Raiders-Broncos: Matchups to watch


Raiders-Broncos: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders have a full-fledged new starter at quarterback in Carson Palmer. A new veteran slot receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh. And while Sebastian Janikowski's status is in doubt thanks to his strained left hamstring, there is no truth to the rumor that Jim Breech is in line to kick for Oakland against Denver.Yes, the in-season transitional Raiders have been catching heat for picking up so many former Cincinnati Bengals of late -- Chinedum Ndukwe, anyone? -- but their focus is squarely on the Broncos.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:
Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain (55) vs. Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15)TALE OF THE TAPEMcClain: 6-3, 255, Alabama, second season
Tebow: 6-3, 236, Florida, second seasonThe Most Polarizing Figure in the Country and the Most Enigmatic Player in Raider Nation are sure to meet on the field, what with Tebow's proclivity for running up the middle of the field. The question, then, is will McClain's balky right ankle give him the mobility and agility to neutralize Tebow before he gets into the secondary?"There's certain things we'll do with (McClain) and again, he's been doing this for a couple of weeks," said Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "We get a feel for him during the week, even with the limited number of reps, how much can we give him? He was the first one to tell us in the last game, 'I've got to stop.'"So again, those are things we kind of judge during the week. I don't get into the injuries; I kind of let that be a gameday situation and we go with the feel and how he's ready to go. And our guys are ready to step up. If he can't go, the next guy's ready to go and we don't blink an eye."That McClain practiced Friday for the first time in weeks should be a good sign that he'll be able to play. After all, he has not missed a game since injuring the ankle at Houston on Oct. 9. Even if he's been limited.Besides, McClain's knowledge of Tebow -- they were SEC rivals in college -- should play a part as well as anything he can bring physically."I have a lot of respect for him," Tebow said of McClain. "I think he's a very good player. I really enjoyed playing against him in college. I feel like we had a great rivalry going, but with a lot of respect, and hopefully we'll continue that."Other matchups worth watchingRaiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (85) vs. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24): Is there any doubt lingering that Darrius Heyward-Bey is the Raiders' No. 1 receiver? He is on pace to becoming the first wideout to lead the Raiders in receiving since Ronald Curry in 2007.And as such, DHB is starting to garner more respect from opposing defenses. Which is why seeing the Hall of Fame-bound Bailey lining up opposite him should not surprise anyone and, really, be seen as a sign of respect for the maturing third-year pass catcher.And not just on the field. Heyward-Bey is becoming a leader in the receiving corps that is charged with keeping the young and impressionable group on the same page, what with so much roster turnover in the past few weeks."I mean, for me, it's easy," he said. "Because you see guys come and go in this league all the time. I mean, every Tuesday there's people coming in here working out. Everybody's job is on the line. They bring guys in all the time so, it's normal in this world for us."Seeing a guy whose bust will soon be in Canton defending you? Yeah, that's normal now, too.Raiders vs. chemistry issues -- Speaking of all that roster turnover, surely the locker room chemistry is being tested. But just how important is such a non-tangible topic?"Very," admitted Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "I think it has a lot to do with everything, but I think part of that chemistry is communication by the head coach to the players. And I think if you're fair and you're honest, they might not agree with it, but as long as you're honest with them and you tell them why you do things, why it's this way, why we go about conducting our business in a certain way, they will respect that."I think if you're phony and you don't keep it real with them, I think that's how you lose your locker room."Jackson also said he's addressed that in the locker room recently."I tell them every time I make a decision because this is their football team, and I let them know exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it," Jackson said. "And I think thats important so nobody goes over to the laundry room and have a sit-down where nobody knows what's going on. We don't have that here."We put it all out on the table and tell it how it is. Like I say, everybody might not like it, but I think they respect it because it's coming from the right place. It's honest, it's up front and we don't hide anything."

Marquette King a renaissance man, though punting is his specialty

Marquette King a renaissance man, though punting is his specialty

SARASOTA, Fla. – Raiders players had free time on Monday afternoon, and most scattered through the Sarasota Ritz Carlton hotel and the surrounding town.

