Raiders key matchup No. 1: McFadden vs. Johnson


Raiders key matchup No. 1: McFadden vs. Johnson

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final part in a series that spotlighted three Raiders-Broncos matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m. (CBS) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Key matchup No. 3: Dennis Allen vs. John Fox
Key matchup No. 2: Michael Huff vs. Peyton Manning
Tale of the tape
Darren McFadden: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, fifth season, Arkansas
Steven Johnson: 6-foot-1, 237 pounds, rookie, KansasDENVER -- Perhaps Raiders coach Dennis Allen put it best this week when asked how he prepared for Darren McFadden in last year's season opener as Denver's defensive coordinator."I tried to get as many hats around him as you can," Allen said. "We didn't sleep a lot that week."And for good reason. All McFadden has done against the Broncos of late is run wild, and run some more.Consider: McFadden's 637 career rushing yards against Denver, in seven games, are his most against against any opponent, and he is shooting for his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game against the Broncos on Sunday, having already run for 165 yards on Oct. 24, 2010, 119 yards on Dec. 19, 2010 and 150 yards on Sept. 12, 2011.Not that McFadden, who is listed as "probable" to play with a sore shoulder, has Denver circled on his calendar, at least, not that he's willing to admit publicly. The Raiders have won four straight in the Mile High City."It's one of those things, going against Denver, you get it going," he said with a shrug. "I feel like it's something I did over the last few years and I want to just try and continue to do that every time I go out against them."It's just how the ball bounces. You go out there and have a good game, it just so happens it's been against Denver most of the time."And with middle linebacker Joe Mays suspended for this game for his violent hit on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, the task of spying McFadden could just to fall upon Mays' backup in undrafted rookie Steven Johnson, who led the Broncos with 15 tackles in the preseason but has yet to register one in the regular season. And he's only appeared in one game so far, at Atlanta.That would be a huge task to ask of the rookie, though, and Broncos coach John Fox said Friday he was not going to reveal who would be playing at any of the linebacker positions until game time."Its pretty evident theyre trying many different ways to get the ball in (McFadden's) hands," Fox said. "It doesnt take long to turn on the tape and see him rip off that sixty-some yarder. He did something very similar to us the last time he was here."So hes definitely one of the more explosive backs in the National Football League. All you've got to do is turn on the tape, and our players have seen that thus far."The Raiders, no doubt, want to see more of it. Oakland is 8-2 when McFadden runs for at least 100 yards.

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice


Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing


Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”