11

December

Packers vs. Raiders Preview: 5 Things to Watch

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

10

December

2011 NFL Season Week 14: Green Bay Packers vs. Oakland Raiders Preview: Hello Bye?

It nearly disappeared in a New York minute, but the Green Bay Packers have made it to 12-0.

After their biggest scare to date in their 38-35 win over the New York Giants thanks to a brilliant last minute drive by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers return home to face the Oakland Raiders Sunday at 3:15. The Raiders, tied with the Denver Broncos at 7-5 atop the AFC West, come into the game after a 34-14 beatdown at the hands of the suddenly hot Miami Dolphins.

So how will the rematch of Super Bowl II pan out? Let’s look at the Raiders.

Raiders Key Players

QB Carson Palmer The Oakland front office took a lot of heat for the trade that acquired Palmer and sent to the Cincinnati Bengals a first round pick and a conditional second round pick that would become a first rounder should Oakland play for the AFC championship in either of the next two years.

After his length stalemate with the Bengals, it was unknown exactly what shape Palmer would be in. Was he working out during his “retirement” or was he already moving on to his post-football life.

The jury is still out after nine games. Palmer is completing 55% of his passes and has thrown eight TDs against seven interceptions.

In a game where the Packers have a concussed Charles Woodson and could be without Desmond Bishop and AJ Hawk, Palmer presents a challenge for the NFC North champions. He is the biggest upgrade the Raiders have had at the position in years and still has an arm to make a lot of throws. Palmer isn’t setting the world on fire, but he is still a decent QB.

RB Michael Bush Even with Darren McFadden still sidelined with injury, the Raider rushing attack is still potent with Bush carrying the load. At 6’1” and 245 lbs., Bush is a big bruising back who, if he gets through the Packers’ defensive line, he could cause real problems for their depleted linebackers.

Although he stunk last week against the Dolphins with only 18 yards on 10 carries, he still broke 100 against the Vikings and Chargers and nearly put 100 on the Broncos’ revived rushing defense.

Throw in the Packers have given up 100 yards rushing each of the past three weeks, and Bush is a player to watch during this game.