Raiders

D.J. Swearinger, Dion Jordan make instant impact in first Raiders game

D.J. Swearinger, Dion Jordan make instant impact in first Raiders game

OAKLAND – Jon Gruden stood in front of his Raiders during a Wednesday team meeting. He introduced safety D.J. Swearinger and defensive lineman Dion Jordan to the full squad and made a simple, immediately granted request.

Knock on wood if you’re with them.

Nope. That wasn’t just a “Hard Knocks” gag. It’s a way of bringing everyone together and, in this instance, guys signed less than a week ago who would be counted on to make an immediate impact Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I definitely appreciated that,” Swearinger said. “I’ve never seen that anywhere else. The confidence he gives you as a player is great. You want to go to [play your heart out] for a guy like that.”

Swearinger and Jordan played significant roles and made significant contributions in a 17-10 victory over the Bengals.

Swearinger played in the base package and on most early downs and led the entire team with seven tackles. Jordan was an interior rusher on third downs and obvious passing downs and had a sack that forced a Bengals punt.

That was a big moment for the team and for Jordan personally. It was his first sack since last season, considering he sat out the first 10 games of 2019 while serving an NFL suspension. Jordan has had troubles with the league and was excited to return to the NFL stage. He’s on the right path now, sober more than three years and ready to get his NFL career restarted.

“With a guy like Dion Jordan, there are no judgements. We just want him to come in and do what he does,” said tight end Darren Waller, over two years sober after his own battles with addiction. “…We’ve had a relationship before he came here. It was good to see him and how he’s carrying himself and how he’s working. To see him get that sack today, I was really excited for him.”

The Raiders needed reinforcements after losing safety Karl Joseph and situational pass rusher Arden Key for the season in the past fortnight. Enter Swearinger and Jordan, needing to fit in quickly and contribute right away.

That doesn’t just happen. It takes time and lots of it in meeting rooms with position coaches trying to get guys ready and adapted to the scheme’s concepts and terminology.

This is nothing new for the Raiders, not after so much turnover at several position groups.

“The new guys get great, positive energy from the coaching staff,” Waller said. “They’ll be patient, but there’s also a sense of urgency with those guys. You see how it pays off. It’s amazing to see guys come in and contribute like they have on this team.”

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Swearinger has played for five teams – he was with Arizona twice – over seven seasons and has experienced a rush to adapt in-season once before. He was also comfortable with Paul Guenther’s system considering how similar it was to what he ran in Arizona earlier this year, but it still took tons of work to get ready for Sunday.

“I put in a lot of hours,” Swearinger said. “I came in and met with coaches over the weekend when I got here. I made sure I studied every night and definitely put in the work. It ended up with a great result.”

Raiders to watch: Darren Waller must flash star power in clash with Titans

Raiders to watch: Darren Waller must flash star power in clash with Titans

OAKLAND -- Sunday’s game is the biggest of the Raiders' regular season.

Yeah, you’ve read that before. Maybe, you know, on this website and in this weekly series.

That’s because the Raiders had a chance to pull even atop the AFC West in last week’s game in Kansas City. The Silver and Black had a real chance to win their first division crown since 2002. That opportunity’s essentially blown, with the Raiders down two games (and a head-to-head tiebreaker) to the Chiefs.

Now we’re on to a pivotal wild-card matchup with the Tennessee Titans, who are blocking the Raiders’ path to the No. 6 seed. Beat them and pull even, with a head-to-head tiebreaker. Lose, and the Raiders can make New Year’s Eve vacation plans.

So, yeah, for the second straight week, this is as big as it gets.

The margin for error was burned on consecutive blowout losses to the Jets and Chiefs. Turn things around at home against Tennessee and optimism comes flooding back with three games remaining against 4-8 clubs.

“We’ve had a rough two weeks,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said this week. “I’ve had a rough two weeks. It’s time to get back on track, it’s time to get back in our stadium, it’s time to be efficient on offense, it’s time to win. I’m excited we get a chance to go compete against a really good football team. That’s the beautiful thing about this game. You rewind two weeks ago, we were the greatest story in the NFL and two weeks later we suck again, so I think we’ll be all right. We are just going to keep grinding, we’re going to stick to what we do.”

Here five players not named Derek Carr or Josh Jacobs -- those guys are obviously key -- vital to beating the Titans on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum.

TE Darren Waller

Opponents have devoted significant effort to slowing down the Raiders' best and most reliable pass-catcher. They’ve had mixed results, though Waller has worked tirelessly trying to perfect techniques to bust extra coverage and make plays. The coaching staff is also working to scheme him open. Those efforts worked out well in Kansas City, where Waller had seven catches for 100 yards.

The Raiders need Waller to be equally productive on Sunday against the Titans. Tennessee hasn’t been great against tight ends, allowing 59 catches for 675 yards and seven touchdowns to tight ends. That’s particularly exploitable with the Raiders’ tight-end personnel groupings, with Waller Foster Moreau and Derek Carrier all capable of making plays down the field.

