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Pagano makes immediate impact for Raiders defense
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ALAMEDA (AP) — Whether it was the change in defensive play-callers, the opportunity to face Paxton Lynch or a matter of just making some plays, the Oakland Raiders are coming off their best defensive performance of the season.
The Raiders had a season-high five sacks, recorded their first interception of the season and limited Denver to 5 for 14 on third down as new play-caller John Pagano’s goal to simplify the defense after taking over from Ken Norton Jr. showed signs of paying dividends.
“The first element is taking the thinking out of the game,” Pagano said Thursday. “We don’t want guys sitting there reading. React to what you see and go. You slow a guy down if a ball is snapped and in that process he’s thinking and looking and he doesn’t know how to react.”
Maintaining that level of play over the final month of the season will help determine whether the Raiders will have a shot to make it back to the playoffs for a second straight season.
Oakland (5-6) catches a break this week after feasting on Lynch in his first start of the season for Denver a week ago. The New York Giants (2-9) benched Eli Manning for Geno Smith, who has started just one game the past three seasons.
“I’m not just preparing for one guy, I’m preparing for the New York Giants,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “Whoever is their quarterback is not my problem.”
But it could be to Oakland’s benefit if the Raiders can take advantage of Smith in a similar fashion to what they did last week against Lynch.
After 10 games of struggling to pressure the passer, generate takeaways or get stops on third downs, Oakland improved in all three of those areas against the Broncos — at least for the first three quarters.
The Raiders allowed just 63 yards and no points in the first 45 minutes before giving up 153 yards and two long TD drives in the fourth quarter after Trevor Siemian replaced Lynch.
“You don’t like giving up touchdowns so that was the biggest concern,” Pagano said. “At the end of the day, you have to make a play. Opportunities will be there.”
Despite the improvement a week ago, the Raiders are still allowing opponents to complete 70.8 percent of their passes for a 110 rating — both of which would rank as third worst all-time — and their one interception is the fewest in NFL history through 11 games.
But Giants coach Ben McAdoo said he did notice some differences in approach with two of the most visible changes being the Raiders shadowed receivers with their cornerbacks instead of keeping them predominantly on one side and they moved Khalil Mack to different spots on the line to help the pass rush.
“There were some subtleties,” McAdoo said. “Could have been the way the game went. The personality of the coordinator always comes out when things change. Looks to me like they may have simplified a little bit, let guys run around and play faster. When somebody itches, they scratch with different things. You can see that in the personality of the coordinator when they call the game.”

NOTES: WR Amari Cooper (concussion, ankle) did not practice for the second straight day and appears unlikely to play Sunday. ... RB Marshawn Lynch got a rest day. ... CB David Amerson (foot), G Gabe Jackson (ankle), LB Cory James (knee) and WR Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) were all limited.