After the Oakland Raiders set NFL records in 2011 for penalties and penalty yards, rookie coach Dennis Allen made it a top priority to field a more disciplined team.
Until recently, the plan seemed to be working.
That’s why several Oakland players were caught off guard by comments made this week by Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, who told a Kansas City newspaper the Raiders are a ”dirty” team whose players ”cheap shot” opponents, and said it was a tradition in the games between the AFC West rivals.
A few years ago that might have elicited a more profound reaction from the Raiders, but this is clearly not the same franchise it was when late owner Al Davis was calling the shots.
”If somebody’s talking about you, you’re doing something right,” Reece said Thursday. ”We play hard, we don’t play dirty. Obviously divisional opponents are going to feel it a little more because it’s a rivalry.”
Hali’s comments came on the heels of Oakland’s two most penalized games of the season. The Raiders had 12 penalties in a loss to Atlanta on Oct. 14, then picked up nine more in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville. They had 19 total through the first four weeks.
Reducing penalties has been a primary concern for almost every Raiders coach. Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie talked extensively about the need to be more disciplined.
Before the recent backslide, Oakland had been just that despite a rough start in the standings.
The Raiders (2-4) have 40 penalties but only three have been for unnecessary roughness and they’ve been whistled only once for roughing the quarterback. That’s a significant reduction from 2011 when Oakland had 10 unnecessary roughness calls, five roughing the quarterback penalties and four flags for unsportsmanlike conduct.
So is this a kindler, gentler Raiders team?
”I wouldn’t go that far,” Huff said. ”I don’t think we’re dirty. I just think we play physical, aggressive football, like it’s supposed to be played.”
Oakland set single-season NFL records for penalties (163) and penalty yards (1,358) in 2011 and historically is among the league leaders in that dubious category.
Hali, whose Chiefs host the Raiders on Sunday, doesn’t believe much has changed even though Oakland has made sweeping changes in just about every corner of the franchise.
”It’s a tradition,” Hali told The Kansas City Star. ”The Raiders, they come in, they cheap shot, they hit you. I’m not saying names. It is what it is. We’ve got to be ready to play and keep our composure, stayed poised and be able to get this win.
”They are coming in and they’re a good team and a fast team and they play dirty. We’ve got to come out swinging. We’ve got to be ready for that. You can let these guys come in and if they do it and you let them do it, they’re going to enjoy themselves doing it and they’ll run over you.”
Allen didn’t seem too bothered by the comments. The Raiders are trying to win consecutive games for the first time this season and have enough issues on both sides of the ball for Allen to get caught in a war of words.
”He’s entitled to his opinion,” Allen said flatly.
The Chiefs (1-5) have more penalties (43) than the Raiders, though only two have been for unnecessary roughness, and Reece sounded surprised Hali would even broach the topic.
”I could expect it from some other people, but from him I was real surprised because he plays hard, he’s a tough guy,” Reece said. ”To each his own.”
NOTES: DT Desmond Bryant missed practice with a sore elbow but the Raiders are hopeful he will be able to play Sunday. … Oakland lists 17 players on the injury report but none are considered serious.