3 things to watch: Packers at Raiders

Weston Hodkiewicz
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A new calling

Green Bay Packers head coach looks on after Detroit scores.

The Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions Sunday, November 15, 2015, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. 
Dan Powers/P-C Media

Mike McCarthy finally did what he needed to do in taking back the offensive play-calling duties in Sunday’s 28-7 win over Dallas, and it’s difficult to argue with the results. The Packers’ increased use of running plays and play-action passes resulted in the offense busting out for 435 yards. Regardless of who’s calling the plays, it’s become pretty apparent the Packers’ strength has been the ground game. On rain-soaked Lambeau Field, McCarthy fed Eddie Lacy and James Starks a season-high 35 carries for 230 combined yards. The single performance boosted Green Bay from 22nd in total offense to 18th, marking the first time it has been inside the top 20 since the bye week. The running game also jumped from 15th to eighth. Oakland ranks in the bottom third in yards allowed. If Green Bay can weather the Raiders’ pass rush – outside linebacker Khalil Mack had five sacks a week ago against Denver and has 14 on the season – McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers should find opportunities downfield against a shaky secondary. The Packers never have finished outside of the top 13 in total offense since McCarthy was hired as head coach in 2006. The team’s previous play-caller, associate head coach Tom Clements, returned to the coaches’ box this week where he relayed information and suggestions to McCarthy on the sideline. “He’s been great,” quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Working for him as a coordinator, he’s very level-headed, very easy to work with. He’s sound in everything we do scheme-wise. He comes up with great ideas.”

Getting nowhere

Short-yardage situations have been problematic for the Packers. It has played a significant role in the offense ranking 25th in third-down conversions (36 percent) and remained an issue against the Cowboys. The Packers have whiffed on their last six third-and-1 attempts, though Rodgers converted a critical fourth-and-2 situation with a 16-yard pass to receiver Randall Cobb against Detroit. Running back James Starks also converted a pair of third-and-2 situations against Dallas. The Packers failed on two other third-and-1s (Starks no gain, Rodgers incompletion) and one fourth-and-1 against the Cowboys (Rodgers incompletion). The Packers have tried to mix-and-match their runs and passes, but neither is working lately. It’s critical to the offense’s long-term success that it gets back into the groove when it’s one yard away from moving the chains. “It’s got to be a mindset,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “A run’s called, you’ve got to get leverage. You’ve got to get under people. You’ve got to move people. That’s the bottom line. Our job is to move people. Third and 1, you’ve got to move people and make it easy for the running back to get a yard. If we’ve got to throw it, make sure you block the protection that’s called.”

Remaking the Raiders

The Raiders no longer are the laughingstock of the NFL. They have rededicated themselves to the draft under former Packers executive Reggie McKenzie, a practice that has yielded several young stars. First-round pick Amari Cooper (6-foot-1, 210) has continued the recent trend of receivers making immediate contributions in their rookie season. The attention he draws from defenses has opened up the opportunities for veteran Michael Crabtee, who recently agreed to an extension with the club. Running back Latavius Murray is the Raiders’ bell cow, handling 215 of their 282 designed runs this season (76.2 percent). Second-year quarterback Derek Carr is making the most of his supporting cast. His 28 touchdown passes are tied for fourth in the NFL, while his 96.5 passer rating is good for 10th. “I think he’s getting a good supporting cast around him,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Obviously with the talent he possesses, as well as the receivers they have, really just their entire offense. They’re playing much better this year than obviously last year when he was a rookie.” and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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