Khalil Mack, defense step up for Raiders in second half to beat Titans

NASHVILLE -- The offense was what the Oakland Raiders expected -- efficient, potent, successful. For the most part.

The defense?

It was nothing like we expected. At least, not in the second half.

The Raiders' defense, the 26th-ranked unit in the NFL last season, was efficient. It was potent. It was successful.

In the second half. In closing time.

That enabled the Raiders to walk out of Nissan Stadium with a 26-16 season-opening victory over the favored Tennessee Titans after stiffening up, following a malleable and at times miserable first half for the defense.

“I mean, we’re growing, man, we’re growing,” said defensive end Khalil Mack, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year who had three tackles, including two for a loss, and a pass defensed.

“There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to improve on, especially opening the game. But we made the adjustments, coach [Ken] Norton put us in the right positions and … everybody was working on the same page and we were able to get some stops throughout the game.”

Consider: After allowing Tennessee to convert five of its first sixth third-down opportunities before halftime, the Raiders opened the second half by forcing a pair of punts, including a three-and-out.

And after the Titans got to the Raiders' 7-yard line in the third quarter, rookie linebacker Nicholas Morrow (a Division III prospect) made a huge play, stuffing a leaping DeMarco Murray for a 1-yard loss on third-and-2. The Titans had to settle for a field goal.

It was one of only two scores the Raiders' defense allowed after halftime (the other was a 52-yard field goal with 4:49 to play).

"We were better on third downs," said coach Jack Del Rio. "We were good in the red zone. They have got a physical offensive line, some really good backs and we didn't let them loose. It was a good effort. They do a lot of different motions and shifts and things you have got to be ready for. It was good to see all that preparation come through."

Much had been made about Oakland not addressing the middle of the defense with a veteran presence this offseason -- fifth-round rookie Marquel Lee started at middle linebacker, though second-year weakside linebacker Cory James wore the green dot "communications" helmet.

Some even took the Raiders to task for not getting help for Mack.

But Mario Edwards Jr. got the first sack of the season for Oakland, and Mack had a sack taken away after Bruce Irvin jumped offside, one play before Irvin slammed Delanie Walker for a 15-yard penalty.

"Mario got that [guy], man, excited for him," Mack said. "We wanted to get to him more but you've got to be careful going after a guy like [Marcus] Mariota; he can hurt you down the stretch. Give him those gaps, you've got to contain him."

True, the defense made things interesting late -- Tennessee still finished with 350 yards of total offense and 7-14 in third-down efficiency but in three red-zone trips, the Titans only had one TD -- but in bending but not breaking, it allowed the Raiders to close this one out.

And really, after an offseason filled with questions, that’s all the Raiders could ask for in the season opener.