MEXICO CITY – The Raiders cornerback David Amerson didn’t practice all week, but ran just well enough to be considered “doubtful” for Sunday’s game against New England.
Translation: Outlook for Sunday is not good, but Jack Del Rio’s fingers remained crossed real, real tight. The Raiders hope there’s a way he can be active against Tom Brady’s buzz saw attack, because their cover men are beat up.
Amerson has missed two straight with a foot injury, and has dealt with injury all year. Gareon Conley’s season officially ended Monday, when he was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Antonio Hamilton and Demetrius McCray were already there.
Reggie McKenzie hasn’t reached out for reinforcements. That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to play cornerback. Carrie’s been the rock, a sure tackler who hasn’t made spectacular plays but doesn’t give them up. McDonald has been forced into action, with holes let in his game.
Smith should be the No. 1 guy in this group, the steadying presence on the outside. That hasn’t been the case this year, where he lost a starting job in training camp and sub-package snaps during the season, only to have injuries to Conley and Amerson bring him in the fray.
He’s also been dealing with felony assault and battery charges in Los Angeles stemming from a July 4 incident in Pasadena.
Smith has been a lightning rod for fan criticism, a byproduct of his $9.5 million salary this year and explosive plays allowed early in the year.
If there’s an anvil weighing on his mind, teammates insist you’d never know.
“We’re human at the end of the day,” Amerson said. “You feel it, but you have to find a way to remain even keel and professional and do your job well.”
Smith will be counted on heavily Sunday against New England, especially if Amerson can’t play as expected. He has proven vulnerable to speed without help and proper disruption at the line of scrimmage, though that hasn’t been an issue lately because the Utah alum has recovered well after a rough start.
He got pulled after struggling against Vernon Davis in Washington. He didn’t play against the Chargers after giving up two huge plays to Baltimore the week before.
Amerson originally sprained his foot in Week 7 against Kansas City – he hasn’t played since – and Smith was called upon to respond. He wasn’t targeted in that game, and has been strong in coverage ever since.
Smith has allowed three catches for 12 yards in four targets over the last two games. The ninth-year veteran insists he wasn’t doing anything markedly different, and had zero interest in patting himself on the back for recent jobs well done.
“I’m not,” Smith said. “I’m out there doing my job, man, the best way I can.”
Smith says the off-field distractions during a roller-coaster season, one of his career’s most trying yet, haven’t impacted him much
“Nope. Not at all,” Smith said. “As long as I wake up a Raider, I’m all right. I’ll deal with whatever happens. I’ll always be there for my guys, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team win.”
Raiders defensive backs laud Smith’s locker room presence, saying he’s an excellent teammate. Cornerbacks in general must have a short memory when things go bad, to refocus and prevent that from happening again. Smith apparently has that in spades.
“I know how things go, especially when you have a target on your back,” Amerson said. “Sometimes you get hit with the perfect pass and you give up some plays. You can’t do anything about that but take advantage of the next opportunity. Sean’s a good player, and he definitely has that mindset.”
Smith will lend experience to this big game, something the Raiders need after suffering so many injuries.
"It sucks that so many of us have gone down,” Smith said. "You want to have all your guys out there, but that’s the NFL. Injuries happen. As long as everybody comes to work and acts like a pro, we’ll be all right. We all have a job to do. We all would like to start, but you have to be ready when your number’s called.”
Rinse and repeat. After shocking the Portland Trail Blazers Friday evening at Golden 1 Center, the Sacramento Kings hopped on a plane where they’ll face the same team on the second night of a home-and-home back-to-back.
Dave Joerger shook up his lineup on Friday, installing De’Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Kings responded with their best defensive effort of the season. Cauley-Stein went off for 22 points and 10 rebounds with the second unit and his defensive effort was next level.
The Blazers have become a two-man wrecking crew. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum score the bulk of the team’s points on a nightly basis, but coach Terry Stotts is still searching someone who is ready to step up and help. Jusuf Nurkic is part of the puzzle, but the Blazers need more consistency from the other 12 players on the roster.
Blazers by 12
MATCHUP TO WATCH:
De’Aaron Fox vs. Damian Lillard -- Fox put on a defensive show against Portland at Golden 1 Center. The rookie came into the league with high-end potential as a two-way player and he showed it against Lillard, holding the All-Star point guard to 29 points, but on 9-of-25 shooting. Lillard loves to hoist up shots. If Fox can't provide the same pressure, the Kings will struggle to keep up with the Blazers.
WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 4-11, fifth place in Pacific
Trail Blazers: 8-7, third place in Northwest
Kings: SG Buddy Hield (sprained ankle) out, F Vince Carter (kidney stones) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January.
Trail Blazers: F Al Farouq Aminu (ankle) out, G C.J. Wilcox (knee) out, PG Wade Baldwin (thumb) out.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
CONSISTENCY -- You can’t show flashes of brilliance and then take a step back. The Kings defensive effort and overall intensity won the game on Friday night. It’s a place to build from.
FINDING A ROLE -- Joerger shook up everything when he turned to Fox and Labissiere. Offensively, both players struggled, as did Bogdanovic off the bench. This group of young players needs to find a role and figure out a way to help the team, even when the shots aren’t falling.
GET DEFENSIVE -- Portland didn’t know what hit them Friday evening, but they’ll have a few hours to make adjustments. Sacramento’s bigs showed on every high screen and roll. The guard and wing play was aggressive and spot on. The Kings are young and energetic. If they can focus that energy on the defensive end night in and night out, they might have a chance to build something.
Sacramento leads the season series 1-0 after Friday night’s win. The Blazers lead the all-time series 129-78 and they own the Kings during the Sacramento-era 88-47.
"Whether you think the sky is falling or not, we are 3-3 in our last 6 games." - Dave Joerger