Raiders-Bears: Matchups to watch


Raiders-Bears: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders seemingly have Chicago right where they want them.The Bears are breaking in a new quarterback in Caleb Hanie. The Raiders are returning home to their sixth straight sellout crowd to play before the Black Hole for the first time since Nov. 6. Oakland's relatively new quarterback, Carson Palmer, has feasted upon the Bears in his career, going 2-0 in two starts in completing 36 of 47 for 402 yards with eight touchdowns, no interceptions and a 141.1 rating.Sounds like everything's lining up perfectly for Oakland, right? Well...The banged-up and first-place Raiders (6-4) control their fate in the AFC West; the Bears (7-3) are in second place in the NFC North, but are leading that conference's Wild Card race.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon from the Coliseum:Raiders punter Shane Lechler (9) vs. Bears punt returner Devin Hester (23).
TALE OF THE TAPELechler: 6-2, 225, Texas A&M, 12th seasonHester: 5-11, 190, Miami, sixth seasonNow, we've already gone over how the last time Hester was in town, in 2007, the Raiders challenged Hester by having Lechler punt the ball right at him. And how the gamble paid off in that Hester returned six of nine punts for a total of 14 yards, even if the Bears won that day.And we mentioned how while so many of the younger Raiders, specifically Mike Mitchell, want to go after Hester again, Lechler has misgivings about that philosophy this time around. After all, Hester has now returned an NFL-record 12 punts for touchdowns.And with the Bears starting a new quarterback in Caleb Hanie because Jay Cutler is out with a broken thumb, Lechler does not want to give Hester a chance to energize and jumpstart the Bears with big returns.So what makes Hester so special?"He's got top-notch vision," Lechler said. "He sees cuts way down the field. He sets up blocks very well, probably one of the better guys that sets up blocks across the league. He's just a guy that we want to try to neutralize and not let him hit the home run against us."I'm going to try to at least make him run sideways early, and we'll go from there."Hester missed two practices this week with a shin injury but is expected to play. He is averaging a career-best 21.2 yards per punt return this season and has already returned two for scores. The Raiders, meanwhile, are allowing 14.5 yards per punt return, fifth-worst in the NFL.Bears coach Lovie Smith said it would be a defeatist attitude for a coach to tell a team to not kick it to Hester because it's essentially telling a punt coverage team it's not good enough."So, I assume a lot of teams have kicked it to him and I think they'll continue to do that, because he's just an NFL player, like everybody else," Smith said. "And believe me, we love it every time that they do decide to do that."Other matchups worth watching: Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer (68) vs. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) -- Fresh off his shutout of what was then the NFL's leading sackmeister in Minnesota's Jared Alled, things get no easier for Veldheer.At 6-feet-7, 287 pounds, Peppers has 95 career sacks since entering the NFL out of North Carolina in 2002, which ranks fourth in the league in that time frame, and he is currently leading the Bears with six sacks this season.In 2008 for Carolina, Peppers had three sacks and forced a pair of fumbles against the Raiders. In two career games against Oakland, Peppers has five sacks."A real physical rusher, looking to not just go around the guy but go through the guy, go inside the guy, go outside," Veldheer said of Peppers. "So he's got a versatile array of moves. You've got to be real disciplined within the technique of the sets. It's going to be great challenge Sunday."It's rare to see that combination of size and speed."The 6-8, 315-pound Veldheer has given up just two sacks this season, a year after giving up 7 12 as a rookie, and has been flagged a mere six times, after being called for 15 penalties last year. And he just had to gain confidence from his showing against Allen in Minnesota, right?"I think it's an every-game type thing," Veldheer said. "Not just last game, but the games before. We played some good edge rushers. Every one of those games, when you see something different and you're able to meet the challenge, that just kind of keeps everything building. Not just from an individual's standpoint but from a line's standpoint."As long as we keep growing, keep getting better, we do feel a sense of accomplishment. We carry that into the next game and we fuel off of it. We don't get satisfied with it, but we yearn to build off of it, so to speak."Raiders offense vs. Fourth Quarter Blues -- The Raiders have not scored a fourth-quarter touchdown since Jason Campbell hit Chaz Schilens with an 18-yard pass 10 seconds into that final stanza at Houston on Oct. 9.They have not scored a single point in the fourth quarter since Sebastian Janikowski's 42-yard field goal with 10 minutes to go in that game.That's 20 series without a fourth-quarter score, a stretch in which the Raiders have run the ball 42 times for 130 yards (a 3.1-yards per carry average, with 30 of those yards coming on one Michael Bush carry at San Diego) while completing just 21 of 46 passes (45.7 percent) for 294 yards with five interceptions and three sacks.And yet, the Raiders have won four of those six games in that stretch.Talk about living on the edge."It starts with me," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "I have to, as the primary playcaller and the emotional leader of this team, I have to make sure I'm on my 'A' game at all times. I'm not saying that I'm not, I'm not saying that I'm not looking at it, but I have to go back and at halftime as I address them about making sure they finish, coach Jackson has to make sure he finishes."For some reason we have not been able to score points in the fourth quarter. I mean, we had a field-goal attempt that got blocked (at Minnesota). I mean, man, are you kidding me? So somebody doesn't want us to score in the fourth quarterbut it's not from a lack of trying, I will tell you that."I think the players are working hard, and we know it's an issue. I know it's an issue. But I'm not going to make it too big of an issue. Look, I'll trade all that to keep winning, OK? Let's just keep winning. And once we put this thing together, as I said, we haven't played a whole football game yet, two halves. When we do, we have a chance to be something special."

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


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.”

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'


Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

The Raiders gave quarterback Derek Carr a massive contract extension last June. Right guard Gabe Jackson got paid later that month.

Khalil Mack’s big deal is coming, likely this offseason. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a deal getting done, and hopes Mack’s agent feels the same way.

Mack’s rep and Raiders contract folks will work out details of a massive contract extension. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have interest in all that. He has one preference above all.

Mack doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants to stay with the Raiders long term.

“Of course. That’s not even a question,” Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, which airs in this week's episode of "Raiders Central." “That’s a no-brainer for me, especially when you think about coming into this organization and try to build something special, that’s something you want to be a part of for a lifetime”

Mack has plenty of money, top-5 overall draft picks often do. The No. 5 selection in 2014 considered that first deal life-changing money, enough to help his family.

“That has been a treat for me so far,” Mack said.

He doesn’t daydream about signing a nine-figure contract. He doesn’t long to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player (although that might be in the cards, anyway).

“I’m not really even thinking about that,” Mack said. “I’m thinking about the Patriots, that’s just my focus that’s just my mindset – anybody who talked to me about that matter, whether it be my best friend, my mom, my dad, I tell them the same thing. I’m thinking about the Patriots and sacking Tom Brady.”

That, unlike signing a record contract, was a career a goal. Mack said in a post-draft press conference he wanted to sack legends. Peyton Manning and Brady topped the list.

Manning retired before Mack could check his box. Mack will have a second chance at Brady Sunday when the Raiders play New England in Mexico City. He had eight tackles and two quarterback hits against Brady’s Patriots in 2014, but didn’t bring the quarterback down.

Mack considered his third regular season game a welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

The University of Buffalo alum has accomplished a ton since then, with 34.5 sacks and last year’s top defensive honor to his credit. He’ll need a Herculean performance against the Patriots to help the Raiders win a pivotal game. A sack would certainly help, but Mack isn’t calling his shot.

“Yeah, I’m not one to talk,” Mack said. “I’ll express that when I get on the field, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to play against him.”