Raiders

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

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USATSI

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

ALAMEDA – Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has a good feel for Tom Brady. He faced New England’s legendary quarterback three times as Seattle’s linebackers coach, with some positive results. The Seahawks won two regular-season games and lost the Super Bowl at the last second.

He knows what worked then, and believes that should help prepare the Raiders defense for what’s coming Sunday in Mexico City.

“I played Brady a couple years ago in the Super Bowl with Seattle. We played very well against him,” Norton said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve had some success against him so I have a good feel for what can be done and what cannot be done. It’s just a matter of having the right emphasis and the ability to make the plays.

“Having a guy like (Brady) on the team who’s capable at any point of throwing a deep ball, capable at any point of getting it to the right players at the right time. He understands who is around him. He understands how to get the ball to the guys. He’s got a long resume of doing it well.”

Having success against Brady, however, is a relative term. He still produced against a loaded Seattle defense far better than this year’s Raiders unit. He will produce again Sunday, even if most goes right. Limitation, however, if key.

Norton believes certain things are essential when facing a Patriots team. Sure tackling. Impacting the quarterback.

The first is vital, something the Raiders have done well save a Week 9 win over Miami. The Raiders have to limit explosives and keep the ball in front of them, especially with the way Brady likes to play.

“The Patriots do a really good job of underneath coverage,” Norton said. “They have guys that catch and run really well. The backs, the tight ends, the matchups underneath, they catch and make people miss. They try to match up with your linebackers and safeties. They feel like their guys are pretty good. Tackling is something we’ve been really outstanding with all year but this last game against Miami we didn’t do so well and it kind of stands out, especially when it’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.

“I really feel like our emphasis and what we do well matches up well with that they try to do.”

There are some problem spots. One is limiting deep shots, something Brady has unleashed with startling efficiency. He’s 19-for47 for 410 yards and four touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards, with speedsters Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett able to haul them in. The Raiders have proven vulnerable to track-star receivers. 

Impacting Brady is mandatory, but also difficult given his excellent pocket presence. He’s especially good at feeling pressure off the edge, where reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack typically lines up opposite Bruce Irvin.

Brady has proven vulnerable to interior pressure, which is why Mario Edwards Jr. will be an X-factor on passing downs. He has four sacks this season and needs to break free in the backfield to force difficult decisions or, at the very lest, disrupt New England’s timing.

Brady gets rid of the ball fast at times. Raiders rushers can’t get frustrated by that, especially Mack.

“If the quarterback is going to throw the ball in less than two seconds, it’s going to be tough to get there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “So when the quarterback is throwing the ball quick like that, we’ve got to tackle and have their punt team come out. They’ll get tired of punting or turning the ball over and they’ll sit and hold the ball a little bit and Khalil can get there. If they’re throwing the ball in two seconds or less, it’s going to be hard to get sacks.”

The Raiders only have 13 sacks this season, second worst in the NFL. Getting a few could swing a tight game. Norton’s Raiders believe they have a solid plan to mitigate somewhat the Patriots ferocious attack, that features versatile tight ends allowing them to do different things from one personnel package.

Don’t expect a shutout, or anything close. The Raiders understand that, but believe they can mitigate some damage.

“If you go back to the New England Patriots five, six, eight years ago they’re doing similar things,” Norton said. “They do what they do really well. They’re a fine-tuned machine. Everybody knows exactly what their role is. Guys know exactly what’s expected of them. Obviously the quarterback is the heart and soul and the one that makes that train run. Really, really good players that really understand what their role is and play well against leverage, run after catch, tough and they make plays.”

Inconsistency paints the picture of Raiders' underperforming offense

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AP

Inconsistency paints the picture of Raiders' underperforming offense

ALAMEDA – Johnny Holton has made dynamic plays this season. The second-year Raiders receiver has three touchdowns in nine catches, and averages 24.2 yards per reception. His straight-line speed’s tough to match, which is why he has three catches of 40-plus yards.

Holton’s still developing. Therefore, good comes with some bad. He has lost two fumbles in as many games, with four drops and two passes headed his way that were intercepted.

“I think it all kind of is a great example of how our season’s been as an offense,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said after Thursday’s practice. “We have flashes of really good production and executing well and then flashes or spurts where we’re not exactly executing the way we want.

“Johnny’s kind of a microcosm of that and so, I would say to him and have said to him and to the team, the message that we preach is let’s look for consistency and let’s look for doing the little things right. And then the big things happen.”

Downing’s analogy works. Inconsistency has plagued a talented offense playing below potential, with just enough flashes to drive players, fans and coaches crazy. Productive victories over the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs provide stark contrast to a new normal, where the Raiders struggle to score or produce.

The Raiders have scored 17 points or less seven times in 13 games. They’re 22nd in scoring and 19th in total offense heading into Sunday night’s home game against Dallas.

That’s a drastic drop after last year’s production, a fact that’s been dissected extensively during a disappointing season thus far. We won’t go over them all here. Everyone, from quarterback to coordinator to skill players to the line, shares some of the blame.

Ultimately, it comes down to the inconsistency Downing discussed earlier. The Raiders have three games left to get it right, and even that might be unworthy of a postseason birth.

“We know how to throw the ball. We know how to catch it. We know how to run the ball. We know how to block,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Now we just have to do those things better and more consistent. It always comes down to fundamentals of footwork and all those kinds of timing kind of things.”

