This Sunday's match up features an Oakland Raiders team whose playoff dreams are on life support (with the plug in hand ready to be pulled, unfortunately) and a Green Bay Packers team that is in a dog fight for the NFC North title with the Minnesota Vikings. The 6-7 Raiders are not dead yet though and this is a big game for them either way against the 8-4 Packers that have dominated them in their most recent games.
Another Trend to End
You have to go all the way back to 1987 for the last time the Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers, although at least that was a 20-0 victory for the then Los Angeles Raiders over the Packers. In the 6 times they have played since that victory in '87 it has been all Packers with just one game being close and even that was in 1998.
The last three games were utter catastrophes for the Raiders; they lost 46-16, 38-7, and 41-7. Those are not just losses, they are complete beat downs. There also was a preseason game tossed in there from last year that actually featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack being on the team, that one was closer than the last three regular season games but was still a 31-21 loss.
The trend here is easy to spot, it's been the Packers absolutely killing the Raiders. Jack Del Rio and these new Oakland Raiders better have an ace up their sleeve to end this recent streak of ineptitude. If they can steal a victory Sunday it will mark yet another losing streak that this 2015 Raiders team will have ended.
The Bloodlust of Charles Woodson and James Jones
This is one of those games that both of these players surely marked on their schedules. James Jones was shocked when the Raiders decided to cut him after he led the team in receiving last year, his one and only year away from the Packers. He started out the year on fire showing the world that he still was a force but has been very quiet as of late. You can be certain however that he will be motivated to make some noise against his former team though.
Charles Woodson was in the same boat after the Packers decided not to re-sign him a couple of years back thinking that he was too old for the position. They were wrong, and the Raiders have been ecstatic with the play of the ageless wonder ever since. Woodson is the type of super competitive champion that will hold slights against those who have wronged him, and no team wronged him more than the Packers when they decided he wasn't in their plans anymore.
The Emergence of TE Richard Rogers
Oakland has started to defend the tight ends better than the plague that they were in the earlier part of the season but they still haven't been great. The Packers have a talented tight end of their own who is starting to emerge as a key to their offense. You can bet that Green Bay will be looking to utilize him to attack the suddenly stout Raiders defense.
The NFL world got to really know the name Richard Rogers most recently because he is the player that caught the Hail Mary in the Packers thrilling victory against the Detroit Lions a couple of weeks ago. Taylor Mays is going to have his hands full in this one because he is going to be the defender most likely to end up with coverage on Rogers. Mays loves to play physical and he will need every ounce of that attitude in this one, along with some help now and again too.
Stop the run
It is December football, and for the Packers that means running the football. The Raiders have been great against the run all year except for games against the Steelers and the Vikings. This will be a test along those lines though because Green Bay has a newly reinvigorated battering ram in Eddie Lacy and a criminally under-rated change of pace back in James Starks.
To beat Green Bay you have to make them one dimensional, and they do have a tendency to forget all about the run game if they are not getting yards from it. The easy thought is to stop Aaron Rodgers and their passing attack, but it's when the running game is firing on all cylinders that the Packers are truly the most dangerous.
Both of these teams love the deep ball and have quarterbacks that can connect on them consistently. According to Football Outsiders Green Bay is ranked 19th against the long ball, while the Raiders are on the other end of the spectrum as the 5th ranked defense on deep passes. With that in mind, Oakland absolutely needs to test the Green Bay defense deep consistently with their deficiency in that area a major issue.
Though the Raiders have been good against the deep ball they will have to be ever vigilant in this game as well, especially if they give up any free plays by jumping off-sides. There is no quarterback in the league that is better at capitalizing on free plays than Aaron Rodgers who almost always looks for the big play in that situation. Oakland needs to play their most disciplined football of the season for that very reason.
The blitz is going to be key in this game, both rushing Aaron Rodgers with it and defending against it. Green Bay loves to send their linebackers after the QB with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers both being known for their QB thumping skills. The Raiders will absolutely need to keep an extra man back for blocking for much of this game to give Derek Carr time to find his receivers, and they also need to pay extra attention to the secondary blitz that the Packers also love to use from time to time.
