Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders travel to Green Bay, Wis., to take on the undefeated Packers at Lambeau Field in 2011 Regular Season Week 14 action. The Silver and Black, tied for first place in the AFC West, look to hand Green Bay their first loss since December 19, 2010 against the Patriots. The Raiders hope to get back on track and start the last quarter of the regular season with a win.
The Packers, currently 12-0, are fourth in the league in total offense and third in passing offense. QB Aaron Rodgers holds the highest quarterback rating in the league at 125.3 and has thrown for 37 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Packers defense leads the NFL in interceptions with 23, led by former Raider CB Charles Woodson.
The Raiders know they will have a tough challenge when they run out onto Lambeau Field. "They're playing with a lot of confidence," said Head Coach Hue Jackson about the Packers. "I think they play together. I think there's a tremendous trust of their football team and what they're doing offensively, defensively, and special teams. I mean it's really interesting – this team was kind of in a little different state a year ago about this time. All of a sudden, they put together a heck of a run. They've been on it and they've stayed on it. They are as good as there is on offense. They're playing good on defense. They're playing good on special teams. They're a really good football team."
The head coach of the Packers, Mike McCarthy, knows his Green Bay team will be facing a talented group from Oakland. "Good football team, definitely a very talented big, physical football team," said Coach McCarthy. "Really the same as I always remember competing against these guys. They're explosive on offense, able to run the football, very multiple on defense, schematically challenge you and what can you say about both Shane [Lechler] and Sebastian [Janikowski] as far as what they've accomplished on special teams? So this will be a big challenge for us on Sunday."
With the two storied franchises matching up on Sunday on national television, the Raiders defense is working hard to find ways to stop Rodgers and his offense. "I think he's as quick as there is right now in the game in releasing the ball," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "The one thing that you do is when you study his throw areas, his target areas, is even though they're deadly deep down each sideline, he's got majority of his throws quick in the shallow areas. So then they rely on their guys to make plays after the catch, yardage after the catch, and they do a great job of it.
"So the challenge is there – when you have so many different weapons and you chart their first 15 and you've got eight, nine guys that have catches in the first 15 plays, you can't defend one guy. Yeah sure, [Greg] Jennings is his lead target and with [Jermichael] Finley and then you go with Jordy Nelson but you can't target just one particular player or you're going to get burned somewhere else. So, you've got to keep him a little bit off balanced with a mix of coverages. But at the same time, you can't do too much or he's going to pick you apart because if you're not sure on what you're doing, he's as good as there is right now in getting rid of the ball and making a good, quick decision."
Rodgers is aware of what the Raiders defense is capable of. "There are a number of big name guys on their defense; they're real stout up front," said Rodgers. "You know, [Richard] Seymour is playing very well, Kamerion Wimbley was a good pick up. I think his versatility being able to rush off the edge and be athletic enough to drop in coverage that gives him some different looks they can do. They're going to throw some different things at you."
Coach Bresnahan knows his defense will have to be on top of their game in order to stop Rodgers and the explosive Packers offense. "You have to get him [Rodgers] off his rhythm and some of the time when the ball's coming out so quick in the short routes, that gets tougher," said Coach Bresnahan. "So, you have to have your coverage combinations to take away the short routes to buy your defensive line. You have to have the defensive line step up and that's been our challenge this week is that they have to get after him, get the hands up, get some tip balls. So again, you're not going to eliminate the plays in this game but you have to minimize them and keep them within a good realm of keeping our offense in the game and then we've got to limit their series. We've got to get off the field in three, four, five [plays] and try to force them into punts and field goal attempts."
Rodgers has helped lead his team to an undefeated season 13 weeks in, completing 70.6 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,844 yards. "He's playing at a level that other guys haven't played the position at before," said QB Carson Palmer. "You can look at his film and us playing the NFC North this year, you see a lot of Packer games, and he's doing something that nobody's done before. [He's good] at avoiding pressures, getting rid of the ball, throwing the ball downfield, being accurate with the ball, throwing the ball towards the sidelines, running with it, everything - every facet of the game."
The Raiders defense is working hard to find ways to stop Rodgers. "You can just tell he's very smart," said DE Trevor Scott. "He knows where his receivers are going to be before they even get there and we've got to take it upon us up front to throw him off his game and his rhythm. We know he gets rid of the ball fast and he's got a great eye for his receivers."
