QB Carson Palmer spots a receiver downfield. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in their first trip to Mall of America Field since 2007. The Silver and Black, after a NFL Network's Thursday Night Football victory over the San Diego Chargers, stand alone at the top of the AFC West with a 5-4 record. With the lead in their division, the Raiders are preparing for a five-week stretch that includes four games versus NFC North teams as well as a trip to Miami.
Led by rookie QB Christian Ponder, the Vikings head into Week 11 of the 2011 Regular Season with a 2-7 record. The Raiders will be facing offensive weapons including RB Adrian Peterson, WR Percy Harvin, and TE Visanthe Shiancoe, and defensive stalwarts DE Jared Allen, NT Remi Ayodele and leading tackler LB Chad Greenway.
"Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, I mean, these guys are a good football team," said Head Coach Hue Jackson. "At this juncture of the season I don't think you get so caught up in somebody's record. They're playing hard. I think this team is poised to play good. They have really good players and it's going to be a fun challenge."
The match up with the Vikings is a rematch of Super Bowl XI, the first of the Silver and Black's three championships. Oakland also leads the all-time regular season series against Minnesota 8-4. In light of the long history, but despite the infrequent match ups, the current squads are focused on the 2011 match up that will feature the #4 (Raiders) and #5 (Vikings) rushing offenses in the NFL.
"It's going to be tough," said QB Carson Palmer. "They're a lot better than their record shows. I think they probably have the defensive MVP on their team; they have a guy that can win the offensive MVP of the league in Adrian Peterson, so it's a dangerous team with playmakers all over the place. So, it's going to take our best effort to go in there and get a win."
The Raiders will have to contend with the hostile environment of the domed Mall of America Field. "You just really have to have a certain level of focus," said Palmer.
"It's difficult going into that environment. I've played there before when their record was a lot better than what it is right now and it's a very loud, very hostile place to play. That's always kind of the main thing is just go out and play offense the way we play it, play defense the way we play it."
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier is impressed with the way the Raiders offensive and defensive lines have been playing. "Those guys are doing really doing a good job," said Coach Frazier. "You have a couple of good backs there when [Darren] McFadden is playing along with [Michael] Bush. That offensive line – I'm impressed and as much so with the defensive line as well. They're really getting after the quarterback."
The Raiders defensive line heads into the game focused on stopping the run first. "Great team -- of course they've got all-day Adrian Peterson," said LB Quentin Groves. "Then they have a rookie quarterback that's making plays for them. So you have to come in with the mindset that you're going to try to contain Adrian and try to contain Christian Ponder too."
The Vikings running back is ranked fifth in the league in rushing with 846 yards and 10 touchdowns. "He is as good as there is," said Coach Jackson. "He is a rare player. He really is. He is a really good young man, and a tremendous football player, loves playing the game, is as good as there is so what a challenge for our defensive football team."
Peterson knows he will have to work hard against the Raiders defense. "The guys are playing outstanding on defense," said Peterson. "I strive toward playing good defenses. Just growing up and watching the Raiders and always hearing about the Raiders defense and this year those guys are pretty much on their old ways. These guys are playing some good football this year so that's the reason I'm excited to play these guys."
The Raiders are preparing to face Peterson and also the Vikings talented rookie quarterback. "[Adrian Peterson] is an animal, we have to stop that guy," said S Tyvon Branch. "In the passing game, I think we have to get after Ponder, get him to make some mistakes. He's a young guy so we need to force him into mistakes, rushing him."
Head Coach Hue Jackson knows what Ponder is capable of despite only seeing him in three starts, and four games, in the NFL. "I think he is very talented," said Coach Jackson. "Obviously, he can throw the ball. I got a chance to watch him last year as he was coming out, he has a real good arm, he is athletic, he is smart. I think Bill Musgrave does a great job of putting him in situations where you take advantage of his ability. Obviously, what's good for him, he has a great running back he can turn around and hand the ball to. It makes him a little bit more effective than most places."
Raiders CB Lito Sheppard played for the Minnesota Vikings last year and is looking forward to facing his former team. "It's a little bit more special for me, being that I was in Minnesota last year so I'm looking forward to that especially," said Sheppard. "It's just the next team in line and we're just trying to take it one week at a time and they're up next."
Having spent the 2010 season with the Vikings, Sheppard knows the type of athletes the Raiders will be matched up against. "They've got a lot of playmakers," said Sheppard. "I know that team real well as far as some of the personnel and they've got some playmakers. Although their record shows one thing, that's not an indicator of what type of talent and players they have on their team. We just don't want them to put that complete game together on us."
The Raiders offense will be facing DE Jared Allen, who leads the NFL in sacks with 13.5 heading into Week 11. "He never stops. He doesn't take a play off," said Coach Jackson. "He works at it. It's important to him. He wants to be the best. He has a burning desire to be one of the best at what he does, and he is. And that's why he doesn't get stopped and he is an issue for our football team. We respect his talent and what he brings to the table, but at the same time we have make sure we get him blocked."
RB Michael Bush, who had a career game against San Diego with 242 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, knows running against Allen will be a challenge. "Relentless, hard-nosed, one of the best guys in the league," Bush said of Allen. "I know he's leading the league in sacks right now so you have to be ready for him."
Palmer also knows to always be aware of where the Vikings defensive end is on the field. "You always need to know where he is," said Palmer. "He's one of a handful of guys in the league – it doesn't matter if you're running the ball away from him, they can make the play. He's a high-effort, explosive, fast, tenacious defender. He can do it all, so he's a guy we definitely need to keep our eye on and know where he is at all times."
Besides Allen, the offensive line will contend with the rest of the Vikings feisty front seven. "Fast bunch of slippery guys up front, got big Kevin Williams in there and two D-ends that are good and a nose guard Remi Ayodele, he's been in the league for awhile, he's been great," said C Samson Satele. "The linebackers are fast and the D-coordinator is from the Indianapolis Colts so they know how to win."
The Raiders backfield and O-line will be challenged by the Vikings defense. "Their front seven is good," said Bush. "They're number five in the league in stopping the run. That's huge. But if we keep going with what we're doing, slow some guys down on their end, we should be okay."
While the Raiders offensive line will work on protecting Palmer from the pass rush and opening holes for Bush, the wide receivers have the task of facing Vikings CB Asher Allen and S Husain Abdullah. "They play a lot of cover-2," said WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. "They're a cover-2 team and they try to disguise their coverages a little bit. You've got Asher Allen who is real physical, likes to get in the mix, so we're going to have to bring our 'A' game."
According to Heyward-Bey, the offense relishes playing against the top players in the league. "It's competition," said Heyward-Bey. "You love to go against the best in the game and you know you have to elevate your game to play at a high performance so every receiver loves to play against the top guys."
The Silver and Black heads into the weekend at the top of the AFC West and wants to remain in that standing. "[Being first in the division] just means the 'X' is going to get bigger on us," said Branch. "Guys are going to start coming for us, try to knock us out of our spot, so we have to stay focused and not let the first place get to us because we still have a lot of season left."
The Raiders take on the Vikings at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis, Minn. at 10:00 a.m. PT and will be broadcast on CBS and in the Bay Area on KPIX Channel 5. Follow along on Raiders.com, the Raiders official Facebook page, and Twitter.