⏩ K.C. at Raiders, 1 p.m.: Con­ley on ‘mis­sion to be great.’

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - SPORTING GREEN - By Matt Kawa­hara Matt Kawa­hara is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: mkawa­[email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @matthewkawa­hara

A lit­tle more than a minute re­mained be­fore half­time last Sun­day when the Ravens, poised at the Raiders’ 28-yard line, opted to take a shot at the end zone.

Quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son lofted a throw down the side­line for Michael Crab­tree in a one-on-one matchup with sec­ond-year cor­ner­back Gareon Con­ley. Con­ley, run­ning in step with Crab­tree, turned his head near the 10-yard line, found the ball and tipped it to­ward safety Mar­cus Gilchrist for an in­ter­cep­tion.

It was the kind of play the Raiders might have en­vi­sioned when they used the 24th over­all pick in the 2017 draft on Con­ley, but that has only be­gun to ma­te­ri­al­ize more than a year later.

A per­sis­tent shin in­jury lim­ited Con­ley to two games last season, against out-of-di­vi­sion teams. That has led this year’s coach­ing staff, in­clud­ing head coach Jon Gru­den, to re­peat­edly re­fer to Con­ley as a rookie — a des­ig­na­tion with which Con­ley him­self doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily dis­agree.

“I mean, I only played two games last year,” Con­ley said. “I got the feel a lit­tle bit. But I’m get­ting more of a feel of how the league goes, how ev­ery of­fense works, how teams work.”

Con­ley has yet to line up against the Chiefs, who bring the league’s third-ranked pass­ing of­fense to Oak­land on Sun­day, or dy­namic re­ceiver Tyreek Hill, one of the fastest play­ers in the NFL.

Con­ley fig­ures to be a key to the Raiders’ chances of stem­ming that at­tack. Through the first 12 weeks of his first full season, Con­ley, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, ranks sixth out of 119 qual­i­fy­ing cor­ner­backs with a 66.1 passer rat­ing when tar­geted in cov­er­age.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said on a con­fer­ence call dur­ing the week that Con­ley is “hav­ing a heck of a year.” Raiders de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Guen­ther said Con­ley’s strides have largely come in his “tech­nique and un­der­stand­ing of lever­age and cov­er­age.”

“Just un­der­stand­ing where the ball’s sup­posed to go based upon the cov­er­age and kind of how the quar­ter­back’s taught to look at it,” Guen­ther said. “He’s come a long way that way.”

Con­ley’s season hasn’t all gone smoothly. He in­jured his groin in spring work­outs, then suf­fered a hip strain early in train­ing camp. Con­ley re­turned to start Week 1 but Guen­ther said the in­jury con­tin­ued to ham­per Con­ley in one area: tack­ling.

“He strug­gled some in the be­gin­ning of the season,” Guen­ther said. “I think a lot of it had to do with his lower body strength just com­ing off the re­cov­ery. … Just com­ing into balance and be­ing in a good foot­ball position when he tack­les. He’s got­ten bet­ter at that.”

In Week 2, Con­ley, play­ing off in cov­er­age, couldn’t tackle Bron­cos re­ceiver Tim Patrick on what be­came a 26-yard catch-and-run with 18 sec­onds left to set up the de­ci­sive field goal in a 20-19 Raiders loss. In Week 4, Con­ley was beaten and then stiff-armed by Browns re­ceiver Antonio Call­away, who rum­bled to the Raiders’ 1 on a 59-yard catch-and-run.

Per­haps in re­sponse, Con­ley was taken out late in the Browns game and played just 12 snaps the fol­low­ing week­end against the Charg­ers. Then, in Week 6 against Seat­tle, Con­ley dressed but did not play a sin­gle de­fen­sive snap. Asked dur­ing the week if he’d been given an ex­pla­na­tion for the fluc­tu­a­tion, Con­ley said: “No. I just con­trol what I can con­trol.”

Af­ter the bye, though, Con­ley started in Week 8 and has re­mained atop the cor­ner­back ro­ta­tion with Daryl Wor­ley. Con­ley cited tack­ling as one area he is fo­cused on im­prov­ing.

“Just mak­ing in­stinct plays, re­ly­ing on my tech­nique,” Con­ley said. “But tack­ling, I missed a cou­ple big tack­les this year. I can al­ways get bet­ter in that. Get bet­ter at press cov­er­age in gen­eral, just jam­ming guys. I can al­ways get bet­ter, I feel like.”

The Raiders over­hauled the cor­ner­back position last off­sea­son with the ex­cep­tion of Con­ley and have re­lied in­creas­ingly on a young group in­clud­ing Con­ley, Wor­ley and rookie Nick Nel­son. While the Raiders rank 15th in pass de­fense (they were 26th last season), Con­ley said he be­lieves the cor­ner­back group is a bud­ding strength.

“I feel like we’ve all got the same mis­sion to be great,” Con­ley said. “It’s just a com­mon theme, so it brings us to­gether more.”

Slow­ing the Chiefs’ po­tent of­fense, and a speed­ster like Hill, would be a start.

“It’ll test me and test how much our tech­nique can pre­pare for it,” Con­ley said. “It’s go­ing to be a great chal­lenge. And I’m ready for it.”

Rick Scuteri / As­so­ci­ated Press

Cor­ner­back Gareon Con­ley has im­proved, but he still needs to work on tack­ling.

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