It's Raider week in Bronco Land (La-La Land too), and the NFL's most dysfunctional team is coming for a visit. This is the first divisional game for the (2-4) Broncos. Their Archenemies, also at (2-4), have already beaten the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago in their only rival division match-up. All three teams are chasing the Kansas City Chiefs for control of the AFC West. This game will be a test to see which team will rise to the challenge. The division is up for grabs and Hannibal is at the Gate. Er, the Raiders are knocking, so let's make sure someone is home.
When I think about the Oakland Raiders, words like venom, rancor, malevolence, resentment, or enmity come to mind. The hostility between these two teams has been going on since October 2nd, 1960. The Broncos prevailed 31-14 for their 3rd out of 4 total wins that year and the animosity hasn't waned.
Weather and Conditions
The game will be televised nationally by CBS on Sunday at 2:15 pm MDT. Ian Eagle will be doing the game by game and we will be putting up with the bias of Dan Fouts pretending to be the color man. Check here for the telecasts in your area.
The weather is turning cooler. Some would say it is turning into Football weather. Nevertheless, it shouldn't factor in to the game or the viewing. You can check here for an up to date forecast.
|Precip: 10% Spectator Index: 8|
Injuries and external factors
For starters, the quarterback situation for Oakland is in flux. No. 1 guy Bruce Gradkowski is having trouble with an A-C joint injury to his right (throwing) shoulder. No. 2, Jason Campbell has a sore left knee. Both were Limited in practice on Thursday and are expected to be game time decisions. An A-C joint injury is another name for a shoulder separation, so I am betting that Gradkowski will be questionable at best. He couldn't throw the ball downfield in Thursday's practice, but hey, Brian Griese played 3 quarters of a game with a similar injury, so there is always a possibility. Look for Kyle Bo\ller to lead the Raiders onto the Invesco field on Sunday.
RB's Darren McFadden and Michael Bennett (Hamstring) were Limited yesterday. Look for Michael Bush to get the majority of carries, but McFadden will be on the Active list. Bennett is probably closer to being at full speed.
DT John Henderson (foot) is on crutches, so he won't play. TE Brandon Myers (concussion) missed practice and may not be able to play this week. WR Chaz Schilens and LB Thomas Howard (Knee) are both doubtful for the game against the Broncos. S Tyvon Branch and LB Travis Goethel (Back) were Limited Participants on Thursday and should be available.
THE PENALTY FACTOR
Surprise! The Oakland Raiders aren't leading the league in penalties (yet) this year. They are 2nd with 9.2 penalties a game and a 76 yard average. Dallas and Detroit share that distinction with an average of 9.8 penalties per game. To put that into perspective, the Broncos are tied for 12th with 6.2 and the Miami Dolphins commit the least amount of penalties with an average of 4.2 per contest.
Oakland's Offense is ranked 18th in points with 20 per game. They are 21st in Total yards (312.5), 23rd in Passing (182.3) and 10th in the Run (130.2). The Line has given up 18 Quarterback Sacks (3 per game) and they are 30/88 - 34.1% on 3rd down.
Jason Campbell began the season as the Raider's starting quarterback, but injury and performance issues have made the position a toss-up as to whether him or Bruce Gradkowski start. With the loss of Charlie Frye to IR, Kyle Boller was picked up to be the 3rd option. As I stated earlier, the Raiders are dysfunctional, but Boller may well get his first start on Sunday because of injury. Neither Campbell or Gradkowski have been impressive, but Bronco fans only have to remember last year's home match-up. In that game Charlie Frye started, then Gradkowski had his shot before JaMarcus Russel led the game winning drive to beat the Broncos in the last minute.
The Running Back's are Darren McFadden (392 yds, 4.6 avg, 1TD), Michael Bush (204 yds,3.6 avg, 2TD'S), Rock Cartwright and Michael Bennett. McFadden is the workhorse (16 Rec,162 yds, 1TD), but he and Bennett are fighting lingering Hamstring problems, so Bush has been getting the majority of work. Marcel Reece is the Fullback.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey has 14 receptions for 161 yards on the season, already surpassing his 11-game totals of nine catches for 124 yards as a rookie. Louis Murphy (19 Rec, 308 yds, 16.2 avg, 1 TD) starts on the opposite side. Johnnie Lee Higgins and Rookie speedster Jacoby Ford backup DHB. Nick Miller and the oft injured Chaz Schilens backup Murphy. The leading receiver for the Raiders is Tight End Zach Miller. He has 30 catches for 388 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brandon Myers is his backup.
