Packers vs. Raiders Preview: 5 Things to Watch

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The Green Bay Packers (12-0) and Oakland Raiders (7-5) face off in Week 14 of the NFL season Sunday.

The basics 

When: 3:15 CST, Sunday, December 11, 2011.

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.

TV: CBS; Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; NFL Sunday Drive.

Series: Packers lead, 6-5 (Packers won last regular season game, 38-7, in Dec. 9, 2007 at Lambeau Field).

Five things to watch

1. Slow…Down

The Raiders’ speed, a feature their entire roster is built around, took a big hit on the offensive side when Oakland announced that Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Taiwan Jones would all miss Sunday’s game. In all fairness, these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill “fast guys,” either. You’d be hard-pressed to find a faster set of four players in the entire league. All but Jones were major contributors on offense, too.  Darius Heyward-Bey (4.25-second 40-yard dash) is healthy and should start at one receiver position, however.

Without several of their most important speed guys available, it will be interesting to see how the Raiders cope. They struggled last week in Miami.

2. Grounded

Even without McFadden in the lineup for the better part of two months, the Raiders running game has remained among the NFL’s elite. Oakland averages 140.1 rushing yards a game, which is good for fourth in the league. Backup running back Michael Bush has been a big reason why the Raiders’ running game hasn’t missed a beat since McFadden went out, as Bush has rushed for 548 yards and three scores over the Raiders’ last six games. A big back at 6-1, 245 pounds, Bush should be a major focus of Dom Capers’ defense on Sunday.

Big backs like Bush (think Mike Tolbert, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Jacobs) have had success against the Packers’ run defense this season. They’ll again be without leading tackler Desmond Bishop because of a calf strain, and rookie D.J. Smith will start in his place. Without Bishop and A.J. Hawk last week, the New York Giants ran for 100 yards on just 20 carries. While I’m not convinced that the Raiders can win the game solely on the ground, they can definitely control the pace with a strong showing from Bush and the running game.

 3. Another test

The consensus way to “theoretically” slow the Packers’ offense in 2011 has been to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers from the front four. Like Detroit and New York over the past two weeks, Oakland presents another pass rush that fits that bill. Kamerion Wimbley has had a career year and should give left tackle Marshall Newhouse all he can handle. Newhouse, who will be starting his 10th game for injured Chad Clifton, really struggled last week against the Giants. Wimbley isn’t the only threat, however. Richard Seymour (six sacks), Lamarr Houston (five tackles for losses), Desmond Bryant (four sacks) and Tommy Kelly (5.5 sacks) can all get penetration and disrupt things in the passing game.

With Josh Sitton missing his second straight game, the Packers offensive line will have their hands full. A big day from the Raiders’ aforementioned defensive front is a must for Oakland to leave Green Bay with an upset.

 4. Stay on the attack

No surprise here. The forecast calls for 40 degrees and sunny on Sunday, so the Packers’ passing game should have perfect conditions to throw the football all day against a suspect Oakland secondary. With James Starks unavailable, Mike McCarthy may choose to run less than the 28 times they did a week ago despite the fact that Oakland ranks 28th against the run.

The Raiders defense has played a lot of press man-to-man coverage under Chuck Bresnahan this season. That plays right into the Packers’ hands on offense. Each of the Packers’ receivers is well-versed at beating press coverage at the line of scrimmage, and Rodgers has been a surgeon on back shoulder throws against tight man-to-man. If the offensive line is even average at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers should pick the Raiders’ secondary apart. There’s simply too many weapons to keep them all down. Another game with two or more touchdowns and a passer rating over 100 should be a given for Rodgers.

 5. Measuring stick?

I think some are already putting the Packers and Saints in the NFC Championship game, but there’s still that team playing pretty well out on the West Coast. In my estimation, Sunday’s game with the Raiders could be a good measuring stick for how the Packers may matchup with the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers. It’s not a perfect comparison, obviously, as the Raiders’ defense isn’t nearly as good statistically as the Niners this season. But the Raiders are still a physical team on both lines and will center their offense around the run, much like San Francisco. The Falcons in Week 5 were a similar team. Nine weeks later, the Raiders will give Green Bay another barometer on this same type of game.

Prediction: Packers 34, Raiders 10

Not having to face the Raiders’ speed guys is a huge break for the Packers defense. McFadden and Moore were especially big losses. Last week, Carson Palmer struggled to get into a rhythm and the Dolphins focused in on stopping Oakland’s run game. I think the Packers can follow that same formula. On offense, it’s going to take a dominant effort from the Raiders’ pass rushers for Oakland to keep the Packers from scoring 30 or more. Rodgers will pick apart the press man-to-man otherwise. In the end, I think that’s what happens. Green Bay rolls to 13-0 with a dominant effort on both sides of the ball.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Ron LC

    Nantz and Simms – Thank you God for Wayne and Larry. The mute button on the TV has already been activated.

    • Zach Kruse

      Amen to that, Ron.