When the Raiders take on the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, there is little room for error. Losing to the Dolphins last week and the meteoric rise of Tim Tebow in Denver has given the AFC West a legitimate race to the finish. Both teams are 7-4 with four to play. The Raiders face Green Bay and Kansas City on the road and Detroit and San Diego at home. The Broncos have three at home versus the battered Bears, New England and Kansas City and one game on the road against the faltering Bills.
Hue Jackson has been trying to get his team to finish games all season and now that lesson is on full display. If the Raiders are to win the division they will need to win in the final quarter of the season too.
The Packers are undefeated and present the Raiders greatest challenge this season, but don’t let a record fool you in the NFL, this will be a battle and it could come down to a turnover or special teams score. Here is how the teams look by the numbers.
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As you can see, the Packers and Raiders actually pair strengths and against strengths and weakness versus weakness. The difference could come down to the significant advantage of turnovers for the Packers or special teams. The Packers and Raiders are similarly matched return units with the Packers punt return game holding a slight advantage. Shane Lechler is punting remains amazing, but his net average could be better. The Raiders need to pin the Packers deep and make Aaron Rodgers job as difficult as possible.
The Raiders will attempt to limit Rodgers in two ways. One way is with their defense and the other is with a clock-eating offense on the back of Michael Bush.
When The Raiders Have The Ball:
The Packers defense is suspect on the ground and through the air. Offense has been good defense for the Packers so far this season. The Raiders need to play their game and that’s rushing and taking shots deep when needed. The Packers rush defense is allowing just over 100 yards per game, but at a 4.9 yards per carry average. It’s important for the offense and Hue Jackson not to get caught up too much in what the Packers offense is doing to the Raiders defense. If the Raiders need to pass they should be able to do so, particularly on slant patterns deep. Passing comes with risk against a Packers defense known for being ball Hawks.
Michael Bush vs. A.J. Hawk
Bush never got on track last week and the Raiders offensive line was pushed around. Hawk is questionable with a calf injury and is expected to play. The Raiders should test Hawk’s health by running right at him with the 240+ pound tailback they have. If Bush has a good day the Raiders have a good chance to hand the Packers their first loss of the season. Bush needs to do a better job in blitz pickup to protect Palmer on passing downs.
Samson Satele vs. B.J. Raji
The Raiders offensive line needs to do the job this week than last and the pressure has been coming up the middle in recent weeks. While most of the pressure has been coming via blitz, Samson needs to do a better job of getting push to thwart the free blitzer from running up the middle and getting in the face of Carson Palmer.
Khalif Barnes vs. Clay Matthews
Barnes has been the weakest link on the offensive line all year. When the Raiders offense is rolling Barnes is playing consistently average. That’s the best you can hope for is for Barnes to limit Matthews. The Raiders should keep Matthews busy in coverage versus Marcel Reece and slide help to his side.
Carson Palmer vs. Charles Woodson
Palmer will try to get matchups against Tramon Williams and the Packers safeties. He should stay away from Woodson. At very least Palmer needs to pick his spots versus Woodson. Palmer must limit interceptions and Woodson is the most dangerous player in pass coverage.
When The Packers Have The Ball:
Aaron Rodgers is the key to the Packers cog. Limit Rodgers and the Packers are beatable. The Raiders will attack the outside with Kamerion Wimbley and try to make Rodger move in the pocket. It’s important for the Raiders to get pressure and surprise Rodgers. The Packers will spread the Raiders defense out and put the pressure on the Raiders secondary. If the Raiders don’t present Rodgers with any new challenges the Packers talent at receiver should be enough to beat the Raiders consistently.
If the Raiders play man, the Packers will spread them out wide and run crossing routes to open up consistent yards underneath and if the Raiders play zone the Packers will attack the safeties deep and dump it off short if the Raiders play it tight. The dump offs will be the responsibility of the Raider linebackers, even when they are executing a zone blitz. If the protection holds up around Rodgers expect small dump offs to turn into big gains.
Tackling will be important and the first man to the ball must make the tackle. Yards after catch must be limited through the air and on dump-offs. If the Raiders secondary doesn’t put a shoulder into their Tackles the Packers will chip away at them all day.
Bryan Bulaga/Marshall Newhouse vs. Kamerion Wimbley
The Raiders will deploy Wimbley as a defensive end on both sides, rotating out Lamarr Houston and Desmond Bryant when needed. Wimbley needs a performance reminiscent of his game against San Diego. The Raiders would be wise to keep Wimbley totally out of coverage and let him do all his work on the Packers sub-par offensive tackles.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Rolando McClain
McClain’s job is to keep the Raiders defense on the same page. The Raiders must play a clean mental game to limit Rodgers and confuse him and hope the Raiders can capitalize when the Packers occasionally make a mistake. If the Packers attempt to attack the Raiders weakness against the run it will be McClain’s play that makes them thing otherwise or continue. If Rodgers can easily diagnose the Raiders defense and catches the Raiders defense confused or out of position he will have a field day. Very important that McClain has a big day.
Greg Jennings vs. Stanford Routt
Jennings runs great routes and has the skills to beat almost any cornerback. The Raiders should take their chances with the Packers other offensive weapons and have Routt shadow Jennings. Routt successfully took away Vincent Jackson and he’ll need a similar performance Sunday.
Jermichael Finley vs. Mike Mitchell
The Packers told NFL.com that they will attack Mitchell after seeing something on film. Expect them to do so. Mitchell hasn’t played as well this season as he did last year when he limited Antonio Gates on too occasions. Finley is much like a younger Gates and Mitchell will have his hands full. Mitchell has been out of position on many occasions this year. With Chris Johnson, Michael Huff will be filling in at corner and Matt Giordano at safety, but it is Mitchell’s size, physicality and athleticism that gives him the best chance to limit Finley.
The Raidersblog prediction machine puts the game at Packers 30, Raiders 23 taking only into account offense and defense. The Raiders need to make a couple big plays, score on defense or score on special teams to close the gap. The Raiders can win this game and limiting mental mistakes, including penalties will certainly help them keep it close. If it is close, anything can happen. If the Packers decide to run, that could play into the Raiders strategy by keeping the score down, but the offense needs to show up in a big way without four of the fastest guys in the NFL.