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Jon Gruden 'still not happy' with Vontaze Burfict's 12-game suspension

Jon Gruden 'still not happy' with Vontaze Burfict's 12-game suspension

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders hoped and prayed that NFL appeals officer Derrick Brooks would be lenient when it came to Vontaze Burfict's Week 4 hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle. 

The helmet-to-helmet hit got the Raiders middle linebacker ejected from the game, and caused the NFL to suspend Burfict for the remainder of the season. Burfict appealed the ruling and head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr spoke on his behalf, trying to make Brooks see Burfict had been a model player since arriving in Oakland, and one that has tried to change his game to adjust to the focus on player safety. 

That fell on deaf ears as Brooks elected to uphold the suspension, banning Burfict for 12 games. 

It was a suspension that is unprecedented for on-field action, and one that still has Gruden steaming. 

"You got to have linebackers, you know," Gruden told reporters Wednesday. "If someone comes out and wants to play old-fashioned, big-boy football, you got to have linebackers. Losing Burfcit's big. I'm still not happy about it. I'm just not happy about it. We believe in player safety. We coach it, we believe in it, we really stress it. But 12 games, I'm not happy about that. I'm not happy about it. But it is what it is and we'll get (Justin Phillips) and Dakota Allen and whoever the next man up is and get them ready to go." 

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With Burfict gone, the Raiders have only five linebackers on the active roster and have mostly played in their nickel defense since the ejection, relying on Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow to man the linebacker positions. 

Whitehead has been tasked with taking over the communication responsibilities on the defense with Burfict gone, and playing a majority of snaps in their base defense worked well in a Week 5 win over the Bears in London. 

Whether or not that strategy continues to work, though, remains to be seen. 

Jon Gruden, Derek Carr preparing to face 'magician' Aaron Rodgers


Jon Gruden, Derek Carr preparing to face 'magician' Aaron Rodgers

ALAMEDA -- To outside observers, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are winning a different way this season under new head coach Matt LaFleur.

Through six games, the Packers rank 17th in the NFL in total offense and 14th in points per game. Despite LaFleur's reputation as an offensive guru, the Packers have been relying on a much-improved defense to win games early on, with the offense scuffling thanks to injuries to receivers Davante Adams and Equanimeous St. Brown. 

Rodgers, now 35, has put together serviceable numbers through six games, throwing for 1,590 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers are good, but they aren't what we've become accustomed to seeing from one of the most talented quarterbacks in NFL history. 

While the numbers haven't been Rodgers-esque, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden still isn't looking forward to the challenge of facing the future Hall of Famer on Sunday at Lambeau Field. 

"Rodgers is still working the snap count, you see him beat Denver with the hard count," Gruden said Wednesday after practice. "He's magnificent scrambling, creating offense is uncommon. It's just unbearable to watch. I hate watching this guy. He's fun to watch, but he's really not fun to watch when you got to play against him. He still has a very quick trigger, deadly accurate, a lot of overall athleticism and a great competitor. You saw it again the other night." 

Gruden and the Raiders exit their bye week at 3-2 and in the thick of the AFC West race. The Silver and Black responded from a Week 3 drubbing at the hands of the Vikings by beating the Colts and the Bears on the back of an efficient run game and a brilliant game script from Gruden. 

The Raiders' grueling road trip continues in Week 7 with a trip to Green Bay to face Rodgers, a guy who has been giving advice to quarterback Derek Carr since he came into the league. Carr wants him and Rodgers to have a different conversation after Sunday's duel. 

"When we go out there, it's going to be a tough, physical football game," Carr said. "You never underestimate Aaron Rodgers. The guy -- he can do whatever he wants with a football. He's like a magician back there. It's fun to watch. I've had great conversations with him throughout my career. He's been awesome in helping me with stuff and things like that, but hopefully, we can beat him this week and that would feel much better than having to ask him questions knowing they beat us again."

Carr and the Raiders will look to their balanced attack for success at Lambeau Field come Sunday. While the Packers defense looks a lot better from the leaky units of the Mike McCarthy era, Green Bay still is surrendering 124.5 yards per game on the ground and is giving up 4.9 yards per carry, which means Josh Jacobs should get the ball early and often as the Raiders look to control the game against another difficult opponent.

[RELATED: Only Rodgers, Watson stand in way of epic Raiders road trip]

Getting an early lead will be Step 1 of the Raiders' plan to leave Green Bay with a win. The second and much more difficult part of the equation will be keeping Rodgers from going into his bag of tricks and tormenting the Raiders secondary.

Best of luck.  

Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses


Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

The Raiders haven’t played a true home game in forever. That's true, even though the Silver and Black have two games left in a five-game stretch played away from Oakland that will define this season.

They have started it off well, with two quality wins in three attempts. The team has rallied together during this time, facing in-game adversity and practice-week setbacks head on. This group doesn’t wilt, finding ways to beat Indianapolis and Chicago after what could’ve been a demoralizing loss in Minnesota.

Head coach Jon Gruden deserves credit for guiding the Raiders through with expert game plans. The coaching staff and the locker room’s leadership core have kept the team together during tough times playing difficult opposition.

The path doesn’t get any easier as this road trip winds down. In fact, the competition ratchets up. The Raiders face Green Bay on Sunday and Houston the following week before returning to Oakland for a three-game homestand.

Yeah, that’s Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in consecutive weeks. Those elite quarterbacks are as tough as they get, with an ability to score at will and perform well in the clutch.

The Raiders have scored 55 points in the last two games with a solid run game and efficient passing, with strong starts in both wins. That will be essential yet again if the Raiders are to continue performing well against a run of legitimate playoff contenders.

This two-game win streak, punctuated by an excellent win over the Bears in London, has brought positive press about the coaching staff and the team's toughness. The next two games could offer a reality check -- or densely pack the bandwagon. 

The Packers and Texans offer stiff competition to a Raiders team right in the thick of the AFC West race. The division is bunched up at the moment, with the Chiefs and Chargers each losing two straight games. The Broncos have won two in a row. The Raiders are in a position to make some noise in the division, especially if they can get at least one win out of the next two games.

The schedule gets a bit easier after these two, with golden opportunities down the stretch. There are weak sisters on the schedule that a quality team should handle and a flood of division games. The Raiders can remain highly competitive if they maintain a strong ground game offensively while shutting down the opponent’s rushing attack.

Early leads allow the Raiders to play their way, with a steady diet of Josh Jacobs working behind an imposing offensive line. The Raiders seem committed to playing solid run defense, but the back end must hold its own against excellent quarterbacks. Doing so puts most every game in play, even those where the Raiders look inferior on paper. 

[RELATED: Why Jackson sees so much potential in this Raiders O-line]

The Raiders have played quality competition tough, and found ways to win three important games through five attempts. They aren’t going to win every game, nor should that be expected from a team managing significant talent losses via injury, suspension or other.

Coming out of this two-game stretch with a win, or even two, would show the NFL these Raiders arrived before many expected, and that they’re a legitimate playoff threat heading into the season’s second half.