Watching the films of the NFL Championship game, the Oakland Raiders must have been encouraged by the sight of Bart Starr being tackled for losses eight times by the Dallas pass rush. Rushing the passer is Oakland's specialty. While winning their first AFL Championship this season, the Raiders trapped opposing quarterbacks behind the line a phenomenal 69 times in 14 games. If the Raiders have any chance at all of beating the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl—and hardly anyone east of General Partner Al Davis' desk thinks they do—it must rest with the pass rush. By putting extreme pressure on Starr and forcing him to make mistakes, the Raiders could get into position for George Blanda, the AFL's top scorer, to kick enough field goals to win.
The Oakland front four—Ike Lassiter, Dan Birdwell, Tom Keating and Ben Davidson—is a tough, well-coordinated unit that likes to play stunts with odd charges. Defensive Line Coach Tom Dahms, who was once on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys, rates his foursome among the best in either league. Of the group, the quickest is Keating. At 247 pounds he is not a big defensive tackle, but he is as big as Alex Karras of Detroit, for example, and he is extremely aggressive on the field. Keating is the one most likely to cause trouble for Starr, but the one most noticeable from the stands probably will be Davidson, a good pass rusher who drew quite a bit of attention to himself this year by the charge he put on against Joe Namath.
The Raiders are not noted as a blitzing team. Their linebackers are fast and adept at pass coverage, and their secondary is the stickiest in the AFL at man-for-man defense. Lance Alworth of San Diego says, "Running a pass route against them is like trying to claw through a thicket." That kind of field behind them gives the front four an extra second or two for the rush. However, it will be no surprise this Sunday if the Raiders use more blitzes than usual against Starr. By blitzing, the Raiders would expose themselves to sudden disaster, but it is not reasonable to expect them to stop the Green Bay offense consistently, and some expeditious gambling could pay off. As proud as Oakland is of its secondary, the fact remains that in one game this season Alworth caught 10 passes for 213 yards, and in another Don Maynard of the Jets caught 12 for 180.
In the championship game against Houston, the AFL's leading rushing team, the Raiders held the Oilers to 38 yards on the ground. They must play at least that well against the Packers, and many of the Raiders think they will. "King Kong and 10 gorillas couldn't have beaten us today," Lassiter said after Oakland smashed Houston 40-7. "We'll play better against the Packers. I've watched them. We can beat them."
Those are brave words, delivered predictably by a member of the Raiders' brave defense. If Lassiter and Davidson, Keating and Birdwell can grab a few fumbles and force some interceptions, Oakand's bravado could end as bravura.
Ben Davidson and Dan Birdwell, half of Oakland's big front four, reflect team's confidence.