OAKLAND, CALIF. — Cornerback Charles Woodson has read the newspapers and heard the buzz: The Oakland Raiders need better defense to win in the playoffs.
"There are a lot of people talking about how we have the weakest defense of the teams that are left," he said. "But I think we have a pretty good defense. We've gotten the job done this far."
Woodson and the Raiders (12-4) play the Miami Dolphins (12-5) today in Oakland for the chance to go to the AFC title game.
The Raiders' potent offense has overshadowed any problems with the defense, ranked 17th in the league. But Oakland has been surprisingly good at causing turnovers, recovering 16 fumbles and catching 21 interceptions.
Veteran cornerback Eric Allen has six interceptions, running three of them back for touchdowns to break a franchise record. William Thomas also has six interceptions, the most for an NFL linebacker this season. Woodson has four.
They will face the league's 26th-ranked offense, led by Jay Fiedler.
Fiedler, a Dartmouth product who is the first Ivy League quarterback to start in the playoffs since 1970, struggled early in Miami's first-round 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, throwing three interceptions.
He recovered with 14-of-20 completions for 143 yards and a touchdown in the second half and overtime.
Such comebacks are characteristic for the Dolphins, who have trailed at halftime for their past four games.
"That's definitely a cause for concern. We function better when we're up, but anybody does," receiver Oronde Gadsden said. "If we keep turnovers to a minimum, we'll be fine."
Running back Lamar Smith ran the ball 40 times for 209 yards against Indianapolis.
He has 13 touchdowns in Miami's past 10 games, and poses the greatest threat for the Raiders.
Despite the Dolphins' obvious offensive weaknesses, Oakland coach Jon Gruden is well aware of the importance of defense.
"I do believe defenses do win championships," he said. "And this is the time of year where that phrase comes into reality."
The most fireworks in the game will likely come when the Raiders' offense knocks into Miami's defense, ranked sixth in the league.
Trace Armstrong topped the AFC with 161/2 sacks, followed by teammate Jason Taylor with 141/2. And Miami led the league with 28 interceptions.
"I think Taylor and Armstrong are the most prolific sack duo in the history of the game. That's the word I have," Gruden said. "We've got to do an excellent job running patterns, being physical, being precise in the passing game. That's the only way to go up against Miami."
The Raiders finished the season with just 20 turnovers, the fewest in the AFC. "We have a good balanced offensive attack. We'll have a good scheme and we're going to try and go after them," said quarterback Rich Gannon.