Raiders-Dolphins: Key matchups


Raiders-Dolphins: Key matchups

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Amid the backdrop of the Rolando McClain distraction, a cavalcade of injured playmakers and a just as unlikely exciting playoff chase, the first-place Raiders have a game to play.Against a very dangerous opponent whose poor record belies the talent on Miami's roster.Throw in the fact that the Dolphins have owned the Raiders in recent years -- Miami has won eight of the past nine meetings, including five of the last six in South Florida -- and that the Dolphins have not played since Thanksgiving, you get the sense the Raiders could be walking into, as "Revenge of the Jedi" icon Admiral Ackbar would say, a trap.The Raiders (7-4) are aiming to win their fourth straight for the first time since 2002; the Dolphins (3-8) won three in a row after starting 0-7 and dropped that 20-19 heartbreaker at Dallas on Turkey Day.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday morning from Sun Life Stadium:TALE OF THE TAPE
Raiders LB Aaron Curry: 6-2, 255, Wake Forest, third season
Dolphins RB Reggie Bush: 6-0, 203, USC, sixth seasonOf course, this matchup could get screwy if Curry has to play middle linebacker in place of McClain for extended snaps.Bush does his damage when he turns the corner, and Curry, who is at his best when he's on the weak side chasing the ball with his blazing speed, is that rare linebacker fast enough to actually catch someone with Bush's quickness.Bush has had a renaissance season, of sorts, in his first year with the Dolphins after five seasons in New Orleans, which had made him the No. 2 overall pick out of USC in 2006. With 567 rushing yards on the season, Bush needs 15 yards against the Raiders to set a single-season career high.Sounds modest, right? Still, he maintains game-breaking speed when he gets around the corner and the Raiders run defense has been known to disappear at times, particularly against scatback-type backs like Bush."Yeah it's something we are aware of and something we would like to exploit a little bit," said Bush, who is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and scored four rushing touchdowns."We'll see what happens when game time comes. It's definitely something we're very well aware of and something we want to take full advantage of."Bush, though, has had his share of growing pains in Miami's offense, even as he has also caught 35 passes for 237 yards and a TD."He's done a good job of running the ball hard, making hard yards and has made a lot of big plays for us," said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. "So Reggie's playing better and better, and a large part of that has to do with us figuring out how to use Reggie. In other words, he's a complete different back than we've had here in the last three or four years. Had to figure out how to use him a little bit, and we're doing a better job of that. Reggie's doing the rest."From the Raiders' perspective, though, the job of containing Bush comes down to Curry, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft who was acquired in a trade with Seattle on Oct. 13."He's been outstanding," Oakland coach Hue Jackson said of Curry. "Just his energy, his professionalism, his character. How he comes to practice, how he comes to work everyday as a pro has been outstanding. And not that the other guys didn't. This guy plays the game, in my opinion, the way it's supposed to be played -- with some toughness and some aggression and some enthusiasm."And I love that about him and I love what he's doing. And I think he's truly impacted our defensive football team."But will he make an impact against Bush?Other matchups worth watching:
Raiders C Samson Satele (64) vs. Dolphins NT Paul Soliai (96) -- What Soliai lacks in stats -- he has 21 tackles and no sacks -- the 6-feet-4, 355-pounder more than makes up for in size.Though it might not be bigger than the chip on the 6-3, 300-pound Satele's shoulder.Satele spent the first two years of his career in Miami, which drafted him in the second round in 2007 out of Hawaii, and this will be his first time back to play here since the Raiders acquired him in a March, 2009 trade.And after the Raiders, which had the No. 2-ranked rushing attack in the NFL last season, were held to a mere 16 yards on the ground by the Dolphins in a 33-17 loss to Miami last year, Satele has a lot to prove. Especially if Oakland's ground attack against Miami's 3-4 defense starts with the guy who hikes the ball.Raiders QB Carson Palmer (3) vs. Dolphins LB Jason Taylor (99) -- Yes, I realize Taylor has seen better days -- much better days -- and that he is technically a backup at strongside linebacker to Koa Misi on the depth chart.But these are precisely the games for which Taylor gets up, and Palmer needs to pay attention to where the 15-year veteran is whenever he's on the field.In seven career games against the Raiders, Taylor has nine sacks.And Palmer has had decent success against the Dolphins secondary in his career. In three career games against Miami, Palmer is 2-1, completing 61 of 108 passes (56.5 percent) for 619 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions for a 76.9 passer rating.In his lone game at Miami, back on Dec. 30, 2007, Palmer was 23-32 for 316 yards with three TD's.

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Ken Norton Jr.'s time with the Raiders is up.

With the team underperforming, Oakland has fired Norton as the defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. John Pagano will handle the play calling duties when the Raiders take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Head coach Jack Del Rio issued the following statement regarding the news:

“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator. I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”

The Raiders defense under Norton this season ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allow per game (367.0), is allowing 24.7 points per game and has yet to record an interception through 10 games.

"We played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences," defensive lineman Justin Ellis told reporters shortly after the news broke.

"The axe fell on all of us. We love Coach Norton. We didn’t want to see this happen," safety Reggie Nelson said.

Norton joined Del Rio's staff prior to the 2015 season.