Friday, December 9, 2011

Raiders pass D in for tough test against Packers

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP)—After getting picked apart by Ryan Fitzpatrick and dismantled by Tom Brady early in the season, the Oakland Raiders’ pass defense recently has been one of the team’s strengths.

The Raiders have frustrated accomplished quarterbacks, taken advantage of inexperienced ones and collectively held their last eight opponents to under a 50 percent completion rate.

Maintaining that impressive rate will be an extremely difficult task this week with a trip to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and the undefeated Packers.

The Raiders have matched up against some pretty impressive quarterbacks in recent years, from Brady to Peyton Manning to Drew Brees. Rodgers is playing as well or better than any of those stars.

“They definitely have an ace at quarterback,” Raiders cornerback Lito Sheppard said. “He’s definitely on the same page as his receivers. He knows what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do it and how they’re going to do it. He’s just really good with putting the ball where it needs to be for them to make plays. … Aaron Rodgers is playing like an MVP right now.”

Rodgers is on a record-setting pace this season, completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 3,844 yards, 37 touchdowns and five interceptions and a 125.3 passer rating.

He has posted a rating of at least 100 in every game this season and is the major reason why the defending Super Bowl champion Packers (12-0) have not lost a game in nearly a year.

“You see a quarterback that can make every throw on the field,” cornerback Stanford Routt said. “He has great receivers, great scheme, great defense— he’s got basically everything you need to be successful. He’s got a little of that Tom Brady, where he doesn’t mind who is going to be the leading receiver that Sunday. Obviously, they do have a lot of good receivers. They’ve got about two or three guys that are actually like number ones, so it’s definitely going to be a good challenge for us on the back end on Sunday.”

The Raiders have been up to the task in the secondary in recent weeks. Since struggling against Brady and New England in a 31-19 loss on Oct. 2, Oakland has had one of the league’s stingiest pass defenses.

The Raiders are one of two teams in that span to allow less than half the passes against them to be completed, with their 49.5 percent mark trailing only Houston. Oakland also has 22 sacks and 11 interceptions in that span, helping them hold opponents to a 68.6 passer rating—second best to the Texans.

While the Raiders had success against Houston’s Matt Schaub and San Diego’s Philip Rivers in that stretch, the other games have come against far less accomplished passers such as Colt McCoy, Matt Cassel, Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Caleb Hanie and Matt Moore.

Those guys aren’t playing anywhere near Rodgers’ level.

“He’s a very poised quarterback,” safety Mike Mitchell said. “`That’s the one thing I’ve seen on film. He doesn’t rattle very easy. He gets the ball out of his hand very quickly. And he really just trusts his one-on-one matchups. When he sees the one-on-one, he thinks that his guy is better than yours. So, as a defender, it gets you a little excited because you know that you’re going to get opportunities to play the ball and make game-changing plays. It’s also a lot of pressure because the ball is coming.”

Part of what makes the Packers so hard to defend is there is no single receiver to key against. While Routt has often followed the opposing team’s best receiver in some games, that’s harder to do against Green Bay.

Greg Jennings leads the team with 65 catches for 929 yards and nine touchdowns, but Jordy Nelson is almost as dangerous with 48 catches for 876 yards and nine TDs. Throw in Jermichael Finley, a matchup nightmare at tight end who can line up anywhere on the field and who has 42 catches and six touchdowns, as well as Donald Driver and James Jones and Rodgers has plenty of choices of where to throw the ball.

“You can’t target one particular player or else you’re going to get burned somewhere else,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. “So, you got to keep him a little bit off balance with a mix of coverages. But, at the same time, you can’t do too much, or he’s going to pick you apart. If you’re not sure in what you’re doing, he’s as good as there is right now in getting rid of the ball and making a good, quick decision.”

Notes: RB Darren McFadden (right foot) and WRs Jacoby Ford (left foot) and Denarius Moore (right foot) remained out of practice and are unlikely to play Sunday. … WR Chaz Schilens returned to practice on a limited basis from a foot injury and CB Chris Johnson was back after leaving the team briefly to be with his family after his sister was murdered in Texas.

author: josh dubow

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