The starting Offensive Linemen for Oakland are LT Mario Henderson, LG Robert Gallery, C Samson Satele, RG Cooper Carlisle and RT Langston Walker. The understudies are Rookie Jared Veldheer, Daniel Loper, Rookie Bruce Campbell and Khalif Barnes.
The Oakland Defense is ranked 18th in points against (25.2), 22nd in Total yards (346.3), 8th against the Pass (196.8) and 30th against the Rush (149.5). They average 2 Sacks and 1 Forced Fumble a game. They have allowed their opponents to convert 41% on 3rd down.
The Raider play a standard 4-3 base defense. Rookie Lamarr Houston (1 Sack) starts at the Left End. The Tackles are Tommy Kelly (24 Tackles, 1.5 SK) and Richard Seymour (23 TKL, 1.5 SK). Kelly has been filling in for John Henderson, who has been injured. At Right End, Trevor Scott (16 TKL) resides. Matt Shaughnessy (19 TKL, 4 SK, 1 FF) is the Sack man and Desmond Bryant is the 7th lineman.
The starters at the three Linebacker positions are Kamerion Wimbley (23 TKL, 2 SK, 1 FF), Rookie Rolando McClain (33 TKL), and Quentin Groves (14 TKL, 1 INT). Sam Williams, Bruce Davis, Ricky Brown, Rookie Travis Goethel and Thomas Howard are the backups.
At the Corners, the left side is controlled by Nnamdi Asomugha (11 TKL). Stanford Routt (21 TKL, 1 INT) patrols the right side. Chris Johnson (6 TKL) is the 3rd CB. Rookies Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware round out the position.
The Free Safety is Michael Huff (41 TKL, 1 SK, 1 FF), who is the leading tackler for Oakland. Right behind him is Strong Safety Tyvon Branch (40 TKL, 1 FF). Mike Mitchell (13 TKL), Rookie Stevie Brown (7 TKL) and Hiram Eugene (6 TKL) make up the rest of the unit.
Oakland's kicker is Sebastian Janikowski. And while he is supposed to have a big leg, he hasn't been too accurate this year. He is 14 for 19 on the season and is only made 50% of his attempts outside the 40. His kickoffs are landing at the half-yard line and he's had 12 touch-backs in 31 kickoffs. He will undoubtedly have any trouble with that in the Mile High city. 19 of Janikowski's kickoffs have been returned an average of 26.7 yards, and 1 has gone the distance.
Punter Shane Lechler is arguably the best in the league at his position. Shane's average is a whopping 50.1 yards per Punt, with a Net average of 45.6 yards. He has placed eleven inside the 20 yard line, 4 inside the 10. Five have been fair caught and 1 has gone for a touch-back. Not bad for 27 punts. Sixteen of his punts have been returned for an average of 6.4 yards.
Rookie Jacoby Ford (17 Ret, 360 yards, 21.2, 64 Long) has been the primary Kick Returner, but Yamon Figurs (5, 105 yds, 21.0 avg.) and Rock Cartwright (2, 38 yds, 19.0 avg.) have had a few themselves.
The main Punt Returner is Johnnie Lee Higgins. He has ten returns for a 7.3 yard average and has called for 3 Fair Catches. His longest return this year, is 53 yards. Nick Miller has 5 returns for a 14.2 average and a long of 46.
The Long Snapper is Jon Condo and the Holder is Shane Lechler. Michael Bennett, Rock Cartwright and Stevie Brown are key Special Teamers for the Raiders. The unit has two blocked punts, which resulted in a touchdown and a Safety against the Chargers.
The last 4 Weeks - A Recap
The Raiders WEEK 3 game versus the Arizona Cardinals was a genuine slop-fest and enough to test the patience of any Head Coach. A missed Field Goal at the end of the game was the final mistake in a comedy of errors. Sebastian Janikowski was 3 for 6 on FG attempts on the day. Cards Kick Returner LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and Derek Anderson threw two touchdown passes, including an 8-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald that proved to be the game winner.
Oakland committed 11 penalties for 123 yards, Arizona seven for 104. The Raiders recovered a pair of fumbles off Cardinals' return men and each QB was intercepted once. Oakland was 4/15 - 26% on 3rd down conversions.
