ALAMEDA –Wrapped in the cocoon of preparation, the Raiders were oblivious Thursday to north bay wildfires which fueled speculation their home game against the Los Angeles Chargers could be delayed or even relocated.
So when the NFL issued a statement saying “at this point, the game remains scheduled for Sunday in Oakland,” it came as a surprise there was ever a thought of playing anywhere else.
The air quality seemed improved, even if a few players, including wide receiver Michael Crabtree, wore pollen masks to filter some of the smoke.
“I mean, you notice it, but it’s not something we’re playing attention to,” Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack said. “We’re so focused, that’s the mindset. Focused on the game, man. Not all the external factors.”
Of particular interest for the Raiders defensively is keeping running back Melvin Gordon under wraps as much as possible and forcing quarterback Philip Rivers into turnovers.
For all his prolific numbers, and Rivers should finish this season with more than 50,000 career passing yards, the one that interests the Raiders most are turnovers. In his past 53 games dating back to the start of the start of the 2014 season, Rivers has 57 interceptions — including five this season.
The Raiders, on the other hand, are one of three NFL teams without a single interception along with Chicago and Miami. (The Dolphins have played one fewer game).
Dexter McDonald, a third-year cornerback who has seen his most extensive action in the last two games, said the Raiders secondary is aware of the interception drought even if it’s not discussed.
“I mean, we definitely want those interceptions. Turnovers help win games,” McDonald said. “I think we’ve got to keep working, taking it week by week, and when they do come, they usually come in bunches.”
For what it’s worth, free safety Karl Joseph’s lone interception came last season against Rivers and the Chargers in Oakland.
It would behoove Mack and Co. to get after Rivers in a way they didn’t against Joe Flacco and the Ravens given a secondary ravaged by injuries.
Cornerback Gareon Conley isn’t practicing with a shin injury and there’s no telling if or when he will be back. David Amerson has sufficiently recovered from a concussion but wasn’t ready to go against Baltimore because of a bad shoulder. He’s been limited this week. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton is out with a knee injury.
For as much as Sean Smith has struggled, the Raiders are too thin at cornerback to keep him off the field and need to be conscious about match-ups with smaller, faster wide receivers. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. laughed when he was asked about Smith’s play and immediately shifted into “team” mode.
“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” Norton said. “I don’t think it’s fair to point one person out . . . everybody is connected. The pass rush, the guys in the middle, everybody working together.”
McDonald had only two snaps in the first three games (he was inactive against Washington) but played 56 snaps against the Broncos and Ravens. Although having played in just 16 games with no starts since 2015 , McDonald generally held up well, although coach Jack Del Rio was bothered by a giving too much cushion to Brent Perriman on a late third-down conversion.
New to the mix is Demetrius McCray, signed to the roster Tuesday. Cut by Seattle after an ankle injury late in training camp, McCray could conceivably be active and get some playing time against the Chargers.
— Upon further review, third-year guard Jon Feliciano was willing to give himself a decent grade for his start against Baltimore.
Del Rio said Feliciano did well in his start in place of Gabe Jackson (foot), and Profootballfocus.com ranked his game No. 2 among all NFL guards. Feliciano, initially at least, wasn’t so sure.
“I feel like every athlete either during the game or right after thinks they can do better,” Feliciano said. “That’s definitely how I felt. I felt like I might have had a decent game, then watching the film, I realize I had a pretty good game. It felt good. I consider myself a starter, so I wasn’t surprised.”
With starter Gabe Jackson limited for the second straight day with a foot injury, Feliciano remains on call to start against the Chargers if necessary.
— Players who did not practice included cornerback Gareon Conley (shin), cornerback Antonio Hamilton (knee), linebacker Marquel Lee (ankle) and fullback Jamize Olawale.
Starting weakside linebacker Cory James was limited after not practicing Tuesday. Others who were limited included Amerson (shoulder), quarterback Derek Carr (back), wide receiver Amari Cooper (knee), tight end Lee Smith (knee), and running back DeAndre Washington (hamstring).
— If Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott begins serving his suspension immediately for violation of the NFL personal conduct policy, he would be back well advance of the Cowboys game in Oakland against the Raiders on Dec. 17.
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