Paul Guenther

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.”

Trayvon Mullen becoming shutdown corner as Raiders push for playoffs


Trayvon Mullen becoming shutdown corner as Raiders push for playoffs

ALAMEDA -- "I know the type of player I am. How good I am." 

Those were the words of Trayvon Mullen after Emmanuel Sanders, then with the Denver Broncos, gave the rookie a crash course during his NFL debut in Week 1 when Mullen surrendered three catches and a touchdown in the Raiders' Week 1 win at the Coliseum. 

The Clemson product was given the starting job in Week 8 after the Raiders traded Gareon Conley, and he has rewarded coach Jon Gruden's faith in him. The talent was undeniable with Mullen. Turn on the film and you'd see that. But growing pains are expected at the NFL level. 

Most expected Mullen to be picked on during his first outing as a starter in Week 8 against the Texans. Former college teammate Deshaun Watson knew better, as Mullen rarely was targeted and dropped a pick-six during the first quarter. 

Mullen has looked more and more like a lockdown corner each week, and he put it all together in the Raiders' Week 11 win over the Bengals. He gave up four receptions, but also had a pass break up, the game-clinching interception and a 91.7 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus which led all cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of his team's snaps in Week 11. 

The 22-year-old's dominance comes from a comfort standpoint he has both within defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme and in his own elite abilities. 

"It's just going out there playing aggressive," Mullen told NBC Sports Bay Area after the Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. "Knowing our defense, what I can do and what I cannot do. I think that's the best. You can just go out there and play free once you know what to do."

Trading Conley shocked some. He was a first-round pick with a ton of talent, and it might have felt early for the Raiders to give up on him. It is clear now that Mullen's talent and work ethic might have forced the Raiders' hand. 

Back in training camp, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock claimed Mullen would be competing for a starting spot. It seemed like an odd claim, considering the Raiders already had Conley and Daryl Worley and that cornerbacks rarely come off the field. 

One week into camp it was clear Mullen, who the Raiders were giddy to draft with the No. 40 overall pick this spring, was the real deal, He has elite coverage skills, plays the run game well, is a good tackler and understands what he's supposed to do inside the defensive scheme. 

"He's done a really great job for us," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said this week. "It's been a great move. He's looked good in the practice field, he's done good in the games. He's got a couple technique things to clean up. He's on his guy and that's all you can ask for. He's been tackling in the run game, he understands the run game and it's not too big for him. He played in a lot of big games at Clemson, so he's going to be a great player for years to come."

When the Raiders made the move to open the door for Mullen to shine, they were 3-3 and on the fringe of the playoff picture. They now sit at 6-4 after winning three straight games, capped off by Mullen's game-clinching interception against the Bengals. 

The games will mean more now, as the Raiders turn their attention to clinching their second playoff berth since 2002. Some teams might worry about having a rookie cornerback in the big games down the stretch. That won't concern them with Mullen. He lived in a fishbowl of big games at Clemson and notched a key interception of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the Tigers' 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game win. 

Mullen is ready for the bright lights. He is making the most of the opportunity given to him, showing the shutdown ability many believed he had. He has become one of the standouts of a rookie class that has been one of the best in recent NFL history. A rookie class with big dreams for the Silver and Black. 

[RELATED: Jacobs setting lofty standards amid stellar rookie season]

More tests await and Mullen still has some growing to do in the NFL. Rent is due every day to be great in the NFL and he comes to work with his checkbook in hand.

"I'm just going to continue to get better, each and every week," Mullen said. "I'm going to take advantage of my opportunities and when it's my time, I'm going to make plays."

Mullen has starred on every field he has ever stepped on to. It appears the NFL will be no different. 

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

ALAMEDA – Clelin Ferrell stepped on the scale Thursday morning, looked down at the number below and flashed his signature smile.

The readout was the reason why: 266 pounds.

The Raiders defensive lineman finally was back to his playing weight.