Waller will be most active in that effort and can’t disappear into shaded coverage in this important contest. Waller believes he should succeed no matter how he’s covered. That’ll be important on Sunday afternoon.

DT Johnathan Hankins

Derrick Henry’s a massive human. The running back is cruelly efficient taking yards and levying punishment with his physical running style. Henry’s good running inside and out, but Hankins must lead the run defense by closing rush lanes on the interior.

Hankins is the Raiders' best run defender and must play his best to shut down the Titans' interior run game. Run defense against Henry is an 11-man effort, but it all starts in the middle. Hankins has 22 run stops -- meaning he shuts down a run at two yards or fewer -- which ranks in the NFL’s top 10.

The 27-year-old likes these types of challenges and must do his part well to make life hard on Tennessee’s stout run game.

RT Brandon Parker

Trent Brown might be the best right tackle in football. Not having him against Tennessee is a huge deal. The possibility of him missing extended time with a pectoral injury is a scary proposition for the Raiders' running game.

Brandon Parker is charged with mitigating the impact of Brown’s absence. It’s a safe bet he’ll often have tight-end help and a running back ready behind him until he proves a better pass protector that his rookie season.

David Sharpe fared well when Brown has missed time before, but the Raiders are going with Parker in this instance. The North Carolina A&T product gained weight and strength this offseason and has learned how to play nastier football from Brown. He must apply those lessons and be as close to perfect as possible in this one.

LB Marquel Lee

The Wake Forest alum hasn’t played since Week 3, when he injured his ankle and landed on IR. He was eligible to return last week but formally joined the 53-man roster this week in a game made for bigger, stronger linebackers. Count Lee in that class.

Lee and newcomer Preston Brown should see time here and must play solid run defense with Henry realistically busting through the line with regularity.

The Raiders must also deploy their linebackers well to maximize each player’s strengths, though Lee could jump back into a heavy workload in what should be a physical game. He needs to be a sure tackler both against Henry and pass-catchers who come into his area.

[RELATED: Raiders campaigning for Jacobs as rookie of the year]

WR Tyrell Williams

Jon Gruden said he’s going to shake things up and give new guys opportunities. That could certainly happen in the receiver corps, with Keelan Doss and Marcell Ateman possibly in line for more action. That shouldn’t eliminate Williams from the game plan where, frankly, he must be better.

Williams has dropped some key passes this season, but he has the talent to get open and warrant targets. The 27-year-old can’t leave this game up to Waller and the young guys. He has to assert himself and make big plays here to show his worth.

You can argue if Williams is a true No. 1 receiver or not, but that’s irrelevant to this particular game. This is one where he has to show up. He has to perform and make the most of the targets received.

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

ALAMEDA -- Ryan Tannehill is receiving credit for Tennessee’s recent resurgence. That’s appropriate given how well the former backup quarterback has been playing during a 5-1 stretch since becoming the starter.

Let’s not forget who’s really driving the Titans' offense. That’s the 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train coming out of the backfield.

Derrick Henry has been a monster this season, proving as tough to take down as ever. He has 1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, currently on a run of three straight games with at least 145 yards and a touchdown.

A repeat performance on Sunday against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum would make Henry the only player to do so in four straight games.

The Raiders would like to prevent that and are armed with the No. 12-ranked run defense. They’ll try to slow a back that never seems to wear down.

“The secret sauce in Henry is he’s got all the talent, and size, and running instincts, but he never tires,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He does not get tired. He’s a machine, man. This guy wears you down -- physical -- he can wear you down. You’ve got to gang tackle him. He’s a better-than-advertised receiver, but he just never tires. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets. It’s an impressive human being.”

Tannehill obviously benefits from Henry’s threat and a balanced offense that has the Titans going strong. Stopping the run, or slowing it at least, will be key for the Raiders' defense in this important game. It will not, however, be easy.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know it’ll be a challenge dealing with Superman Derrick Henry,” defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. "... He’s a great back. He’s big. He’s fast. He sheds tackles like there are kids trying to tackle him. I think, overall, we have to do a good job of keeping him in the backfield and not giving him open lanes or creases to work. We also need to hit him as much as we can, because he’s a big guy. Overall, I think we’re ready for the challenge. I’m excited for this game.”

[RELATED: Raiders' offense takes big hit with Brown out vs. Titans]

It’ll take the entire defensive unit playing disciplined football to slow Henry down. Give him an inch of space or leverage or poor tackling technique and he’ll take chunk yards by the mile.

“I just think you’ve got to be in good position,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. You’ve got to play the blocks. First and foremost, you’ve got to be in the right spots, play the block, and then when he gets through there you’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. He does a good job of trying to get extra yards, so we’ve got to put hats on him wherever he is, on his body as he’s trying to get those extra yards. We’ve got to make sure we get eleven to him.”