World’s Best Preview: Packers-Raiders Two-Minute Drill
Heading into today’s game against the Oakland Raiders, Matt LaFleur is 5-1 in his first six game as the Green Bay Packers’ coach. No coach in Packers history – not Vince Lombardi, not Curly Lambeau and not Mike Holmgren – has accomplished that feat.
In 1998, Jon Gruden was the 35-year-old rookie head coach of the Raiders. Like the 39-year-old LaFleur, Gruden was the hot-shot offensive mind from the red-hot coaching tree at the time. LaFleur came to Green Bay with ties to Rams coach Sean McVay; Gruden came to Oakland with ties to Mike Holmgren.
“Coached at Pittsburgh and Tennessee and Southeast Missouri, so I had been around some pretty good coaches,” Gruden said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But Green bay was certainly eye-opening for me in so many ways. Just fueled my passion to be a coach. We had a great staff, a great tradition, the fans, the young Brett Favre. There was so much excitement there. It really motivated me and fueled me and I learned more football in my first year or two than I’ve probably learned in my entire life.”
It’s obviously early in LaFleur’s tenure but he’s off to a tremendous start with five wins, a sweep of the NFC North and the division lead. Of this year’s group of new coaches, LaFleur is the only one with a winning record. The key for Gruden includes some items that LaFleur appears to be going well at, as well.
“I think the big thing is you have to learn about defenses and how to attack defenses,” Gruden said. “Mike Holmgren was one of the best at that. How to prepare your quarterback certainly; how to have a balanced offense. How to run the football, set up some play-action passes, play situations. You have to spend countless hours in a dark room and you have to be able to teach. You have to be able to take your information downstairs and blow the players socks off. Get them excited about the plan. That’s one of the things I thought Mike Holmgren was really good (at). He did the preparation and his presentation was always top notch. I tried to copy him in so many ways. I’m sure Andy Reid would tell you that and (Steve) Mariucci and a lot of the others.”
Welcome back: Trevor Davis has been a “blessing” to Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Green Bay traded its top kicker returner to Oakland for a sixth-round pick last month. The Packers surely would love to have Davis on the field now, given their issues at returner against Detroit and the injury situation at receiver. Davis is starting at receiver and has four catches – second among players who will be on the 46-man roster today – and is even second in rushing with 74 yards. And he’s doing his thing on returns, with a modest 5.7-yard average on punts but a 28.3-yard average on kickoffs.
“He’s our starting punt returner, kick returner and flanker,” Gruden said. “He’s been really good.”
The Raiders third quarterback is DeShone Kizer. Having spent all of training camp in Green Bay battling Tim Boyle to be the backup to Aaron Rodgers, Kizer no doubt spent the week spilling the offensive beans to Gruden and his defensive staff.
“We try to learn from Kizer. He was there,” Gruden said. “I liked him coming out of Notre Dame. I felt he should’ve stayed in college, but he came out early and he and to start 16 games in Cleveland. Mike McCarthy’s a good friend of mine. I know they made the trade with Cleveland because they liked the kid. I really have been impressed with him. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s getting better and I think this’ll be a huge offseason for him, but we like the addition of Kizer.”
And welcome home: The Raiders’ fullback is Alec Ingold, the former Wisconsin player who played at nearby Bay Port High School in Suamico.
“I really like this kid,” Gruden said. “We coached him in the Senior Bowl, so I was coaching in Mobile and Alec was on our team and he really made an impression, not only on me but our entire scouting and coaching staff. He’s a good player, man. He can catch it. He’s got some run skills and he’s been a real reliable blocker. We’ve asked him to do a lot.”
About 40 family members will be in attendance to watch Ingold, a quarterback at Bay Port and the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014.
“I think kind of going through this whole process, the dream was to play quarterback and that’s what I did because that was the best way to help the team win games,” Ingold said. “So, that’s really how I’ve approached football. I realize it’s a game and whatever I can do to help the team win, that’s what I like to do, that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy playing the game as much as possible.”
Big men on campus: Where’s the beef? It’s up front with Oakland’s offensive line. Even though 6-foot-8, 380-pound right tackle Trent Brown is doubtful, the Raiders’ front wall will be the biggest the Packers have faced this season.