Darren McFadden rushed 105 yards and a TD on 25 carries, but the Raiders Run game couldn't generate enough power in the red zone. QB Bruce Gradkowski got the start over Jason Campbell. He passed for 255 yards and a TD to TE Zach miller. Louis Murphy caught 5 balls for 119 yards.
Defensively, Oakland surrendered 4.6 yards per carry on the ground to Arizona.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha held Larry Fitzgerald to a single catch for 18 yards, shadowing him for most of the game. Raiders gave up points too easily in red zone, with Fitzgerald catching an 8-yard score against a zone and Steve Breaston a 2-yard TD pass with the Raiders defense spread out.
The Raiders got their butts handed to them in WEEK 4. Arian Foster returned from an early game benching to score on a 74-yard run and an 10-yard catch in the second half to lead the Houston Texans to a 31-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders at the Black Hole. All in front of a dwindling Raider Nation crowd of 32,218 -- the smallest attendance in a non-strike game since 1967.
The Texans got to Bruce Gradkowski on the third play, causing a fumble and setting the tone for the game.
Oakland got the ball back with 3 minutes left, but penalties forced them to go for it on 4th and 16. But Gradkowski was intercepted for the second time by Troy Nolan to cut the comeback short. Troy Nolan's second interception iced the game after the Raiders had cut the lead to seven. But Gradkowski had two interceptions, was sacked four times and had two key fumbles.
Gradkowski was 24 for 39 for 278 yards, including a 13-yard TD pass to Marcel Reece in the second quarter. Tight end Zach Miller returned as the focal point in the passing game. He caught 11 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Matt Schaub was an efficient 16 of 29 for 192 yards, two scores and no interceptions. NFL-leading rusher Arian Foster was benched for the first 20 minutes. Despite that, he still finished with 131 yards on 16 carries. The Texans rushed for a total 249 yards, averaged 6.9 yards per carry and had two touchdowns on the ground. Derrick Ward started the game and finished with 80 yards on 12 carries, including a 33-yard scamper to get the scoring started.
On Special Teams, Jacoby Ford returned the opening kickoff 64 yards, but the Raiders wasted the good field position. Houston was just too much for the Raiders to handle, finishing with 441 yards of Total offense.
The San Diego Chargers found out in WEEK 5, that you can't spot a football team points in the NFL, even a struggling one. The Raiders Special Teams showed up, blocking two punts early in the game. The result altered the Chargers winning tendencies over them. San Diego had been dominating Oakland for the past seven seasons (13 losses) until this 35-27 victory at the Coliseum. The Raiders overcame a nine-point deficit after squandering a 12-0 lead.
The Raiders led 12-0 at the end of the first quarter, courtesy of back-to-back blocked punts by Rock Cartwright and Brandon Myers that resulted in a safety and a touchdown. Oakland committed 12 penalties and played the game without Darren McFadden. Michael Bush had 104 rushing yards and a touchdown in his absence. Starting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was knocked out of the game late in the 1st quarter, re-injuring his throwing shoulder.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers' tore apart the Oakland's 3rd-ranked pass defense for 431 yards and two touchdowns. Malcolm Floyd had a career-high 213 yards receiving. Trailing 28-27 with less than 2 minutes, San Diego drove to the Raiders 33-yard line, well within range of a Nate Kaeding field-goal attempt. The Raiders couldn't cover the speedy Charger receivers, so they blitzed nonstop. Free safety Michael Huff hit quarterback Philip Rivers' hand and knocked the ball loose and Strong safety Tyvon Branch scooped up the ball and raced 64 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Oakland's Passing Offense was above average for this game. Jason Campbell went 13 of 18, 159 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT's. The pass defense was inadequate, but the pass rush forced a pair of Rivers fumbles, the last resulting in the game-winning touchdown. San Diego was held to only 91 yards on 26 carries, a 3.5-yard average.
In WEEK 6, Niners quarterback Alex Smith threw two 2nd-half touchdown passes and the 49ers finally got "off the schneid," beating the Oakland Raiders 17-9 in another penalty-ridden contest. Smith was 16 of 33 for 196 yards in his first turnover-free game of 2010. Frank Gore ran for 149 yards, including a 64-yard scramble that set up Davis’ third touchdown of the season.
