De­fense main­tains fo­cus on Charg­ers, not weather

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jer­ryMcDon­ald jm­c­don­ald@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

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 some­thingwe’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 back­Melvin 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 an 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 past 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 help­win 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.

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 matchups with smaller, faster 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 themix is DemetriusMcCray, 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 Char- gers.

• 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 howI felt. I felt like I might have had a de­cent game, then­watch­ing 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.

• 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 lim­ited in­cluded Amer­son (shoul­der), quar­ter­back Derek Carr ( back), re­ceiver Amari Cooper (knee), tight end Lee Smith (knee), and run­ning back DeAn­dre Wash­ing­ton (ham­string).

JOSIE LEPE — STAFF AR­CHIVES

Be­cause the Raiders sec­ondary is thin and with­out an in­ter­cep­tion this sea­son, a key for the Raiders Sun­day is get­ting pres­sure on Charg­ers quar­ter­back Philip Rivers, shown get­ting sacked last sea­son.

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