Raiders-Packers: Matchups to watch


Raiders-Packers: Matchups to watch

It would be unfair and, really, false to say the Raiders are playing with house money in taking on unbeaten and untied defending Super Bowl champ Green Bay in their house on Sunday.Besides, the Raiders (7-5) have a little something to play for themselves as they enter the fourth quarter of the regular season -- their very playoff lives. So it's not like Oakland is merely playing the role of spoiler on the Frozen Tundra.Still, the run the Packers (12-0) are on is impressive. Having won 18 straight games, dating to last year and including the playoffs, the Packers can join the 1998 Denver Broncos as the only other defending champ in NFL history to start a season 13-0 and they also clinch a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs by beating the Raiders.
The Raiders? They have the same record as Denver in the AFC West, but are currently behind the Broncos due to tie-breakers.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon from Lambeau Field:Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch (33) vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12).TALE OF THE TAPEBranch: 6-0, 205, UConn, fourth seasonRodgers: 6-2, 225, Cal, seventh seasonWhile Branch is having breakthrough, Pro Bowl-type of season, Rodgers is having a season for the ages.Not only is Rodgers the first quarterback in NFL history to post 100-plus passer ratings in 12 consecutive games, he has thrown at least two touchdown passes in all 12 games thus far, joining only Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning, but Rodgers' current career passer rating of 103.8 is the best in league history.Thus far this season, Rodgers leads the NFL in passer rating (125.3), completion percentage (70.6), TD passes (37) and yards per attempt (9.42) and is third in passing yardage (3,844).Many have said Rodgers, the Chico and Cal Kid, is having the best season a quarterback has had. Ever."That's a pretty flattering comment," he said this week on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "I try and stay focused on what I've got to do to be successful each week, but the kind words are appreciated. I think you've got to keep it in the context of this season. It's hard to compare different years. I think if you look at it, I dont know that anybodys gonna be able to touch what (Tom) Brady did with his 50 touchdowns, and when Peyton (Manning) had 49 touchdowns."In a different time and era there were a number of good years before I was even, you know, an afterthought of being born. So I try not to compare years, but I appreciate the kind comments."It would be hard for any one player to slow Rodgers, let alone stop him. But Branch just might be the key, what with the way he can be used in hopes of keeping the quarterback off balance.The speedy and physical Branch has excelled against the run but has also played well in coverage this season and is always a threat to blitz."I take every game as a personal challenge, especially with a guy of his caliber," Branch said of Rodgers. "You know you've got to spend a couple more hours watching film, trying to pick up any little tips you can. Because he's that good of a player."With a guy of his caliber, there's a little more spotlight on it. But week in and week out, we want to do the same thing."Other matchups worth watching:Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (85) vs. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (21) -- No Jacoby Ford and no Denarius Moore -- again -- means DHB will not be able to hide.No wonder the grin on his face only grew wider when asked what he saw when he watched film of Woodson, who is "probable" to play as he is recovering from a concussion suffered last week."Shoot, the (2009) NFL defensive player of the year, that's what I see," Heyward-Bey said. "I mean, good player. Smart. He's a vet. He knows football. He knows offenses and being a DB who can play safety, nickel, outside corner, I mean, he brings everything together for them."Woodson, who was the Raiders' No. 4 overall draft pick in 1998 and spent eight seasons in Oakland before signing with Green Bay in 2006, is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions. He has a league high 24 picks since 2008.More than a few observers thought Woodson was entering the twilight of his career when he left Oakland. Instead, he's tapped into his Hall of Fame talent."Well, the fact that you mature as a player, you mature as a person," said Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who also had Woodson in Oakland in his first tour. "Charles had his first child, and he even said it, that when that happened to him, the sense of responsibility changed. And his whole life changed. I couldnt be more proud of Charles. I sit back and watch him every game. I love to pull (tape of) him out in the offseason and study him because the things that he does now, that he's getting all the recognition for, are things he still did here"The way he causes turnovers, the way he tackles, the ferocity in which he tackles, and goes after the ball, the strip, every single time, and the playmaking ability. It was a couple of weeks ago, that interception where he came over the top, he's the only guy that's going to make that type of play. It's fun to watch him, and I wish him wellbut not too much luck this weekend."Raiders fullback Marcel Reece (45) vs. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) -- WIth their three most explosive offensive playmakers -- Ford, Moore and Darren McFadden -- still sidelined by injury, Michael Bush and the offensive line are going to need a lot of help. Namely, from Reece.A converted receiver, Reece is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Which is why Chicago and Miami gameplanned exclusively for him and limited his touches the past two weeks.Matthews may draw the assignment of bird-dogging Reece, whether he lines up as Bush's lead back, as a tight end, or even wide. The Dolphins, in particular, shut Reece down."Yeah, they had a good package for him," said Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer. "We got him loose a couple of times, but obviously not enough. He's one of the best mismatches you'll find in the NFL as far as the position he plays and what he can do. But they had a good plan for him and we'll have a good counter for that plan this week and figure out more ways to get the ball in his hands."

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.”