Raiders will face Texans, high altitude
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Cornerback David Amerson has what he believes is the perfect remedy for the Raiders' defense to counter the high altitude in Mexico City.
Get off the field — quickly — so that Oakland's high-scoring offense can take over.
It's a plan the Raiders had great success with against defending Super Bowl champion Denver two weeks ago and something they hope to continue Monday night against the Houston Texans.
"We put a big emphasis on it and guys really take it on," Amerson said Thursday. "If we can go out there and get three-and-outs or turnovers, if we can just stay off the field and keep the ball in our offense's hands, we'll be good."
The Raiders forced three-and-outs on five of the Broncos' first six drives in Week 9, allowing them to build a comfortable early lead during a 30-20 win that gave Oakland sole possession of first place in the AFC West heading into its bye last week.
They'll try to match that against the Texans when the two teams play at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The altitude there is 7,382 feet — nearly 1,700 feet higher than Mile High Stadium in Denver.
That could be a pivotal factor against Houston, which is why Amerson feels it's even more important this week for Oakland's defense to limit its time on the field.
"If we can have that same mentality going into every game I feel like we would be even more of a force than we already are," Amerson said. "They've got some speedy guys on the outside so just staying locked in to it . playing fundamentally sound football, staying on top of guys and not giving up the big plays."
Equally key will be the Raiders' ability to slow down the Texans' fifth-ranked running game while at the same time trying to stop Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler's quick release.
"A lot of quarterbacks try to get rid of the ball quick," Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "Some hold it a little bit longer but the good ones don't hold it too long. Whenever you have those situations, guys are catching and running with the ball. So we have to be really good tacklers."
The Raiders could get a lift from the expected return of cornerback Sean Smith, who has been out since suffering a shoulder injury on the second play from scrimmage against Tampa Bay on Oct. 30. Smith has been limited in practice this week but the team is optimistic he will start against Houston.
DJ Hayden, who started at cornerback against Denver, will move back to the nickel corner if Smith does play.
With or without Smith, Amerson believes the Raiders have improved significantly on defense since the beginning of the season. Although Oakland is 28th in yards allowed and 30th in pass defense, he points to the team's success on third down as proof.
The Raiders are allowing opponents to convert 33.3 percent on third down, tied with Miami for lowest in the AFC and second overall behind Baltimore.
"With giving up all the points and yards early in the season, it really comes off a handful of plays," Amerson said. "I don't think that defines us as a defense so it's not surprising we can go out there, one of the top teams on third down. I feel like we should be one of the top teams on defense period. If we can just focus and eliminate ... all the little plays that go for 60, 70 yards ... we'll be up there with anybody in any category."