Browns-Raiders: Matchups to watch


Browns-Raiders: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- Emotions are sure to run high for the Raiders against Cleveland in their first home game since the passing of owner Al Davis on Saturday.So Oakland will have more than the Browns to worry about at the Coliseum. The Raiders will have to guard against an emotional letdown, of sorts. But to a man, the Raiders insist that won't be the case, not when they are already aware of such danger."That's what most people are expecting us to do -- come out here against the Browns...flat and lay an egg," said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. "I don't expect us to do that. We looked good in practice. We're just trying to build."It's going to be emotional because they're going to do the tribute for the old man. I already know what he wants out of this team. He wants championships and we can't be talking about trying to go win our division and slip up against Cleveland at home. You have to win your home games, break even on the road. This is a big game because we lost our last home game."A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:Raiders outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (96) vs. Browns running back Peyton Hillis (40)
TALE OF THE TAPEWimbley: 6-4, 255, Florida State, sixth seasonHillis: 6-2, 250, Arkansas, fourth seasonWimbley was a revelation in his first season with the Raiders, leading the team with nine sacks last year. This season, he has only one sack in five games.Concerned? Not Wimbley. Neither are the Raiders. Not when he's still getting pressures. And not when he's sure to be amped up playing against his former team, an organization that traded him to the Raiders on March 14, 2010 for a third-round draft pick. That pick turned out to be quarterback Colt McCoy."Oh, yeah, I've been watching him," Wimbley said. "He's doing pretty good. But it's no different than any other quarterback that I'm going after. The main goal is to affect him, get him on the ground and get sacks."This will be a fun game. I know a lot of the players over there. Im looking forward to going out, playing as hard as I can and winning the game."Wimbley, the No. 13 overall pick of the 2006 draft, had 11 sacks as a rookie outside linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4 scheme but after four seasons with the Browns, a voicemail from the Raiders, and not his initial NFL team, while he was on a long driving trip from Florida to Ohio let him know he had been traded."I practiced and competed with a lot of those guys for years, so I know a little bit about them," Wimbley said. "They know about me, as well. So, it will be fun to go out there and see them again, play against them and play them here in Oakland."Wimbley's salaries have skyrocketed in Oakland. He was initially supposed to make 685,000 in the final year of his initial contract and the Raiders tried to utilize the "buyback" option to keep him in the fold. But the bump to 3.5 million was in violation of the NFL's "30 percent rule." So the Raiders used the franchise tag on him, worth 11.3 million. But when Oakland needed salary cap relief, he restructured his deal and is now guaranteed a reported 29 million.He is, no doubt, a much more financially secure player than he was the last time his old Browns teammates saw him."There are a lot of new faces over there but there's still a whole bunch of familiar faces," Wimbley said. "So, I'm sure guys will be chatting it up a little bit when we get out there on the field Sunday."But the pleasantries will stop with the opening kickoff. Playing on the strong side, Wimbley will be sure to get a healthy dose of Hillis running behind the tight end. Wimbley, who also plays end in the Raiders nickel defense, could see significant time there if Matt Shaughnessy's shoulder keeps him out a third straight game and the newly-acquired Aaron Curry finds time at strong-side linebacker in run situations.Enter Hillis.Interestingly enough, Hillis was Oakland tailback Darren McFadden's blocking back at Arkansas, but has carved out his own identify in Cleveland after rushing for 1,177 yards last season and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He's averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry thus far."Peyton Hillis is as good as there is in the league," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "The guy, he's a beast. He'll run you over, there's no question about that."If you get in his way you better get ready to get bruised up. Everybody needs to go get their massages and all the other foo-foo stuff we need to do before we play this guy because you're going to have to bring your 'A' game to get this guy down, I promise you that."Plus a more effective and highly-motivated Wimbley against the run.Other matchups worth watching: Raiders tight end Kevin Boss (87) vs. Browns outside linebacker Scott Fujita (99) -- After catching a combined six passes in his first two games as a member of the Raiders, Boss was shut out and was not even targeted once against Houston. Turns out his blocking skills were more needed against the Texans' fearsome pass rush.The Browns offer no such rush, though it's under-rated."It will be different," assured Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, "and he will be more involved in other games."So that should free up Boss to release and find seams down the middle of the field."They give you a lot to prepare for, no doubt about it," Fujita said. "Even today's practice, it was kind of mentally exhausting, working through the gymnastics of everything, play in, play out, personnel changes, big shifts, bringing in a big offensive lineman in a tight end position, doing some unbalanced (things)really stretching the perimeters with these running backs. So you have your work cut out for you."Especially if the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Boss gets going and Fujita, who is 6-5, 250 pounds, is charged with covering him.Raiders special teams coach John Fassel vs. Browns returner Josh Cribbs (16) -- With eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns and two punt returns for scores, Cribbs has long been one of the most dangerous return men in the game.So how does "Bones" Fassel gameplan for a guy averaging 28.4 yards on kick returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns this season? Does he simply have Sebastian Janikowski kick the ball out of the end zone?"That's what he's known for," said Cribbs, who has two returns of at least 40 yards this season. "So to combat that we will take deeper drops.I'm going to be standing back there like I was the first game against Cincinnati. I will have my foot on the edge of the end zone ready to bring them out.We're going to make it happen when they give us an opportunity."And on punts, should Shane Lechler out-kick the coverage with a 6-1, 215-pound burner sitting in wait?"Oh I love it, we love that," said Cribbs, who has three punt returns of at least 20 yards this season. "We love for them to out-kick their coverage because that gives them the disadvantage. He might think that it's a good thing for them to give them the opportunity to pin us back, but I believe we have a great return unit and the guys really get after it."The special teams ball, so to speak, is in Fassel's court.