Rodgers has a number of receiving targets at his disposal including Donald Driver, Jennings, Finley, and Nelson. "They're very good at what they do," said CB Bryan McCann. "They're not like a lot of teams that try to confuse you with motions or different formations or crazy personnel, but they're very efficient with what they do. So basically, you have to line up and beat them."
One of Rodgers' targets, Finley, averages 14.3 yards per catch and has scored six touchdowns this season. "This is a guy that adds a version of versatility to their offense where they could put him at number one, they could put him at number two, they could put him in a traditional tight end position, they could put him in the backfield, there's so many ways that they can try to get the mismatch," said Coach Bresnahan. "You have to be disciplined in what you do and you have to change up the coverages so that you don't get that mismatch too many times."
According to FS Michael Huff, the Packers offense has become more complex. "They have evolved so much and so many different things they do that you have to study them that much more to be heads up on them," said Huff.
The defense is looking forward to Sunday's match up with the undefeated team. "It's going to be a good challenge," said CB Stanford Routt. "Obviously, he can make every throw on the field and they've got good receivers who have good ball skills. So, I think it's going to be a fun game on Sunday."
The Packers defense, on the other hand, although not as strong in the statistics category, has found ways to help the team win. "They are a team that is multiple in fronts, they're multiple in coverages and I think what they do is they come and attack what you do," said Coach Jackson. "I think Coach [Dom] Capers does a great job. Obviously, the guy's been doing this for so long and I know people talk about their defense and what they aren't. But, what I see is what they are. They're still making plays and making enough plays to win games and at the end of the day, that's all anybody is trying to do is win football games.
"Obviously, it's a group that's won a Super Bowl," said Palmer. "It's very accomplished; it's a good group overall. Very good pass rushers; obviously Charles Woodson can make plays and he's been making plays for the last handful of years being the Defensive MVP of the league, but just a good, very solid group."
One defensive statistical category in which the Packers do excel is turnovers. "They make good plays on the ball," said Palmer. "I wouldn't say they're a team that jumps routes all over the place. They jump routes at the right time when the ball is coming their way, but they force turnovers also. They're a ball-hawking defense, they know they want to get their offense the ball and what their offense can do with the ball so they take chances and try to force fumbles. They're swinging at the ball and always taking opportunities to try and knock the ball loose."
Coach Jackson wants to make sure his team focuses on playing smart football. "We have to take care of the ball," said Coach Jackson. "I mean, you have to do a great job of taking care of the ball and making sure that you don't turn it over. I think they're second in the league in getting turnovers. I think they have something like 27 of them. That's what gives their offense even more lag to get turnovers and you look up and they turn them into touchdowns. So, you've got to make sure you're taking care of the ball. What we're going to do is play as intelligent as we can, as smart as we can, as hard as we can, and give ourselves the best opportunity to go win this football game."
Veteran RB Rock Cartwright understands the challenge the Raiders offense will see at Lambeau Field. "They've got a great defense," said Cartwright. "Those guys fly around real well, so it's a tough task for us, but I think guys are going prepare as well as we can and go down there and give it our best shot. You never know what's going to happen. We're just going to go out and play Raider football. It's going to be tough, but like I said, we're going to play Raider football."
The Green Bay defense is led by Woodson and a linebacking corps of Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. "Matthews is one hell of a pass rusher," said Cartwright. "He does an excellent job of getting to the quarterback and Woodson's all over the field, so guys are going to have to be alert to where those guys are, try to pick those guys up and block those guys. I'm sure they're going to blitz, so we'll be ready."
The Silver and Black offense is most focused on playing the Raiders style of football. "We just want to control what goes on the offensive side of the ball," said RB Michael Bush. "We run the ball, kill the clock, make big plays, pass to score so we'll be good."
Although the Packers are an undefeated team, the Raiders are determined to prepare and take the field with the same determined mentality and Commitment to Excellence. "We go out every week with the mentality that we want to win," said SS Tyvon Branch. "These guys just happen to be undefeated this week so we're just going to go out there, put our best foot forward and whatever happens happens."
No team has been able to defeat Green Bay in 2011, but the Raiders are ready to be the first. "They are playing the Raiders this week," said Coach Jackson. "We're going to show up and we're going to be ready to play. They have a goal, we have a goal too – we need to get back to winning. It's going to be fun to see."