The experience was a lot different after coming back from a week in the United Kingdom dealing with concussion-like symptoms and a stomach flu that made it, shall we say, hard to keep things down.

“When we got back from London, I stepped on a scale and I was 250,” Ferrell said. “I couldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t just the weight. I felt bad and I felt weak.”

Ferrell hasn’t been that light in six years. Getting there wasn’t pretty. Getting back to his playing size and strength took some time, but Ferrell’s return to health was well-timed.

It came accompanied by an on-field epiphany. Or, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther put it, “the light came on.”

“You can just tell with the look in a guys’ eyes,” Guenther said. “You know when he starts making plays, you can start saying, ‘Hey I’m starting to figure this out.’ It’s the look in the guys’ eyes and the way he’s handling himself.”

Something clicked during a Week 9 victory over Detroit, where he had three huge run stops and three quarterback pressures, including one that flustered Matt Stafford on the final play of the Lions' failed comeback attempt.

Guenther approached the No. 4 overall pick after that win and could tell right away that something was different. He was right, and Ferrell knew exactly why.

“Facing the Detroit Lions was the first game where I felt comfortable with everything that I was asked to do,” Ferrell said. “Before, it was like, ‘I’m comfortable with this and this, not so sure about this over here.’

“I have been asked to do a lot of stuff. The whole practice week leading up to it, I felt really good with everything. I felt comfortable and that I could just go out there and play and put my own flavor on it and freestyle a bit. I really understood my responsibilities and I felt really good.”

That wasn’t a one-off. Ferrell built upon that with a breakout game last week against the LA Chargers, totaling 2.5 sacks, two other quarterback pressures, a batted pass and six run stops. Ferrell paced an all-out assault on quarterback Philip Rivers, where the pass rush made a significant impact on a dramatic win.

Ferrell didn’t say much after the game, answering one question before leaving the Raiders' locker room. Many said the Clemson product needed a game like that, especially after absorbing fan criticism for not producing enough, especially relative to his lofty draft slot.

Ferrell doesn’t care much about numbers. He’s concerned with two things: wins and personal impact. He admitted, in that instance, it was nice to have a good game in ways all can understand.

“When you’re chasing stats, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to win,” Ferrell said. “It’s always good to shut people up a little bit. People can get on your nerves. Not that it’s getting to me, but you hate hearing nonsense, especially when they aren’t that informed. I don’t blame people for that. It is what it is, and I’ve been through this before when I was in college. I’ve always had the spotlight on me. It just comes with the game.”

Lights were always bright at Clemson. That comes with the territory as a perennial championship contender.

The same goes for top-five NFL draft picks, so the scrutiny was sky-high even over such an early portion of his career.

But not from inside the Raiders organization.

The Silver and Black were asking Ferrell to do a ton. He stepped right in as a three-down player, asked to play inside far more than he did in college. That was an adjustment, one he insists he’s comfortable with despite a productive athletic career playing off the edge. He has played several techniques to service defensive line needs, doing some dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.

“He does a lot more than just rush the passer,” head coach Jon Gruden said after beating the Chargers. “He made some great plays against the run. It was a signature game for him obviously, but it’s great for him to get some sacks. Maybe some of the people who are counting sacks out there will acknowledge this.”

Ferrell isn’t counting them. He’ll evaluate himself through a different lens.

“The biggest thing for me is wins and losses and whether I feel like I played well,” Ferrell said. “I don’t really care about stats, you know what I mean? Numbers are good but seeing the success I had and the big role I played in two huge wins was really, really good.”

[RELATED: Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Jordan, Swearinger]

Continuing this positive trend is the next step, one that renewed health and increased comfort within his role will help achieve.

“He needs to keep it going. Clelin’s coming off his best game,” Guenther said. “I really think the light came on for him in the second half of the Detroit game. Walking off the field with him I was like, ‘I think the light just came on for you. Really.’ And then he went out against the Chargers and played really well, so hopefully he can keep playing at a high level.”