Following surgery, Raiders activate former second-round pick off PUP list


Following surgery, Raiders activate former second-round pick off PUP list

Raiders defensive lineman Jihad Ward injured his foot during the team's offseason program and hasn't seen the field since. Last year's second-round pick had it surgically repaired, and missed training camp rehabiltating. 

He's finally ready to go. He passed a physical on Monday and was removed from the physically unable to perform list. The team had a walk-through on Monday. Ward should be active for Tuesday afternoon's practice, the first back at their Alameda practice facility. 

The Illinois product had 30 tackles in 13 starts last season, playing significant snaps with Mario Edwards Jr. out due to a hip injury. He'll have to compete for a spot in the rotation, even after working with the first unit during the offseason program. Rookie third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes has played well in his absence and could be a three-down player inside. 

Ward was a raw, yet athletic talent capable of playing several techniques across the line. The teams sees great potential, though Ward must continue to develop as a player. 

In addition, the Raiders activated tight end Cooper Helfet off the non-football injury list.

Khalil Mack ready for regular season, but Raiders defense is not


Khalil Mack ready for regular season, but Raiders defense is not

OAKLAND – The Los Angeles Rams assigned two blockers to Khalil Mack, a common practice against the reigning defensive player of the year. Sometimes it works. This time it didn’t.

The Raiders edge rusher split the double team, found his target and pounced. Jared Goff stood zero chance. There was no evading this one. Mack brought last year’s No. 1 overall pick down with authority, claiming a sack that ultimately won’t count in his 2017 total.

The sacks highlighted a dominant performance that also included three quarterback pressures, four total tackles and two for a loss. All that in three series.

Mack’s clearly ready for the regular season. As a whole, the Raiders defense is not.

Saturday’s 24-21 loss to the Rams at Oakland Coliseum proved that point. A below average offense had no trouble scoring on a starting unit that looks a bit lost.

“I thought our defense was poor, in particular early when we started the game,” head coach Jack Del Rio said in a postgame press conference. “We’re going to have to get a whole lot better there.”

It has to happen quickly, with the regular season bearing down and the Raiders still trying to correct the same old thing. Making proper reads and improved communication has been an emphasis this offseason as coaches work to get this defense playing better together. It’s still preseason and there’s time to teach and coach and fix problems, but the defense isn't quite right.

“I think we’ll go a long way when we clean some of those things up,” Del Rio said. “The things that we’ve talked about for too long in terms of communication errors, eye violations and things like that that just keep you from ever being really good on defense. Those just have to get cleaned up.”

Issues are present in the front seven but more obvious in the back, where explosive pass plays continue to plague the starting unit. The Raiders allowed two plays over 20 yards on the first series and six plays of 10 or more yards in three series on Saturday, when the full starting unit was active. The Rams scored 14 points – Mack’s sack squashed the lone non-scoring drive – in three series.

Del Rio was bothered by misreads and “eye violations,” in coverage, which make things easier for an opposing offense.

“When you see them, it’s not a good thing,” Del Rio said. “Yeah, I mean it’s really simple. You don’t have your eyes where they belong and you’re playing man? You’re playing man or even in zone. If you’re not seeing what you need to see, it makes it hard.”

Fixing these problems could improve execution and make life harder on opponents. It needs to happen this summer or the Raiders will have to win a lot of shootouts.

“Obviously, I identify what the problem is,” Del Rio said. “Getting it fixed is the challenge.”