’t have to do with me. I don’t cross that white line. I don’t play, but our job is just to put them in position to make plays. The more that you do it together, the more plays you make.”

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