Not Marquette King. The Raiders punter found a baby grand piano and started tickling the ivories. He wasn’t practicing chop sticks. The guy can flat play.

“I’m like Nick Cannon,” King said. “I can’t read music, but I can play what I can hear.”

King can flat punt, too.

While he simplifies his duty to catch it and kick it, it’s a bit more complicated than that. King seems to have mastered the art in his fourth season and the Raiders’ full-time punter.

This season could be his best, and that’s saying something. He’s averaging 42.4 net yards per attempt – the highest of his career – and has put 15 of 34 punts inside the 20-yard line. To top off that excellent stat line, he only has three touchbacks.

King had an excellent day against Jacksonville. He averaged 50.6 net yards over five punts and put four inside the 20. He also made one hard to catch. Jacksonville’s Rashad Greene muffed a punt that Andre Holmes recovered, giving the Raiders the short field required to score an easy touchdown.

Oh, and there was something about a 27-yard run off a bad snap, where he earned a first down with surprising speed.

What was King thinking on that crucial run, one that helped put Jacksonville down on Sunday afternoon?

"I just thought that,” King said, “if I ran fast enough, my ratings would go up on Madden.”

That earned some honors. King was named AFC special teams player of the week on Tuesday morning.

King, a master of social media, came up with a term for doing all that: Punthlete.

That’s an accurate term for someone among the first of his kind, a rare athlete who has become a real weapon for a quality Raiders team.

He can do other things, but earns a great living specializing in one thing.

“There ain’t nothing to really talk about,” King said. “You just catch the ball and punt it. There’s technique to it, but…”

King trailed off at that point. He isn’t interested in talking about his craft. The guy knows how to have a good time, whether it’s acting like a mannequin in a Sarasota Gap store, playing drums with a local band or playing soul music without much effort.

King taught himself how to play piano two seasons ago out of boredom on road trips, and learned the trade pretty fast.

“When I see pianos in the lobby, I just wanted to play it,” King said. “Now that I know how to play it, I can just play.

“I need it myself. It’s therapy.”

LB Smith praises Raiders' turnover ratio, but wants much more

LB Smith praises Raiders' turnover ratio, but wants much more

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders defense gave up 344 yards Sunday while beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That sum’s a season low, still way too many for Malcolm Smith. The Raiders weakside linebacker has higher standards, even after one of two solid defensive efforts in seven games.

“That’s still a lot of yards,” Smith said. “We’re not where we want to be.”

Just because Sunday was better doesn’t mean it’s good enough. The Raiders defense ranks last in yards allowed and 22nd in scoring defense at 25.6 points per game.

There’s a main reason why the Raiders aren’t dead last in both categories. Takeaways.

The Raiders have plundered the opposition this season 13 times in seven games. Special teams got one Sunday on a muffed punt, but the defense has been incredibly active stealing possession.

Reggie Nelson has a nose for the ball, with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Sean Smith and David Amerson have two picks each and Bruce Irvin leads the league with four forced fumbles.

Turnovers make all those yards allowed easy to stomach, and has kept the Raiders in several close games. The force big mistakes and don’t make many, proven with a plus-eight turnover ratio ranked No. 3 overall.

“It’s given us a chance to win some games, where you could just look at other statistics and say we wouldn’t have a chance.” Smith said. “That’s what the game is about, and us finding ways to compete. Hopefully we stay after it that way.”

The Raiders have stayed after it in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on just 50 percent of opponent trips inside their 20-yard line.

While big plays have brought wins and positivity to the defense, the season’s first half has been difficult for Raiders expecting more.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Smith said. “You come into the year with all these aspirations and things you want to do. When it doesn’t go your way you have to stay after it, keep putting the work in and know it’s not going to be wasted. Hopefully we’re making strides and those improvements will show on Sundays.”

The Raiders believe the defense is close to being good, and has done a solid job masking issues with takeaways and timely production.

“Our team has done a great job of competing to win games,” Smith said. “If we keep doing that, everything will be fine.”