The toughest matchup of the season is upon the Raiders. They head into the frozen tundra in December to face the undefeated, defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. It’s a far cry from temperate Miami where the Raiders were last week. Can the Raiders somehow go from losing to the last place Dolphins to shocking the world and ending the Packers’ winning streak? However unlikely it may be, these are the ways in which they will win or lose this game.
Mr Rodgers’ neighborhood
The Raiders enter the house of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday–though Rodgers has made every neighborhood in the league his home turf. The Raiders’ toughest task will be trying to stop him from flipping his shoes off and kicking back for an easy day. He is rarely if ever rattled and has been even better when teams attempt to blitz him. He also doesn’t turn the ball over. If the Raiders can somehow bring pressure without blitzing and force a turnover or, God forbid, a couple of them, they may be able to remove him from his comfort zone. But if they did do that, they would be the first team this season to do it.
Pursuit of perfection
The Packers are undefeated and would like very much to go 16-0. If the Raiders want to be the first team to beat them, they will have to be perfect. It is hard enough to try and answer every time the Packers score without turning over the ball. Not only do the Raiders need to make sure they don’t squander any scoring opportunities, but they can’t give the Packers a short field.
The turnovers are only part of the pursuit for the Raiders. They must also be near mistake-free in the penalty arena. The Packers not only lead the league in turnovers but they have the fewest penalties. The Raiders lead the league in penalties. Too many drives have stalled due to offensive line penalties and too many opposing team drives have been made up of yards from personal foul penalties. The worst defensive penalties have been those that came on a third or fourth down to resurrect the other team’s drive after it had been stopped.
The Raiders’ offensive line had been the toast of the town through the first part of the season. They have faltered in the last two games against the solid defensive lines of the Bears and Dolphins. Michael Bush has been stopped in his tracks lately and Carson Palmer has not had a lot of time to throw. In the game in Miami last week, Palmer was running for his life.
The Packers are not a very good defensive team so the Raiders’ offensive line should get back on track. Samson Satele has been hampered by a knee injury of late but he is getting more healthy. He will need to be back to near full strength to try and push around Packers big nose tackle BJ Raji.
Palmer is perfectly capable of holding up his end in much the same way that Eli Manning did last week against the Packers when he put up 35 points. But to do that he will need time to throw. To keep the Packers’ offense off the field, the line will need to open up holes for Bush to churn out the yards and eat clock.
Wind or grind
The Raiders will be faced with a bit of a dilemma on Sunday. Do they take to the air for the quick strike against the suspect Packers secondary, or grind it out to wear out the defense and keep the Packers’ offense on the sideline?
I would expect this game to start as a grind it out game but by the second half, things will probably change. The Packers’ high-powered attack takes big leads and puts their opponents in the position where they need to score quickly and often to catch up and/or keep pace. This is how they lead the league in turnovers. Desperate teams have to force the ball downfield and mistakes accompany desperation.
If the Raiders can keep pace late, they will continue to hand the ball to Bush to wear the defense, then go up top when they may not be expecting it. But that is a luxury that comes with a close game.
Raider power outage
Part of the problem with the Raiders’ offense the last two games has been the lack of playmakers. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore have world class speed that defenses must account for. They can get in and out of their breaks quickly which relieves pressure on the offensive line. The speed and playmaking ability means the defense must commit extra defenders to account for them. Without them, the defenses can go man defense and pack the box to stop the run and rush the passer.
Marcel, more so
I expect we will see a heaping helping of Reece in this game. A lot of people were up in arms last week when Reece only touched the ball a couple times. He may be the only true mismatch the Raiders have in this game. Even if the Packers know the Raiders will be tapping that bar, they will not be able to stop it. There should rarely be a play in which Reece is not on the field. The Packers will either designate someone to cover him or they will get burnt. Probably a bit of both. If the Raiders lose with Reece, so be it. But if they lose without him, they only have themselves to blame.