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Gutierrez: Raiders vs. Bills -- Matchups to watch

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Gutierrez: Raiders vs. Bills -- Matchups to watch

Sept. 16, 2011

GUTIERREZ ARCHIVE
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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.com

ALAMEDA -- It has all the classic makings of a trap game for the Raiders -- short week after opening on Monday Night Football, on the road in Denver, a cross country trip to face an East Coast team on East Coast time, in their home opener, against a team that came into 2011 with little or no respect.

The Raiders might have been wise to simply travel to Buffalo after opening in Denver rather than come back home to Oakland to prepare for the jaunt.

But the Bills' 41-7 demolition of Kansas City in Kansas City eliminated one possible road bump for the Raiders -- overconfidence won't be an issue. Not when they got a look at the tape. A look, then, at some key matchups to watch Sunday morning:

Matchup to watch
Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) vs. Bills right tackle Erik Pears (79)

TALE OF THE TAPE
Houston: 6-3, 305, Texas, second season
Pears: 6-8, 314, Colorado State, sixth season

Following in the none-too-glorious footsteps of Raiders-linemen-turned-Bills-right tackle Langston Walker and Cornell Green, the versatile Pears has also seemingly found a home in Buffalo.

Now he finds a somewhat familiar face lining up across from him in Houston.

The two were brief teammates in Oakland in 2010, before Pears was released for good in late September, just as Houston was assuming his role on the defensive line.

Houston's relative lack of stats has belied his flashes of his ferocity as only one of his five sacks as a rookie came in the season's first five weeks. In this season's opener at Denver, Houston was credited with just two tackles. But he had a huge fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter when Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton simply dropped the ball at the Oakland 34-yard line.

On a fearsome front four with Matt Schaughnessy, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly , with John Henderson thrown in for good measure on certain packages, Houston is often the overlooked man.

RELATED: Boss, Seymour, Huff questionable for Raiders

But this weekend in Buffalo, Houston has a chance to shine. Against a guy in Pears who, in 2009, appeared in 12 games for the Raiders and started four, two each at left guard and right tackle.

It's also a chance for Pears to show the Raiders they gave up on him too soon, as they cut him for good on Sept. 26, 2010 and he wandered from Jacksonville to Buffalo.

The battle between Houston and Pears will be renewed in front of Buffalo right-handed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a passer rating of 133.0 with four touchdown passes in the Bills' opener. Houston needs to force pressure on Fitzpatrick's front side to keep him from getting too comfortable.

Other matchups worth watching:
Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20) vs. Bills inside linebacker Shawne Merriman (56) -- A pair of players on seemingly totally different career trajectories. McFadden, who flirted dangerously with bustdom his first two seasons, followed up his breakout 2010 season by rushing for 150 yards at Denver on Monday. Merriman, one of the brightest stars in the NFL galaxy with 39 12 sacks his first three seasons before injuries and rumors of steroid use dogged him, was credited with one tackle in his Bills debut last week.

Still, Merriman has had some of the biggest games of his career against the Raiders, as evidenced by eight career sacks coming against Oakland. And at 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, the former San DIego standout is still a physical presence, but is he still athletic enough to bird-dog the ultra-quick 6-2, 210-pound McFadden coming out of the backfield? Keep an eye on a sore shoulder suffered by McFadden in the opener.

"We've got to get this man blocked," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said of Merriman.

Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (26) vs. Bills receiver Steve Johnson (13) -- Johnson is probably best known for his epic Blame God Tweet last November, when he wrote, "I PRAISE YOU 247!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO" in the wake of his dropping a sure touchdown pass in the end zone that would have given the Bills an overtime victory against Pittsburgh. But the former seventh-round draft pick who had 1,073 receiving yards and 10 TDs last season is quickly being recognized for his game-breaking pass-catching skills, even if he is bereft of world-class speed. And the speedy 6-1, 195-pound Routt, who looked more than comfortable as the Raiders' No. 1 cornerback with Nnamdi Asomugha gone, should recognize. Even as the 6-2, 210-pound Johnson, a product of Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, has been slowed with a groin injury.

"With this team we just saw on film," Johnson said of the Raiders defense, "we saw a lot of height and depth at the position (cornerback). Of course they got the speed. They have guys who run 4.3 and 4.2's and what not. I think it will be a competitive matchup. I think it will be fun and entertaining, actually. We're going to make it entertaining."

Will a Gruden-Lynch partnership work? ‘Guys like him interest me’

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AP

Will a Gruden-Lynch partnership work? ‘Guys like him interest me’

Jon Gruden asked to speak with Marshawn Lynch several times but got turned down.

His job title earned an automatic veto. The enigmatic running back doesn’t talk to the press, even a Monday Night Football analyst with Gruden’s street cred. No production meetings, no insight flowing outside the inner circle.

Lynch must honor the next request. Gruden’s his boss, after all.

“I’m anxious to sit down with Marshawn and meet him,” the new Raiders head coach said Tuesday during his introductory press conference. “We’ll talk about his future and the Raiders. I can’t wait. He came back to the Raiders for similar, I think, reasons that I did. I think he loves Oakland. I think he loves the Raiders and guys like him interest me, so I’m looking forward to talking to him.”

