The Packers defense will be facing a rare challenge in what has become a league of pass-happy offense. Sunday, the Packers defense will have to stop the run.
“If we stop the run, that’s half of it. We have to stop the run and make them one-dimensional,” Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said of the Oakland Raiders, a team that is at a nearly 50-50 split between run and pass.
In today’s NFL, that is an unheard of ratio. Most teams are throwing the ball closer to 60 percent of the time. The Packers are running the ball 42.8 percent of their total plays.
The Raiders, however, are an old-school team. They have remained true to their Raiders roots, which is about a strong inside running game and a deep, play-action passing attack.
“Those are the first two things that jump out at you,” Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said. “They’ve got as much speed at receiver as we’ve seen all year. They’re going to take their shots up the field. That’s the nature of their game.”
Against a Packers defense that is allowing big plays at an alarming clip, it’s a certainty that the Raiders will take their shots up the field, but not before they pound away at the Packers’ defensive front.
“He’s not only a big back that can run downhill on you, he’s got good hands and he’s got a little wiggle to him,” Capers said of Raiders running back Michael Bush, who has rushed for 686 yards and six touchdowns in replacing the injured Darren McFadden.
The Packers’ run-defense ranking had been as high in the league as third early in the season, but has fallen to 13th currently. It struggled to hold up against Brandon Jacobs and the Giants last weekend.
“We’re in the month of December. It’s time for us to pick it up. We certainly did in the last six games of last year. We have to be able to pick up our share of the load,” Capers said of his defense, which is ranked 31st overall and 31st against the pass.
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is still feeling his way around his wide receiving corps, after being acquired by the Raiders in a midseason trade with Cincinnati.
“Feeling more and more comfortable every chance I get. We’re definitely banged up and need to get healthy. It’s been getting on board with everything, starting all over again. I stepped into a good situation. It’s a great organization; it’s an organization that wants to win today. It’s an exciting time to be here. There’s a lot of energy,” Palmer told reporters this week.
Palmer has thrown for 1,485 yards, eight touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 77.5 passer rating. Darrius Heyward-Bey is Palmer’s top receiver with 38 catches for 542 yards.
“The Dolphins got up on them and they only ran 14 times. I would anticipate them coming in here and wanting to run the ball 35 times again,” Capers said.
Capers made a point to acknowledge fullback Marcel Reece. “The Reece guy is a special fullback,” Capers said.
The good news for the Packers is that safety Morgan Burnett won’t be wearing the cast on his arm that he had been wearing since midseason to protect a broken hand. It should aid his tackling ability to have two free hands.
“He’s been playing with a big, old cast on his arm. He’s got that off now,” Capers said.
The Packers will need to get all of their arms around Bush on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Conversely, the Raiders will be facing an even more daunting challenge in an undefeated Packers team that is led by the widely-acclaimed-to-be best quarterback in the game, Aaron Rodgers.
“The Packers are an unbelievable franchise, one of the best in football. They’re coached by a guy I have a lot of respect for; Mike’s done a great job everywhere he’s been. The quarterback, obviously, is the starting point for that football team. Last year they were in a situation kind of like us. That team came together and they’ve been on an unbelievable run. They play to win and they have a mindset and belief that nobody can beat them. When you get that kind of attitude and the organization supports you that way, then great things happen. That’s what’s happening in Green Bay,” Raiders Head Coach Hue Jackson said.
What will it take for the Raiders to become the first team to beat the Packers this season?
“It would take us to play flawless football. We have to do a great job on offense of scoring points, we have to do a great job on defense of limiting their ability to score points, and then we have to play great special teams because they have some returners that can make magic happen. We have to play as well as we’ve played all season to beat this football team,” Jackson added. Additional coverage - Dec. 9