The Raiders will need to use the blitz themselves to hit Aaron Rodgers consistently as well. The Packers are not going to leave Mack one on one, Rodgers is too smart of a QB to not call extra protection for that. For that reason the Raiders best bet will be to send extra pass rushers to overload Mack's side of the field, force the Packers to use that extra blocker on the overload and free up Khalil to do what he does best. Also, hitting Aaron Rodgers is the only surefire way to get into his head.
Amari Cooper VS Damarious Randall
This is the "keyest" of key match ups. These two rookies will likely be facing off against each other for much of the game with Sam Shields sidelined with injury. Many people might not recognize Damarious Randall's name but he has been outstanding for the Packers for much of the season. He is a ball hawk type that has shown lock down abilities already, but Amari Cooper will be Randall's biggest test of the season.
Amari on the other hand has hit a bit of a rookie wall on the season with some lackluster play as of late. Getting a chance to attack a fellow rookie instead of a veteran corner is just what the doctor ordered for Cooper, this is exactly the type of match up that will have him salivating. Expect the Packers to keep some safety help over the top to help out their rookie, but there are going to be one on one opportunities that the Raiders will need to make sure to take advantage of.
Raiders Secondary vs Aaron Rodgers
This is a very scary opposition for the Raiders secondary, Aaron Rodgers is not to be fussed with. The young secondary players of the Raiders must pay attention to their players at all times because they will be asked to cover for longer periods of time than they are used to.
Rodgers is a master at escaping pressure and making big plays from outside the pocket when plays have broken down. Their receivers have made a living under these circumstances and know how to get open in the scramble drill, David Amerson and T.J. Carrie especially will have to be up to the challenge when the plays break down.
Luckily, the Raiders have Charles Woodson who knows the Packers better than anybody after his many years playing for them. He knows very well what happens when plays break down, and he will be looking to be aggressive when it inevitably happens. You just know he is dying to have a big game against the team that decided he was too old to re-sign.
David Amerson vs Randall Cobb
David Amerson has been playing really well for the Raiders, but he hasn't faced a receiver like Randall Cobb yet. Cobb is a shifty, quick receiver who will be lined up all over the field. It will be interesting to see if Amerson shadows him all day even when Cobb lines up in the slot, this is definitely what I would do to avoid any times where Cobb will get to face off against Neiko Thorpe or D.J. Hayden anyway.
Ken Norton Jr. comes from Seattle where they do not move their outside corners inside ever though. If he is going to follow that same line of thinking then Randall Cobb is going to be very difficult to cover. Amerson is the one player on the Raiders with the lateral quickness needed to defend the quick slants that Cobb makes a living off of, if Cobb gets other match ups while in the slot it could lead to a huge game for him.
Khalil Mack vs Bryan Bulaga, +1
After Khalil Mack's obliteration of the Broncos who tried to block him one on one there is no question the Packers will be keeping extra help in against him. Bryan Bulaga is a former first round pick who has had good games when healthy, but it is guaranteed that the Packers will be chipping and double teaming Mack all day anyway.
Will it be enough to end the tear that Khalil Mack has been on in the past several games? I would have to doubt it, Mack has found a new level of play of late and I don't think the Packers will be able to stop him for the entire game. It will take some creative scheming from Ken Norton Jr. to free Mack up some but even facing help it would be silly to bet against Khalil Mack right now.
Bill Musgrave vs Dom Capers
These two coaches know each other extremely well from battling each other when Bill Musgrave was with Green Bay's divisional rival Minnesota Vikings. That means that it will take some extra creativity from both sides to combat what they know the other coach is planning on throwing at them.
Hopefully for the Raiders that means a more aggressive Bill Musgrave, because the short screen passes and quick throws are a staple of what Musgrave did with the Vikings and will be very much expected by Dom Capers. That hopefully will open up the deep ball more often though because Capers will have made sure that the Packers watch for the short, quick developing plays more so than the deep ball.