|Raiders ready for chilly reception at Lambeau Field|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 December 2007 11:19|
As if playing the 10-2 Green Bay Packers at home wasn't a tall enough task earlier this season, visiting teams now must contend with the elements.
Bring it on, the Oakland Raiders say.
``This team is built for cold weather,'' Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. ``I hope that it's cold.''
The Raiders (4-8) might not be the first team on anyone's mind when it comes to taming the tundra, but Kiffin believes the way they're built to play - run the ball and play good defense, two things they did in back-to-back wins against Denver and Kansas City - fits in like fleece and four-wheel drive in the wintry environment they'll likely see Sunday.
Besides, there's no guarantee the Packers' precision passing offense will be at its best in cold weather. Will all those impeccably timed slants and crossing routes still lead to long runs after the catch in less-than-ideal conditions?
``Earlier in the year, you're playing in light winds and 70 degrees, it's a lot easier to throw and catch and run routes, not slip - that's all a factor late in the year,'' Brett Favre said. ``And it's going to hamper both teams. But I'd like to think that that's where I'm at my best. Statistically speaking, it may not be as good as it was earlier in the year. Then again, who knows? But it has to be better than the opponent, and I'm confident we can do that.''
If they can, it will mean a return to the playoffs, as the Packers will clinch the NFC North with a victory or a loss by Detroit on Sunday.
But Raiders defensive lineman Warren Sapp, who is looking forward to renewing the respectful rivalry he had with Favre during his Tampa Bay days, said the weather isn't necessarily an advantage for the Packers.
``Let's say it like this: It don't become 80 and sunny when Favre's got the ball in his hand,'' Sapp said. ``It's still going to be whatever temperature it is, and everybody's got to deal with the elements. It's just a matter of who makes the fewest mistakes.''
The Packers made too many mistakes in their loss at Dallas last Thursday, and lost Favre in the process. Favre left the game with a bruised right elbow and separated left shoulder in the second quarter and was unable to return.
But he eased his way back into practice this week and is expected to extend his quarterback-record consecutive starts streak to 250 on Sunday - 270, including the playoffs.
The Packers also are hoping to get back two key defensive players who didn't play against Dallas: third-down pass rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who missed the game because of an ankle injury, and former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, who was sidelined by a toe injury.
But the key to their success, especially if the weather is bad, could be running back Ryan Grant, a relative unknown who took over as the starter last month and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Still, the Packers are averaging only 85.3 yards rushing per game, third worst in the league and apparently not enough to impress Sapp.
``They really don't have a running game,'' Sapp said during a monologue about Favre's success. ``I think they're 30th in the league or something like that. But he's doing some amazing things.''
The Raiders are one of the league's best rushing teams, fourth in the NFL at 135 yards per game. Running back Justin Fargas knows even more work could be coming his way if the weather is bad.
``We're a running team anyway,'' Fargas said. ``We expect to run the ball, and I expect to run the ball. Knowing it could be a weather game, we'll commit to the run a little more. It's all the better.''
The strong running game keeps the Raiders in manageable down-and-distance situations and sets up play-action passes, a boost to the Raiders' quarterback, whomever it may be.
Daunte Culpepper was coming on before he was sidelined with a sore right quadriceps, and Josh McCown stepped in to have his best game of the year in last week's 34-20 victory over Denver. Kiffin also is beginning to work No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell into the rotation.
``I just think you're seeing a lot of growing and learning these last few weeks,'' McCown said. ``It's just coming together, and we're executing better just because of the learning process. Unfortunately it was that way this year. It's not an excuse for what's happened, but I think that that's what you see.''
The Packers' surprising turnaround this season actually began late last year, when they won their last four games to finish 8-8. Packers coach Mike McCarthy told his team this week that the Raiders might be building the same kind of momentum.
``If you remember where we were at this time last year, we were 4-8, and were able to make a run at the end of the season,'' McCarthy said. ``It was the foundation of what we've been able to build off of for this season. That's how we view this team coming in here. We need to be ready to go.''
Josh Dubow contributed to this report from Alameda, Calif.