By Steve Corkran
Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 at 7:07 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Running back Darren McFadden was among the 11 players who missed practice Tuesday. Not what Raiders coach Hue Jackson wants to see two days before he takes his team to San Diego for an AFC West showdown with the San Diego Chargers.
Yet, there’s not much he can do about the situation. As of now, he is without seven players who started the regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos, as well as kicker Sebastian Janikowski — McFadden, quarterback Jason Campbell, center Samson Satele, right tackle Khalif Barnes, defensive tackle Richard Seymour, cornerback Chris Johnson and free safety Michael Huff.
“If a guy is physically unable to practice, than we’re not going to practice ‘em,” Jackson said. “I don’t think we’re holding anybody out. If a guy can go, you know my deal, we practice. Right now, those particular players cannot go. Now tomorrow, they may be able to. By Thursday, they may be able to. But that’s yet to be seen.”
Worse, safety Mike Mitchell, cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and safety Chinedum Ndukwe also weren’t able to practice Tuesday.
None of those 11 has been ruled out for Thursday’s game, including McFadden, Jackson said. A report earlier today said McFadden has been ruled out. Not so, by all accounts.
“There’s further progress,” Jackson said of McFadden, who has yet to run on the foot. “Obviously, he’s not out here right now, but I know he’s getting better.”
It’s a long-shot, at best, that McFadden will return after missing most of the Kansas City Chiefs game, every practice the past two-plus weeks and the Denver Broncos game last Sunday.
When last spotted, McFadden was on crutches and with his right foot in a protective boot. The smart money says, Jackson rests McFadden this week in hopes of getting him back for the Minnesota Vikings game Nov. 20.
PENALTIES AND INTERCEPTION A KILLER
Moreso than anything the Chiefs and Broncos did against the Raiders, it’s the interceptions and penalties that are keeping the Raiders from winning of late.
Hard to argue that point. The Raiders had six passes intercepted — two were returned for touchdowns — and committed 29 penalties for 250 yards in losses to the Chiefs and Broncos.
“We cannot continue to put ourselves in negative situations,” Jackson said. “All that does is beat you, and we’ve beaten ourselves lately, whether it’s been penalties or turnovers or whether it’s been not finishing. The team understands, it’s something we’ve talked about and something we’re going to continue to address.”
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers already has had 14 passes intercepted in eight games. He had 13 all of last season. At this point, he is being intercepted almost twice as often as he was last season, when he averaged one interception every 40 passes or so.
Jackson scoffs at mentions of Rivers struggling, though. He heard the same thing about Denver’s Tim Tebow leading up to last Sunday’s game, only to witness Tebow pass for two touchdown and run for 117 yards on 12 carries.
“This guy is still a really good football player, very talented and one of the elite quarterbacks in this league,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to even talk about it because, the last time I talked about a quarterback here I took it on the chin. Whatever their problems are, is there problems. I have enough problems on my own. I’m going to worry about these and not worry about theirs.”
Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said Rivers is every bit as dangerous now as he has been since he entered the NFL.
“Phil has always been like a gunslinger,” Kelly said. “He’s going to give you a chance. It’s just so happened this year that it hasn’t gone his way. But playing against Phil all these years, man, he’s going to come ready to play.
“It don’t matter with him what happened. He has a real short-term memory, so it doesn’t even matter what he did against Green Bay. All he’s worried about is trying to torch the Raiders. I know him. He’ll be ready to play. He ain’t worried about no picks.”
Rivers is fresh from his first three-interception game, two of which were returned for touchdowns by the Packers in a 45-38 defeat.
AFC WEST IN TAILSPIN
The Chargers and Raiders are playing for first place in the AFC West, even though they are in a combined five-game losing streak.
The Raiders lost their past two games. The Chargers last won Oct. 9. The Chiefs are fresh from a 31-3 loss to the 0-7 Miami Dolphins.
“A lot of teams have been dropping the ball,” Kelly said. “Us, San Diego and Kansas City. So, right now, it’s like an eight-game season. Everybody’s back to square one. You can’t say you don’t have an opportunity, you’re tired.
“We’re in first place, even though we dropped the ball the last two weeks. Man, we just need to go out and take advantage of the opportunity. They’re a wounded team, just like we are. I don’t want to come in here Friday with a three-game losing streak.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer is no stranger to tight divisional races. He is doing his part to make sure that his teammates understand the importance of Thursday night’s game.
“It’s a great opportunity for somebody this Thursday,” Palmer said. “It’s great to be in the thick of it, and be in the hunt, and our team understands where we are and the opportunity that is in front of us. We expect to go out and play good football.”
To do that, Palmer said, the players have to not get caught up in the fact that the game is on national TV and far more people than usual will be watching.
They also can’t get too amped up playing on the road, in a hostile environment, against a hated rival.
“You can’t try to change or do anything crazy, or anything special, you don’t need to,” Palmer said. “And that’s something we talked about with some of the young guys. Being a big game, it’s national television, don’t do what you’re not supposed to do.
“That’s something that’s easy to happen. Guys think they need to do something special, do a little something different on
a route, in a pass protection. You just need to go out and play football and pretend it’s a preseason game or a regular-season game at the beginning of the year and not get caught up in the hype of the rivalry.”
PALMER CALLS REECE ONE OF A KIND
Palmer made two throws against the Broncos that few quarterbacks make in a season. Both went for touchdowns, one to fullback Marcel Reece and another to wide receiver Jacoby Ford.
Both throws came in tight coverage and sailed just over the outstretched arms of the defender and right into the hands of the intended target.
Palmer said he has great trust in Ford based on seeing him play in college and studying tapes from Ford’s two-year Raiders career.
Palmer said he’s still amazed by the athletic ability of Reece, a 240-pounder who runs like a much-lighter player.
“(I haven’t seen) a fullback that can run like him,” Palmer said. “He is one of a kind. There’s not another fullback in the league like him. He can block, he can pass-protect, he can run-protect, he can run iso’s and go downhill on linebackers. He is a mismatch for safeties, and he might be a mismatch for some corners because he is so much bigger.”
ROUTT VS. JACKSON
Cornerback Stanford Routt arguably has been Oakland’s most consistent defensive player this season. He enters Thursday’s game on a four-game streak of not allowing a touchdown.
Look for the Raiders to match up Routt with Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson as often as possible, even if it means shifting him around from time to time.
Jackson, 6-feet-5 and 230 pounds is a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks. Fortunately for the Raiders, Routt has seen enough of Routt during his career to know what to expect.
“When he breaks, you got to break, when he jumps, you got to jump,” Routt said. “So, I don’t really think that — not to take anything way from Vincent Jackson, he’s a great receiver — it is any different than covering a guy like Wes Welker. He just goes short, Vincent Jackson goes deep.”
Coach Jackson has the utmost respect for Vincent Jackson from previous games against the Chargers, for and with the Raiders.
“Why did you have to bring that name up?” Jackson said. “I don’t want to talk about him right now neither. He’s a good player. … We have a lot if respect for him. Again, it’s a challenge for us. We like challenges.”
Covering tight end Antonio Gates might be another matter altogether. In the past, the Raiders used Huff on Gates, with pretty good results. Mitchell also has lined up against Gates on occasion.
If Huff and Mitchell can’t play, the assignment might fall on strong safety Tyvon Branch.
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