Raiders

Paul Guenther, Mike Zimmer similarities at odds when Raiders face Vikings

Paul Guenther, Mike Zimmer similarities at odds when Raiders face Vikings

Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther go way back. The respected defensive coaches linked up and became fast friends in 2008, when Zimmer was hired as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator. Guenther already was on staff, helping several different position groups.

Guenther took over the linebacker corps in 2012, and was given the defensive coordinator job Zimmer vacated to become Minnesota Vikings head coach. Guenther could’ve gone with Zimmer to Minnesota – or to Washington with Jay Gruden, for that matter -- but stayed put and on a path that eventually paired him with Jon Gruden as Raiders defensive coordinator.

Guenther and Zimmer remain friends. Their families are close.

So are their defensive schemes. That’s logical, considering how long Guenther worked under Zimmer running an excellent defense.

“The foundation of it came from him, for sure,” Guenther said. “The coverage, the fronts, all the stuff we do. I owe him a lot of gratitude from working with him. I learned a lot from him, but I’m going to try and kick his ass on Sunday.”

Guenther and Zimmer will throw new wrinkles into familiar systems when the Raiders and Vikings clash at U.S. Bank Stadium, trying to keep the other team off balance and counter any insight provided to their respective offensive staffs. These two know each other well and how each other thinks, meaning this coaching chess match will have an influence on Sunday’s outcome.

“Paul will always have his spin on things, that’s kind of how he’s always been, but I think they’ll be much, much improved,” Zimmer said in a conference call. “They’ve got much better talent all the way across the board. I think former [Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict] really helps them get guys lined up and he understands their system so well, but they’ve got good players upfront. They’re much, much improved in the backend in my opinion as well, so yeah I think they are going to continue to get better.”

Zimmer’s right. The Raiders have improved this year, with talent upgrades and greater scheme comfort. It’s early yet, but the Raiders rank fifth in run defensive with 63 yards allowed per game. The pass rush still has issues, but they have five sacks in two contests. That’s a step in the right direction, even if the pass defense as a whole needs some work. Guenther’s scheme is effective, as we’re seeing as the Raiders acquire more quality players.

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While the Raiders are rebuilding their defense slowly and largely through the NFL draft, the Vikings are an established crew with most impact players having worn purple a long, long time.

“We know Mike Zimmer’s scheme is a very solid, very successful scheme since his time in the NFL,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “Also, now you add players as well. They’re very talented on defense and again, as you mentioned, they’ve had a number of players that they’ve drafted that they’ve been able to keep in their second contracts. That’s very rare. He’s been able to maintain continuity in terms of personnel, and he’s maintained continuity in terms of scheme being there. Certainly a challenge for us.”

It will be a bit easier on Sunday for a few reasons. The Raiders' offense has been practicing against this scheme all spring and summer, so quarterback Derek Carr knows it well. Guenther also has insight on Zimmer and vice versa, adding intrigue to this matchup.

“The systems are very similar,” Guenther said. “Obviously, he’s doing his wrinkles and I’m doing mine, but ‘Zim’ is a good coach. I learned a lot from him. We worked together a long time in Cincinnati and we had a really good time. He’s a good friend.”

Raiders reminded not to overlook Bengals by Kentucky, Saints upsets

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USATSI

Raiders reminded not to overlook Bengals by Kentucky, Saints upsets

ALAMEDA -- After back-to-back wins over the Lions and the Chargers, everything is in front of the Raiders. 

The hard part of their schedule is behind them, and they sit just a half-game back of the Chiefs in the AFC West with just the 0-9 Bengals and the hapless Jets standing between them and a marquee Dec. 1 showdown with Kansas City. 

The Bengals, who appear to be in full tank mode, look to provide little resistance against a Raiders team that has been securing wins through grit, resiliency and toughness. 

But many believed the same thing about the Saints before the Falcons rolled them in Week 10. And no one gave the Evansville Purple Aces a shot at beating No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. So, the Raiders are giving the Bengals their full attention. 

“No, we’ve had a tough season," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday when asked if he had to remind the team not to overlook Cincinnati. "We’ve had tough moments around here, so we’re familiar with tough moments. We’ve got a lot of respect for the Bengals. You ever heard of the Evansville basketball team? They just went into Lexington and beat the No. 1 team last night now.

"So, this is pro sports. This is the National Football League. I don’t really care about anybody’s record. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve got to keep getting better and keep working hard, and hopefully, we can find a way to win another game.”

This is a young Raiders team, relying on heavy contributions from a number of rookies. After two straight wins over Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers, it would be normal for young guys to start strutting, looking ahead to bigger games than what awaits the Raiders on Sunday. 

Gruden is all over it, though.

"You’ve just got to remind some of the young people that you can’t believe everything you read and you can’t believe everything you hear these days," Gruden said. "If you don’t respect Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, if you don’t think Will Jackson and Joe Mixon are great players, then you better get some film and look at it.”

Derek Carr knows what it's like to be in the Bengals' position. As a rookie, he was part of a Raiders team that started 0-10 in 2014 before picking up their first win of the season in Week 12.

Carr is aware that anything can happen in professional sports. He doesn't want to hear about numbers or perceived plans to tank. The Bengals are a real threat as far as he and the Raiders are concerned. 

"Oh, yeah. You know, I never look at stats or records. I just turn the film on and see what I have to see," the quarterback said. "This team that we are playing is talented everywhere. They got a great football team, they got great coaches that have come from great places. They are in the middle of installing their system. They are in the middle of trying to figure out what offense and defense with their personnel that they are trying to do and all those kinds of things, they are in the middle of that.

