Khalil Mack

Four Raiders selected to 2018 NFL Pro Bowl

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AP

Four Raiders selected to 2018 NFL Pro Bowl

ALAMEDA – The Raiders had seven players make the Pro Bowl in honor of last year’s 12-4 season.

To the victor, as the cliché goes, go the spoils.

That’s definitely true in a breakout year. After that, respect carries some weight in all-star voting. That’s how the Raiders got four guys into the annual exhibition, which will be played on Jan. 28 in Orlando.

The Raiders list features edge rusher Khalil Mack and offensive linemen Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson.

The Mack selection was a given. The reigning NFL defensive player of the year has 10.5 sacks with two games remaining, and has 71 total quarterback pressures. He’s also considered one of the NFL’s best run defenders, someone who commands respect with double teams and sometimes more off the edge.

The Raiders blocking trio made the Pro Bowl for a second straight year.

Hudson may be the league’s best center, and is certainly deserving of this honor. Osemele was dominant yet again, and is widely respected for his physicality, pass protection and run blocking. A rusher’s sweet spot is between Osemele and Penn, who man the line’s left side. Penn allowed four sacks this season and was somewhat inconsistent at the start, but closed with his best football before getting hurt Sunday against Dallas.

The Raiders also have six alternates in line to take a Pro Bowl spot should any first-ballot players bow out, an annual postseason tradition among stars around the NFL. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, quarterback Derek Carr, kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, running back Marshawn Lynch and punter Marquette King are alternates for this year's game. 

King was the biggest surprise omission from the first ballot. He won the fan vote by a decent sum, but Tennessee's Brett Kern, who sports the NFL's highest net punt average, was the AFC's representative. 

Del Rio: Tighter coverage helping Raiders pass rush

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Del Rio: Tighter coverage helping Raiders pass rush

The Raiders pass rush has picked up its pace and productivity in recent weeks. The Silver and Black have eight sacks during their two-game winning streak, a significant increase for a team that was dead last in that category a fortnight past.

“It’s definitely been what we’re looking for,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “The guys are cutting it loose and playing a little more aggressively.”

There’s credit to share. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Denico Autry are doing their thing. New defensive play-caller John Pagano has used disguise and player movement to create confusion and favorable matchups.

Del Rio also gave gold stars to a beleaguered group.

“When there is a little tighter coverage, you start holding it a little bit and then the sacks come,” Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “I think they go hand-in-hand. I think you see the uptick in sacks, I think you see players having tighter coverage and doing a better job.”

That’s impressive considering those covering the most. TJ Carrie, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald have manned the cornerback spot the last month-plus, while David Amerson nurses an ailing foot. First-round pick Gareon Conley is on injured reserve after having surgery on his shin. Needless to say, this isn’t the group the Raiders planned to roll out.

They’ve been doing better, albeit against bad Denver and New York Giants teams the past two games. McDonald in particular stood out, with just three catches allowed for 14 yards on six targets. He also had two passes defensed.

Smith missed a tackle that turned a short pass into a 29-yard gain -- he gambled trying to break up the pass -- but it was his only catch allowed.

Cornerbacks can help the pass rush by preventing separation an extra second or so, enough time to allow pass rushers to get home. Good things happen when Mack and Irvin are around the quarterback. Both guys had strip sacks against the New York Giants in key moments of a seven-point victory.

“We pride ourselves on getting turnovers,” Irvin said Sunday night. “We didn’t have many early, but they’re starting to come. We have three in two weeks. They say turnovers come in bunches, and we have to keep pushing for them.”

 

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Three things you need to know from Raiders' 24-17 victory over Giants

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Three things you need to know from Raiders' 24-17 victory over Giants

OAKLAND – Here are three things you need to know from the Raiders’ 24-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum:

1. Raiders control path to division crown: Read that headline to the left. It might require a double take but it’s accurate, and a bit beyond belief.

The Raiders can win the AFC West by winning out.

The Raiders won, the Chargers won and the Chiefs lost, setting up a three-way tie atop the AFC West. Each team has six losses at this stage, and the Raiders have a chance to give each rival a seventh. The Raiders play in Kansas City next week and close the regular season in Los Angeles.

They simply have to win those two, and probably beat Dallas and Philadelphia in between. Falling to 9-7 makes things real messy. That remains a tough ask, especially for a team lacking offensive consistency.

The Raiders have quietly won three of their last four to recover from a four-game losing streak earlier this year. They’ve seemed dead and buried a few times now, but the Chiefs are in a tailspin and have given the Silver and Black second life.

“Our goal is to stack these wins up and see how the cards fall at the end of the season,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “We’re not looking toward the future. We’re not thinking about the past. We’re only focus on our current opponent. That’s it. It’s worked for us the past two weeks. Hopefully we can continue to keep it (going) like this.”

2. Channeling last year’s defense:The Raiders gave up a lot of yards and points last year. They had a penchant for performing in the clutch and generating turnovers when trouble’s afoot.

The Raiders had 30 takeaways last year, but have struggled stealing possession this time around. That trend got bucked Sunday.

The Raiders forced two turnovers inside their own 30-yard line that ultimately changed the game. Bruce Irvin strip-sacked Geno Smith in the second quarter, and NaVorro Bowman recovered at the Raiders’ 29. The Raiders stole a scoring opportunity and produced a field goal at the other end.

Khalil Mack made his best play this season late in the first half from the Oakland 4. Smith never felt his presence, and Mack straight-up stole the ball to take more easy points away from the Giants.

“We pride ourselves on getting turnovers,” Irvin said. “We didn’t have many early, but they’re starting to come. We have three in two weeks. They say turnovers come in bunches, and we have to keep pushing for them.”

3. Missing Cooper and Crabtree: Amari Cooper was ruled out of Sunday’s game with concussion-like symptoms and a sprained ankle suffered while beating the Denver Broncos. Michael Crabtree wasn’t allowed to play the Giants, serving a one-game suspension for fighting with Aqib Talib in that same game.

That left Johnny Holton, Seth Roberts and Cordarrelle Patterson to pick up the slack. Tight end Clive Walford and Jared Cook offered assistance. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Raiders got the job done. Receivers dropped four passes. Johnny Holton fumbled another and lost it.

That group had some positive moments, highlighted by Patterson’s 59-yard catch and run that established a two-score lead late in the fourth quarter. Holton scored that deciding touchdown, and had a nice, toe-tapping catch to set up another score.

“We did good, man,” Patterson said. “We’re in this league for a reason, we not just here to (mess) around. We come out each and every week and we got to perform. Unfortunately, our No. 1 and No. 2 receivers were down but, like I say, every receiver on this roster can go out and make plays.”

The Raiders will get Crabtree back next week. Cooper remains a question mark as he recovers from injury. The passing game suffers without him, even during a relatively lackluster season. Cooper has game-changing ability, and draws attention from others even without the ball. He also torched Kansas City for 210 yards and two touchdowns earlier in the year, so the Raiders hope he can return for the rematch.