The veteran running back and Oakland native has a year left on a two-year deal struck last April. The 2018 payouts, per overthecap.com, include a $4 million base salary, a $250,000 workout bonus, a $1 million roster bonus and $750,000 in per-game roster bonuses. There are also significant performance-based incentives.

Marshawn is under contract, but also has some say in this matter. He could post an image of cleats hanging on a telephone wire like he did after the 2016 Super Bowl and call it a career. Lynch made it clear in a rare press conference that he didn’t miss football. He returned for the opportunity to play in front of a East Bay community he champions and bring attention to his significant charitable efforts.

There are several possible outcomes from the Gruden/Lynch tete-a-tete. Gruden might not consider him worth the while. Lynch may walk away, for good this time. Or, the two could traverse 2018 together.

Predicting Marshawn’s movements is a fool’s errand. We can, however, make an educated pros and cons list. Let’s take a look at some factors influencing the ultimate outcome.

PROS

-- The phrase in Gruden’s last sentence above may have tipped his hand: “Guys like him interest me.” Lynch is an intense presence, one of his generation’s most physical runners. Gruden can use on-field talents like him, though it’s uncertain whether he’s a perfect fit in an offense that has certainly evolved during nine years in the broadcast booth.

Also, Gruden loves Oakland. Lynch loves Oakland. That may be a good starting point.

-- Marshawn still has it. The 31-year old was the Raiders’ most productive skill player in 2017’s second half. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the last season games, totaling 625 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also had at least 92 yards total offense in five of those contests. When he’s motivated and healthy – he didn’t miss a single practice with injury – Lynch can be a force on the ground

-- Gruden reportedly hired Tom Cable as offensive line coach a few days back. That’s probably a plus from Lynch’s perspective. Cable was Seattle offensive line coach, and heavily involved in the running game, during Lynch’s best seasons. He ran a system that fit Lynch well, though Gruden said schemes will be based around team strengths. Lynch and Cable reportedly get along well, and could be a major reason why Lynch finds it appetizing to return.

-- Lynch carried locker room clout. Last year’s coaching staff didn’t love him, but player certainly did.

CONS

-- Lynch comes with some baggage. He’s an eccentric sort who does his own thing, at times without regard for small rules. That may rub Gruden and staff the wrong way. It certainly bothered Del Rio’s crew, especially when he seemed to have his own set of rules.

The Raiders tolerated Lynch’s choice to sit during the national anthem all year, despite being vocal against such actions the year before. He also had a production crew following him around quite often, especially in camp.

He got suspended for sticking up for the other team in Week 7, protecting great friend, Oakland native and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters in an on-field altercation. He then practiced with his old high school during the suspension.

Gruden may not love the prospect of dealing with extra weight, depending on how strict he plans to be during this coaching tenure.

-- Lynch turns 32 in April. While Lynch might be an exception, running backs often fall off a production cliff in their early 30s. Can the Raiders get good value from Lynch at that age, knowing full well another running back might be added to the roster?

-- Lynch may simply not be into another year in Oakland. He enjoyed taking 2016 off, travelling the world and increasing charitable and business endeavors. Is his drive still strong?

Report: Former Raiders head coach returning to join Gruden's staff

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AP

Report: Former Raiders head coach returning to join Gruden's staff

Jon Gruden isn’t the only Raiders head coach returning to the Silver and Black.

Tom Cable’s on the way, albeit in a lesser role. Gruden already has the top job. Cable’s coming back, NFL Network reported Saturday afternoon, as offensive line coach.

He occupied that role in Oakland from 2007 until he assumed the head coach role when Lane Kiffin was fired five games into the 2008 season. The interim tag was lifted in 2009, and he coached the Raiders to an 8-8 record in 2010.

He followed that feat with the now famous quote, “We’re not losers anymore.” The Raiders had seven straight losing seasons before finishing .500 in what would be Cable’s last season with the club. He was 17-27 in two-plus seasons as Raiders head coach.

He went to Seattle after that, and spent seven seasons as Seahawks assistant head coach in charge of the offensive line. He also worked extensively with Marshawn Lynch during the rusher’s salad days in Seattle.

Cable returning to the Raiders seemed highly unlikely after late owner Al Davis detailed Cable’s misgivings in a post-firing press conference. Cable was allegedly involved in a 2009 incident where then Raiders assistant Randy Hanson was left with a broken jaw. ESPN also aired a report where three women accused Cable of domestic violence. One of Cable’s accusers sued Cable and named the Raiders as a co-defendant. Davis docked Cable’s pay in relation to that litigation.

Cable is a respected position coach, though the Seahawks offensive line has fallen on hard times. He and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were fired after a disappointing season where the Seahawks missed the postseason.

Offensive line coach was a top priority as Gruden built a staff. Cable is known for using a zone blocking scheme, though it remains uncertain what he’ll use in Oakland with a powerful, expensive offensive front locked in place save the right tackle spot.