"So, who says it wouldn’t click this week, right? And so, I don’t care about records, man. I prepare every game as if this is the game, and so there is no, ‘They haven’t won a game.'  I don’t care how many games they have or haven’t won. They got Pro Bowlers all over their football team, and they are going to bring it, that’s for sure."

The Raiders are banged up. While they exited their miniature bye relatively healthy, they likely will be without slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner on Sunday. Safety Karl Joseph was placed on injured reserve after the win over the Chargers. D.J. Swearinger was brought in to provide aid to the secondary, and Dion Jordan was signed to bolster an ailing pass rush. 

Carr is accustomed to being picked to lose, so he's not taking any stock in the public's perceptions of the Bengals. After all, "on any given Sunday" -- you know the rest of the saying. 

"We look at just last night, young Kentucky, No. 1 team in the nation lost to someone no one thought they’d lose to, right?" Carr said, echoing Gruden's early example. "You watched the Saints, who were 7-1, they lose to the Falcons, who everyone has written off. This is the NFL. This is not high school football, it’s not even college football. It doesn’t matter what the spread is or who’s picked to win. I think we’ve been picked to lose every game since I’ve been here.

"Like, it doesn’t matter at all. You just got to show up and you got to play. And I don’t expect Cincinnati to come out here and just roll over. Those guys are professional athletes, and they are really good professional athletes. They don’t get enough credit. I think people sometimes look at an 0-9 team and they play Madden and see that their ratings are going down, but when they turn the film on, people that play football know how good the Bengals are.”

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So, did Carr and Gruden rehearse their "take no team lightly" spiel? 

“No," Carr said when asked if Gruden had been using those examples to keep the Raiders focused. "Those are the same ones? I promise it wasn’t. I tell you, he’s rubbing off on me.”

Benson Mayowa's steady pressure helps raise status of Raiders pass rush

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Benson Mayowa's steady pressure helps raise status of Raiders pass rush

ALAMEDA – Benson Mayowa doesn’t play a ton, roughly 30 percent of Raiders defensive snaps. The veteran has capitalized on opportunities received as a situational pass rusher, getting after the quarterback at a cruelly efficient clip.

Mayowa’s creating pressure on a whopping 11.5 percent of his pass-rush snaps, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus. That ranks third among NFL edge rushers with at least 20 percent of the highest pass-rush snap count, just behind Clay Matthews and Nick Bosa.

He has seven sacks, a quarterback hit and 13 hurries, getting home regularly when given the chance. That sack total’s already are a career-high, with seven games to increase that sum.

“He’s got more sacks than a lot of the great sack artists that’s out there,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I think he’s got seven sacks if that’s what we’re measuring the great ones by. I’m really happy to have the guy. I mean, he’s a guy that not only can rush the passer, but he’s Benny and the Jets I call him. You know, he brings the jets. He really energizes the room. He brings a certain type of energy level to our defensive line that I really enjoy being around. I’m happy for his success. Hopefully, he can continue to get home.”

Mayowa paces a young crop of edge rushers coming into its own. The Raiders had just three ends last week against the L.A. Chargers but still managed to sack Philip Rivers five times. Mayowa and rookies Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby are chiefly in charge of creating quarterback pressure with Arden Key placed on injured reserve last week. Dion Jordan arrived Tuesday as reinforcement, but there’s no telling whether he’ll be ready Sunday against the Bengals. The pass rush still has to show up and continue a solid run that includes 10 sacks in the past three games.

They are, Mayowa believes, commanding respect. 

“They have to account for us now,” Mayowa said. “They can’t just say, ‘Oh, they don’t have a pass rush.’ We can get to the quarterback, so they have to game-plan it. That’s going to take away from other assets in their game. As long as we get to the quarterback, that’s going to help us as a whole.”

So will balanced pass-rush productivity. Mayowa’s numbers have garnered extra attention, getting him chip blocked more often than ever. That means Crosby and Ferrell must re-balance offensive focus and keep getting to the quarterback.

Mayowa is responsible for helping the rookies' progression, though he’s admittedly not much of a talker or a rah-rah guy. He wants to set a proper example for the young guys, who have progressed well due to a variety of factors.

“They are coming along,” Mayowa said. “Everybody wants to write guys out, but you saw the game last week. [Ferrell] did his thing. He just has to stay on the road that he’s on. He has to keep doing what he did. For Maxx, he shows up and shows out. He needs to keep doing his thing. We need them both.”

While Mayowa’s season will be judged on tape over the stat sheet, high sack totals are worth premium dollars. He signed a one-year deal here, and a double-digit sack total certainly could help his bottom line. He isn’t playing for numbers, sack totals or otherwise, but there are personal goals out there to attain. Wins, however, make everything bright.

“It’s good, but you want the Ws,” Mayowa said. "When you do that, it’s going to open up everything. If we get a lead in a game, they’ll have to pass to catch up and we can get after it. It’s a good goal, but that’s all it is.”

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He’s surpassing expectations thus far this year, though Mayowa doesn’t consider 2019 a breakout season.

“I think it’s the opportunity,” Mayowa said. “I’ve been doing it, but the numbers are better. If you’ve been watching I’ve been doing it, though the numbers haven’t always been there.

“It has been a long ride in the NFL, but I have shown flashes. This has been a good year for me. I credit that to the rest of the guys.”