Offensive coordinator Al Saunders
Q: [Tony] Sparano said that his defense is playing more recklessly or just more abandoned. They've got the scheme down better the last month or so and they're able to kind of cut it loose. Have you noticed that when you look at them?
Coach Saunders: Yeah, I know they're playing well. As you guys know, they've only given up two touchdowns in the last four games and two to Dallas, one which started on the five-yard line. They've been very, very impressive on defense. They play well up front, they're well coordinated, their front seven is outstanding, and I think they're secondary is playing better and better and better. They're young guys, but they're the group that's probably playing more aggressively in creating some turnovers and doing some things that give you problems because they play with such spirit, with such intensity back there.
Q: How hard is it to go up against a team like this that might be playing a little bit differently along the lines of the previous question? They might think, 'Okay, we got the eight losses and we're probably out of it' and they might do things that they weren't doing at the beginning of the year. More gambling, blitzes, different coverages…
Coach Saunders: I don't think necessarily as a player or coach you think that way. This is a game. You only have 16 regular season games a year and they're all really important to you as a player or coach and these guys are playing real hard. If you look at the film and you had to say, 'Match the record with the team,' you would never think this team is a 3-8 team – not from a defensive perspective. This is a very, very, very sound defense and they play very well. I don't know if their record has created a kind of perception of them doing more. I think they're just finding themselves as a young defense and they're playing better, and they're playing very, very hard and they're playing very physical.
Q: The running game last week number-wise didn't have the real big numbers, but I think the way that Michael [Bush] runs where the first half he's only getting two or three yards a pop, but those eventually take their toll and they start becoming four to eight, six to eight yards. Does the way he runs make it easier to stick with the running game overall?
Coach Saunders: I don't know if it makes it easier. It's the style of running Michael has and our football team. Our football team enjoys running the football and we're a physical football team up front. We've gotten better and better and better as the year goes and Michael is a downhill runner. We're fortunate to have his ability to be a marquee ball carrier with a significant amount of runs during the game. Usually, those kinds of guys get stronger as the game guys on and the offensive line gets a better feel for that kind of a runner as the game goes on. So, he's allowed us to kind of be more consistent in the running game. Maybe we haven't had as many big plays, but we've been more consistent running the football on early downs.
Q: I talked to some of the guys after the game; they were saying, 'Look, you can see in the defenders eyes in the second half, they don't want to get hit by him.' Can you see that on tape maybe where the safeties or some of the linebackers are coming up harder?
Coach Saunders: It's harder to tackle a 250-pound man in the open field than it is a lighter man and it does take a toll on you. I think Michael gets stronger as the game goes on and our offensive line enjoys blocking for him because he's a physical football player and I think it does take a toll on a defense.
Q: Al, how pleased have you been with the offensive line and the cohesiveness over the season as they've started off under Jason and gone to Carson? It just seems like they're coming together more and more as a unit…
Coach Saunders: Yeah, they've been really a bright spot of the entire offense and they've done a terrific job. We've had guys hurt, another one has jumped in there and played. They've adapted very well to everything we do every week. When coming into the season, one of the things we said we had to do is be more consistent on the offensive line both in pass protection and in the run game, and certainly the pass protection – gosh, after six or seven games, we were the number one team in the National Football League in terms of fewest number of sacks and the running game has progressed proportionally every single weeks in terms of what we can do and how we do it. So, they've been a real strong, strong staple of what we've done offensively and we're extremely pleased with their progress.
Q: What do you get more out of with the Dolphins? Do you get more out of watching the 11 games they've played this year or the one against you from last year, or is it a combination?
Coach Saunders: Well, it's a combination. Last year, it was a difficult game. They came in here and the Raiders rushed for a total of 16 yards, 1.3 average and 13 of those yards was on a Jacoby Ford run. So, it was a tough game last year both in the passing game and in the running game and we have a lot of respect for how they played and what they did and it's essentially the same defensive unit from a personnel standpoint. A few changes, but they've got the same people, so you look at that. We went back and looked at the Cincinnati game against them last year and how they worked against Carson last year and then we looked at every single game they played this year. So, it's a combination of information from everything that they've done that we anticipate we may see and then we develop a game plan accordingly.
Q: How important has the versatility of your players been the last few weeks with all the injuries? Was it by design that you built-in acquiring players with this kind of versatility like a Marcel Reece or Stefen Wisniewski to play multiple positions?
Coach Saunders: Well, I think when Coach Davis drafted and signed the players that are on this offensive football team, he had it in mind a vision of what the Raiders should be and Hue [Jackson] has put that together as an entire football team, offensively and defensively. Versatility just happens to be the number one quality Coach Davis always looks for with speed and the ability to be versatile in what you do. His career had been making Todd Christenson-type people fullbacks to tight ends, put offensive players defensive players, taking a wide receiver from USC this year and making David [Ausberry] a tight end from a wide receiver position. So, part of the versatility is by design. If they can't play one position, then maybe they can play another position, but if they have the skill, the speed and the football acumen to play the game as a good football staff, you find places for them to play and things that they can do. So, it's been a blessing to have those kinds of players here. It's by design that they were brought here by the administration and it's by design as a football staff, you try to utilize them at positions where they can do the most productive usage for us and for the team.