Raiders

Raiders midseason report: Special teams

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Raiders midseason report: Special teams

First-half storyline: Special teams coach John Fassel was a relative hot commodity in the offseason, with at least the San Diego Chargers interested in interviewing "Bones." But Al Davis stood fast and kept Fassel on staff. And why not, with the most prolific punter and placekicker already on the roster in Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski and a Pro Bowl long-snapper in Jon Condo re-signed, the core of the special teams unit would only improve under Fassel, right? Well, they got off to a fast start but have sputtered of late, especially in coverage. Blame it on so many new faces being shuttled in and out due to an alarming rash of injuries, including a strained left hamstring to Janikowski that cost him a game. Still, special teams were supposed to be a strength of this team but at the midway point, they seem to be in transition, along with the rest of the club.MVP: Janikowski. The man known as "SeaBass" may have missed the Kansas City game with that injured kicking leg, and he did not look close to being a full-go against Denver this past weekend, but he is still leading the Raiders in scoring with 58 points. He has converted all 19 of his PATs and 13 of his 14 field-goal attempts, including five of six from 50 yards or longer and his NFL record-tying 63-yarder at Denver in the season opener. Before the leg injury, the 12th-year veteran seemed a cinch to get his fist Pro Bowl nod, as he was also consistently providing touchbacks on kickoffs. Anytime the Raiders crossed midfield, they deemed themselves in scoring position with his powerful leg.Biggest surprise: Yes, that was kick returnerreceiver Jacoby Ford running down and making a tackle as the punt team's gunner against Denver. Also, weakside linebacker Quentin Groves played well on coverage units the weak after losing his starting job.Biggest disappointment: Rookie Denarius Moore is averaging just 7.9 yards per punt return and has has looked unsure in doing that.Best play: Leading Cleveland by 10 points late in the third quarter and set up for a 53-yard field goal attempt, Lechler took the snap and as Janikowski approached for the kick, Lechler stood up and found a streaking Kevin Boss for a 35-yard touchdown pass on the fake. The score put the Raiders up 24-7 and they'd need it to hold on for the 24-17 victory in which the Browns had the ball in Oakland territory in the closing seconds. Without that TD and merely a field goal, the Raiders would have led by just 20-17 and the Browns could have attempted a game-tying field goal.Worst play: Already reeling from blowing a 10-point third-quarter lead and letting Tim Tebow tie the game, the Raiders allowed Eddie Royal to break a punt return 85 yards for what turned out to be the Broncos' game-winning touchdown on Sunday. It was Royal's first punt return of the season.Key to the second half: Janikowski's injured left leg.

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.”

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

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AP

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.”