Oakland drove inside the Niners 10 on its first two series but settled for field goals. Sebastian Janikowski kicked field goals of 27, 24 and 40 yards for the Raiders. Jason Campbell completed 8 of 21 passes for 83 yards and was sacked twice. Both teams were undisciplined. After the first drive of the second half, San Francisco had 123 yards in penalties and 137 yards of offense. Oakland had eight penalties for 60 yards, their lowest total this season.
The Raiders passing offense had it's worst day ever.To say they peaked early is an understatement, since their best play was a 46-yard pass interference penalty on first play. Jason Campbell's quarterback rating of 10.7 was as low as they come. The WRs caught four passes for 23 yards. TE Zach Miller had two catches for 48 yards.
Oakland had their kicking game going. Shane Lechler had six punts for a 53.5 average and a 47.3 net with one inside the 20, and Janikowski converted 3 field goals.
This game represents the 100th regular-season meeting between the two AFC West rivals. Denver trails in the all-time series 41-56-2, but since 1995, the Broncos own a 22-8 advantage (11-4 at home) against the Raiders. Oakland is 0-3 on the road this season but have won the last 2 meetings against the Broncos.
Sunday’s contest ties for the latest the Broncos have ever played its first AFC West opponent. In 1985, Denver also played its first divisional game in Week 7 (13-10 overtime win vs. Seattle)
Vegas says Broncos by 7.
The View from the Cheap Seats -- Brian Shrout
The popular position to take is that the Raiders simply aren't very good. We, as Broncos fans, love to make fun of the Raiders, their coaches, their fans, and most of all their owner. But we need to remember that for four years running, the Broncos have won the first meeting of the season and lost the second. It really doesn't matter how well, or poorly, Oakland has played the rest of the league. It only matters how well they've played the Broncos. We last swept the series in 2005 as part of our run into the AFC Championship game.
I decided to put aside general questions of offense and defense and focus on the one common opponent the Raiders and Broncos have played in 2010 -- the Tennessee Titans. Two teams, one common opponent, two radically different outcomes. In Week 1, the Raiders faced the Titans in Tennessee and lost 38-13. In Week 4, Denver faced Tennessee in Nashville and won 26-20. What was the difference?
Statistically, the games were very similar: Oakland had more first downs (21-17) as did Denver (22-13). Tennessee did a better job of converting third downs in both games (53%-21%; 25%-20%). Return yards were similar (127-123, 180-205) with Oakland have a slight edge in their game and Tennessee having the edge over Denver. Oakland and Tennessee each lost a fumble in their game. Denver did not lose a fumble and Tennessee lost two. Both Oakland and Denver threw an interception but did not make one against Tennessee. Tennessee had a slight edge in time of possession over Oakland, while Denver held the ball over ten minutes longer than the Titans. Yardage was very similar with Oakland and Denver both having a 4.3 yards per play average and Tennessee having a 5.9 and 5.5 yards per play in the games. Oakland gave up four sacks, Denver gave up six and both teams recorded two sacks against Tennessee. Oakland scored on one out of four trips into the Red Zone, Denver on two out of seven. The Titans scored on all three of their Red Zone trips against Oakland and on one out of two against Denver. So, what was the difference?
Three things leaped out at me as I reviewed the Oakland-Tennessee and Denver-Tennessee games. These will seem so obvious that we might wonder why we see them as keys to the game, but they are the three things which seemed to make the difference between a win and a loss against the Titans. First, Denver controlled the clock while Oakland did not. As mentioned above, Denver held the ball over ten minutes longer than Tennessee while Oakland trailed in that category by over two minutes. Second, Denver converted one fourth down attempt, while neither Oakland nor Tennessee converted on fourth down. Third, and most important, Denver did a better job of finishing off drives. Oakland scored points on three out of twelve drives (or 25% of the time). Against Oakland, Tennessee scored on six out of thirteen drives (or 46% of the time). Denver converted on six out of thirteen drives against the Titans (46%) and held Tennessee to scores on three out of thirteen drives (23%) -- though it should be noted that Denver did give up a touchdown on a kick return.
If Denver controls the clock, finishes off at least half their drives, and converts for first downs, they should be able to win. The one thing they dare not do is assume that it will be an "easy" game.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This game is a Must-Win for the Broncos if they have any aspirations of the Playoffs. It is a Home game and it's against a divisional opponent. The Raiders may be dysfunctional with schizophrenic tendencies, but they play with a physical presence and always seem to show up with their "A Game" at the most inopportune time. However, they are beatable just because they penalize themselves more often than not.