Raiders-Lions: Matchups to watch

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Raiders-Lions: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- The last time the Raiders suffered a pair of disheartening defeats it appeared as though they were circling the drain -- home losses to Kansas City and Denver by a cumulative 66-24. However, they responded by winning three straight games.Do they have it in them again, after getting pummeled at Miami and Green by by a combined 80-30 and with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread?We should know right away as the Raiders (7-6) face a near mirror-image in the Detroit Lions (8-5) as both compete for playoff spots.Both are penalty-prone teams who have athletes up and down their respective rosters but share issues in stopping the run. The Raiders are allowing an NFL-worst 5.2 yards per carry; the Lions, 5.1 yards per carry. Only eight teams have allowed more than five yards per carry since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon from the O.co Coliseum:Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (26) vs. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson (81).TALE OF THE TAPERoutt: 6-1, 195, Houston, seventh season
Johnson: 6-5, 236, Georgia Tech, fifth seasonSuch an integral part of the Lions offense is Johnson, that alarm bells have started to sound in the Motor City over his relative lack of production over the last three games. Of course, grabbing 13 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in a three-game stretch would make for a good season in some parts.Just not in a town where the game-changing pass catcher is known as "Megatron."And therein lies the challenge for Routt.Johnson might be the most physically gifted receiver in the NFL, so rarely do teams rely on one-on-one coverage to limit the damage caused by him. Rather, they slide a safety over to help out said cornerback."I just play whatever is called," Routt said. "Whatever the D-coordinator wants to do, I'm fine with it. It's not my defense. I always play what is called. As far as help, if I got it I got it, if I don't I don't. I still have to make the play no matter what. I don't really get into all that. I just play football."Routt has three interceptions this season, which is tied for the team lead with safety Matt Giordano.Johnson has 72 catches (sixth-most in the NFL) for 1,121 yards (fourth-most) and 12 touchdowns (second-most). So it's not as if Johnson is having a down year."Whatever the definition of a diva wide receiver is, Calvin's the opposite of that," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "He's a team-first guy, he's sort of a mild-mannered guy off the field. But the one thing is, we don't have any Randy (Moss)-ratios or anything like that as far as getting Calvin Johnson the ball. We obviously want to get him the ball; he's one of our better players. We have other good players around him and sometimes defenses will take the approach of trying to take Calvin completely out of the game."With that being said, even with their gameplans, he's still been able to get the ball. Nobody's shut him out...Calvin's having a great year."The Raiders, then, need Routt to have a great game."I don't think he's really bothered by much," Routt said of Johnson. "I don't think any receiver likes being hit. Hell, I don't like being hit. I don't really see too many weaknesses in his game. He definitely has a lot to bring to the tablehis speed, obviously, his height. When you combine those together, it's a tough matchup for most corners."Other matchups worth watching:
Raiders right guard Cooper Carlisle (66) vs. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) -- Carlisle just might be the most laid back of the Raiders offensive linemen.He's going to have to kick it up against the 6-feet-4, 307-pound Suh, who was voted the NFL's third-meanest player in a Sports Illustrated players poll last month and who is coming off his two-game suspension for stomping Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving."He's obviously a good player, had a lot of success in a short period of time in the NFL," Carlisle said of Suh. "I think his greatest attribute is probably his power. He does a lot with his strength and his power."As a rookie, Suh had 10 sacks and was named defensive rookie of the year, as well as All-Pro. This season, Suh has just three sacks while being, as his supporters claim, targeted by the referees."His penalty on Thanksgiving was the first penalty that he's gotten that's been truly an after-the-whistle penalty, where he lost his composure," Schwartz said of Suh."Other than that, I really can't speak on what his perception is. I know he's a good football player, he's a good teammate, and we're glad to have him on our team."Which is why the 6-5, 295-pound Carlisle laughed when asked if he'd antagonize a player with such a purported hair-trigger temper."I don't think so," Carlisle said. "I don't think so."Then again, the best way for Carlisle and the Raiders to neutralize Suh as a pass rusher would be to establish the run, so that quarterback Carson Palmer is not dropping back and becoming even more of a target. Otherwise, center Samson Satele is going to have to slide over and help Carlisle."The position (Suh) plays allows for some double-teams because he's kind of in the middle there and not necessarily on the edge in one-on-one situations a lot," Palmer said. "He splits double-teams, he pushes double-teams out of the way. He's a guy that we're very focused on, and we're going to understand where he's at at all times. And you have to because he's a heck of a player."Raiders and Lions vs referees -- In leading the NFL in penalties (130) and penalty yards (1,116), the Raiders remain on pace to set new league records for both (160 for 1,374, which would eclipse the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs' mark of 158 for 1,304).The Lions are not far behind, having been flagged 105 times for 894 yards.The interesting nugget, though, comes courtesy of STATS Inc. -- the Raiders and Lions are tied for the league lead in personal fouls with 27.So the refs are certainly going to be busy in a game that promises to resemble an old-school WWF battle royal, no?"Hopefully not," Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch said with a laugh. "Hopefully just for them."We're walking a thin line here, man. Our aggressive play seems to be too aggressive, it seems like. They always seem to flag us for them but hey, man, that's the nature of the game."It's well-documented that both of these teams are physical teams and we walk that thin line. But it is what it is, man. It's not going to change the way we play."Then there's this: the Raiders have given opponents 45 first downs via penalty, 11 off the record set by those 1998 Chiefs. And of those free first downs, 16 have led to scores.

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

Donald Penn: Raiders players trust McKenzie will add right pieces

The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.

They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.

Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.

“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”

While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.

The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.

“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.

"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”

Raiders LT Donald Penn: QB Derek Carr 'almost 100 percent'

Raiders LT Donald Penn: QB Derek Carr 'almost 100 percent'

Derek Carr is on the mend. The Raiders franchise quarterback had surgery to repair his fibula shortly after he broke it in a Week 16 victory over Indianapolis, and is recovering well during the offseason.

Carr insisted on intense rehab this winter in an attempt – however unlikely it may have been – to return should the Raiders have played in the Super Bowl. It slowed to a normal pace after the Raiders' loss at Houston in the postseason’s opening round, but those in contact with him say he’s making strides.

Left tackle Donald Penn was recently in contact with Carr, and provided an update on Monday during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network.

“I texted Derek (a few) days ago checking in,” Penn said, “and he said he’s almost 100 percent.”

Surgically-repaired broken filbulas take significant time to heal, and the Raiders plan to be conservative with their MVP candidate during the offseason. Derek Carr’s brother and NFL Network analyst David Carr, who was on set with Penn on Monday, said Derek could be back for offseason work.

“He’s doing good,” David Carr said. “He’s walking around already, stretching it out. You can’t do a lot for the bone, right? But he’s going to be back. He’s going to get a whole full offseason in. That’s going to be the best part.”