“…Sometimes we go out there and it’s great. Then sometimes we go out there and it’s crap. That’s on us as players. We have to execute better.”

Carr says little details cause big problems. Problem is, it isn’t something you can circle with a red pen. It isn’t one thing that takes one permanent fix. The mistakes are coming from everywhere, and they’re coming often. That’s why so many Raiders have said they’re close to solid execution so many times this season.

That must drive detail-oriented offensive captains Carr and Rodney Hudson nuts. The entire offensive depth chart, remains committed to the process, hoping a talented roster will realize potential before the season’s out.

“There are a lot of things in life that look good on paper,” tight end Lee Smith said on this week’s Raiders Insider Podcast. “If you don’t put it together in the right way and form itself, it doesn’t matter what the pieces are if the puzzle doesn’t come together.

“We have to keep working as a football family from the top all the way down. We have three more football games to win. We plan on winning all of them. There are three good teams left on the schedule, and it’s excited to see what we’re made of now that we’re back into a corner a little bit.”

The Raiders receivers are backed into a corner, with Amari Cooper likely out a week at least with an ankle sprain. That'll put Holton back in the heavy rotation, meaning he'll have to avoid mistakes to keep the offense going. 

"Johnny is a hard worker and a guy that I know is excited to get back on that field Sunday and have an opportunity to make some plays for us and help us win this ball game," Downing said. "We’re looking forward to that.”

Blame game: Carr opens up after taking criticism for Raiders' rough season

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AP

Blame game: Carr opens up after taking criticism for Raiders' rough season

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr has been criticized more this season than any other time in his professional career. That includes his rookie year, when youth and a lackluster supporting cast excused tentative tendencies and poor yards per attempt. Can’t knock Carr’s hustle from 2015 or last year, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate.

Those seasons set the bar sky high. July’s $125 million contract extension put it over the moon, and Carr has limboed under.

Carr hasn’t been bad, but hasn't been as good this season. That’s tough to argue. Neither have those around him, but they’re drawing far less ire. Why? Quarterbacks and head coaches (and coordinators) take the Ls.

Carr seems fine with that, comfortable as a human shield when times get tough. He tried to set up a force field after Sunday’s 26-15 loss to the Kansas City, which put the Raiders near playoff extinction.

His message: blame me.

Carr has done that before, several times in fact. It rang hollow through the fan base this time, despite a plea uncharacteristically twinged with anger and frustration.

"I think we’re all pretty upset. If you’re not, then you’re obviously not putting enough into it," Carr said. "If you’re wanting to point a finger or those kind of things, I don’t think that that’s right either. If you’re upset with yourself and you’re upset that you didn’t win the game...I still stand by how I felt, man. I was hot, to be honest. I put way too much effort into this to go out there and not play my best." 

Fans don’t want apologies. They want to see anger lead to action. And improvement.

That hasn’t happened much during a disappointing 6-7 season falling well below expectations, despite best efforts. The mob wants answers or blood or both. Same might be said of ownership.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing’s job is in jeopardy. Head coach Jack Del Rio’s feeling some heat, though that might be a year too early at best, unless things completely unravel down the stretch.

Carr makes a lot more than those two. He isn’t getting fired either way. The guy is a franchise quarterback. He is, however, taking flak. Common criticial refrains include a penchant for check downs and getting unnecessarily flustered in the pocket. Add deep passes to that. He's completing fewer, and was 0-for-7 on passes of 20 yards or more against Kansas City.

“Things come out when it’s not going right,” Carr said. “I think I completed more deep balls last year, throwing it times I shouldn’t have thrown it. Throwing it up, and we all high-five and clap about those things. Again, when you lose, people just have a different way of spinning things.”

Carr is immensely talented, with football smarts and leadership skills. Sometimes good quarterbacks have hiccup years before getting back to normal. He’s 26 years old, with several prime years ahead. Expect him to be a good quarterback for a long, long time.

He could use some help, but Carr isn’t one to chuck others under the bus. He generally leads with positive reinforcement, even when fans hope he’ll channel Rich Gannon.

He looks inward, knowing he must play better to get this team going right.

This is an average team if Carr is anything less that excellent. That may well have been the case last year, when seven fourth-quarter comebacks sparked an incredible 12-4 run to the playoffs.

He hasn’t been as dominant this season, and the Raiders hover around .500. No shocker, there. That fact, combined with lofty expectations, has created some hostility toward the Raiders and their typically popular quarterback.

Carr is still looking to lead the Raiders toward better days this season, even with three games left and unlikely playoff prospects. His key during dark times, doesn’t include a rah-rah speech.

“You don’t really have to say much, True character reveals itself when times are hard or it doesn’t go your way or you think something else should have happened,” Carr said. “Pointing fingers and all those things…again, true character reveals itself. That kind of stuff has a way of working itself out. When you have guys in the locker room coming together saying, ‘What if we did this? Would that be better?’ That’s how we fix things. That’s problem solving. If guys want to be part of the problem, that kind of stuff, that just airs itself out. You don’t need to ask. That stuff will just come out.”

Del Rio hopes the offense will “let it rip,” play fast and a bit cavalier down the stretch. That’s fine with Carr, someone with a Brett Favre streak. It hasn’t been out consistently this season, but Carr promises to go big down the stretch.

“That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Carr said. “We’re only promised three more and I can assure you I’m going to go out there and let it rip man, because that’s what the head coach wants. That’s what he’s asking us to do. So, I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have.”