ALAMEDA After the Raiders set NFL records in 2011 for penalties and penalty yards, rookie coach Dennis Allen made it a 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 (Mo.) 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 clearly isn't the same franchise it was when late owner Al Davis called the shots.
Allen brushed off Hali's comments. Defensive back Michael Huff and fullback Marcel Reece laughed.
"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 and nine in Sunday's win over Jacksonville. They totaled 19 through the first four games.
Reducing penalties has been a 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 once for roughing the quarterback. That's a significant reduction from 2011, when Oakland had 10 calls for unnecessary roughness, five for roughing the quarterback and four for unsportsmanlike conduct.
So is this a kinder, 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 those dubious categories.
"It's a tradition," Hali told the Kansas City (Mo.) Star. "The Raiders, they come in, they cheap shot, they hit you. I'm not saying names. We've got to be ready to play and keep our composure, stay poised."
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.
"He's entitled to his opinion," Allen said flatly.