Published October 11, 2012
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Oakland cornerback Michael Huff hasn't had much time to rest since changing positions to help the Raiders' injury-ravaged secondary.
He's not likely to get a break this week either.
After trying to knock down passes thrown by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Denver's Peyton Manning in successive weeks, Huff and the Raiders return from the bye with the task of trying to slow down what has been one of the NFL's most prolific passing attacks through the first month of the season.
"I definitely got thrown into the fire," Huff said Thursday. "But I'm still expected to go out there and make plays."
Oakland's pass defense has struggled just defending one good receiver this season, let alone an explosive tandem like Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan also has the second-highest passer rating in the NFL and has already thrown for 1,507 yards and 13 touchdowns.
That trio, along with tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Bennett, has helped the unbeaten Falcons surge to the top of the NFC.
"Matt Ryan is definitely a top five quarterback the way he's playing right now," Huff said. "They've got a great offense. We have to make our fair share of plays, get turnovers and get the ball back to our offense. That's really the only way to slow them down."
The Raiders are again relying on a patchwork lineup in their secondary.
Huff was moved from free safety after injuries sidelined starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer and the backups struggled to pick up the slack. Pat Lee, Oakland's other starting cornerback, had started only one game in three previous seasons before replacing Bartell in Week 2.
Both have had their share of problems in coverage, something they'll have to improve significantly going against the pass-happy Falcons.
Gonzalez leads the NFL with 39 catches while White and Jones have combined for 57 receptions, 794 yards and seven touchdowns.
"You've got to pick your poison at times," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "They're very explosive on the outside with their receivers. Obviously, Tony still works the middle of the field extremely well. Then if you play for the pass too much, they've still got a good running game."
Oakland is seventh in the NFL against the pass but the Raiders are one of only two teams without an interception. Detroit is the other.
Allen, the team's first defensive-minded head coach since John Madden was hired by late owner Al Davis in 1969, and his staff have stressed to players the need to create more turnovers.
"What we've done schematically is try to put our guys in the best position to be successful," Allen said. "We can't get discouraged and we've got to continue to compete all the way until the end. We were able to do that one game this year. We'll see what we're able to do this week."
Slowing the Falcons down might be a little tougher this week if defensive tackle Tommy Kelly isn't available.
Kelly injured his foot in practice earlier this week and was held out of Thursday's workout. The injury isn't serious and Kelly is expected to return to practice Friday and play against the Falcons this weekend.
"I fully anticipate that he'll practice tomorrow and be OK to play," Allen said. "We'll evaluate that tomorrow and see where we're at. He seems to think he's going to be all right."
The Raiders are still uncertain whether veteran defensive end Andre Carter will be activated for the game. Carter signed with the team on Sept. 26 and has since been trying to get up to speed with the rest of the defense.
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