Left tackle Kolton Miller isn’t big, per se, at 309 pounds but he’s 6-foot-8. Richie Incognito, the 36-year-old left guard, is 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds. If he makes his season debut, right guard Gabe Jackson is 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds. David Sharpe is listed as the backup to Brown; he’s 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds.
“They’re ginormous,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “For us, it’s understanding where your strengths and weaknesses are within a given defense and understanding your gap control. If you can beat them to the spot, because they are so big, you can make plays before they can get to you.”
History lesson: The Packers and Raiders first met in Super Bowl II, a 33-14 victory by the Packers in Vince Lombardi’s final game as coach and the last hurrah for the Glory Years teams.
In regular-season play, the Raiders won the first five games and the Packers have won the previous seven. Green Bay has scored at least 28 points in all seven games and have outscored the Raiders 240-90. Those victories include the invention of the Lambeau Leap by LeRoy Butler in 1993, Brett Favre’s game-winning touchdown pass in 1999 and Favre’s dramatic game at Oakland after his father’s death in 2003.
Streaking Raiders: After going a combined 10-22 the past two seasons, the Raiders are 3-2 this year. They’ve won two in a row, 31-24 at Indianapolis and 24-21 against Chicago in London. The Raiders haven’t beaten three consecutive winning teams since the 2001 season. How can they pull off the upset?
“We have to play all three phases, we really do,” Gruden said. “We have to take care of the football, No. 1. They were plus-7 going into the Detroit game. We have to keep Rodgers somehow in the pocket. We just can’t let this guy create second-reaction plays. And somehow we have to deal with these blitzes, these looks that Mike Pettine has. I mean, there’s a lot of different coverages and different things that are hard to deal with. So, we have to handle the noise and all those Packers fans and the weather possibly raining. There’s a litany of excuses for us not to play well. But it’s going to take a real collective effort by all of us.”
Different formula: The Packers entered last week’s game as the kings of the first quarter, having outscored their foes 42-3 for a league-leading plus-39 edge. Even after being outscored by Detroit 10-0 last week, the Packers are a third-ranked plus-29. However, the Packers overcame that early deficit by outscoring the Lions 10-0 in the fourth quarter. Green Bay had scored only nine points in the fourth quarter the previous five games.
“We can’t be feeling ourselves too much,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to realize it’s a long season and there’s ebbs and flows in every season. This is a tough stretch for us. We’re obviously coming off a tough division opponent game, we have a short week, we have an uncommon opponent. Obviously, they’re coming east and it’s going to be a time crunch for them playing at 12 central, but it’s an important stretch for us and we’ve got to make sure we’re locked in and understand everything’s right in front of us. It really is. We’re in the mix in the NFC. Obviously the NFC is very deep this year, a lot of teams playing well. It’s going to be an important stretch for us coming up and we’ve got to put ourselves in position to be right there in the mix come December football.”
Can they run?: With a banged-up receiver corps, logic would dictate LaFleur will want to come out running the football. The problem is the Raiders’ run defense is good. They’re 10th in the league with 92.0 rushing yards allowed per game and sixth with 3.74 yards allowed per carry.
“They’re stout,” LaFleur said. “They do a great job. What they do is, you can tell right when you cut on the tape, they play extremely hard. They’re extremely hard, they come off the ball, they’re just a very aggressive defense and, so that always makes it a little bit more challenging to try and run the football.”
The Packers’ running game has been excellent the past two weeks with a combined 290 rushing yards. Aaron Jones topped 100 yards vs. Dallas in Week 5 and Jamaal Williams did it in Week 6 vs. Detroit.
“It’s a luxury, for sure,” Rodgers said. “I really enjoy working with those two guys. They’re really good pros. They’re both great guys, fun to be a round. Jamaal obviously is a big dancer. Aaron’s a little more understated, more of a ‘yes, sir, no, sir,’ with his military background. The key with those guys is they are very sharp. I think (position coach) Ben Sirmans should get more credit with getting those guys prepared because he doe s a hell of a job. Those guys are ready to rock and roll every week. They’re finishing my sentences coming out of the huddle with adjustments and routes and stuff. That’s been the key.”
Video: Here is more of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams from Friday.