Brian Bahr - Getty Images
Left skull: "So you think we have any shot this weekend?"
Right skull: "Nah the regular officials are back, fat chance of a Hail Mary gift from the scabs. Besides it's not like we're playing Matt Cassell NOM NOM NOM"
Bandana dude: "Sniffing paint is fun! I AM A BANANA!"
Divisional Game 1 is here MHR, and it's against our most inept opponent! Al Davis may be playing bingo with the crypt keeper, but one thing is for sure, his skeletal fingerprint still remains on the Oakland Raiders. As far as hate is concerned, the Raiders may be our biggest all time rival but hating them at this point is like hating a hobo----I just can't bring myself to do it.
What we learned from last week
The Broncos have yet to play as a team. It has been a very rare occurrence for both the offense and defense to be playing lights out at the same time. Against Houston, both units started off extremely slow, with the defense tightening up in the 3rd quarter and the offense revving up in the 4th. Special teams was fantastic throughout!
Our run D isn't as good as it seemed. Arian Foster has to be given credit, he's a special player. But after giving up 71 yards per game on the ground in weeks 1 and 2, the Broncos gave up 152 and a 4.5 YPC average. We have to be concerned a bit. Joe Mays and Keith Brooking had horrible games in the middle and their lack of speed showed on runs to the edge.
JDRis still not dialing up the pressure on 3rd down as much as he should given our struggles in getting to the QB with our front 4. No need to worry, the pressure is there it's just not getting there if you know what I mean. Von Miller is being double teamed because of his beast mode pass rushing skills and the remainder of the line is not winning their one on ones decisively. Nice safety to start the game though Doom!
Slow starts are killing us. We were able to cut a 20 point deficit in the 4th down to 6 points, but early redzone woes matched our opponents TD's with FG's. Offensively, we are averaging a shade above 8 points per game in the 1st half. Defensively, we are giving up about 17 points per game in the first half. Bothsides have scored/allowed 77 points with our offense scoring 52 of those points in the second half and our defense allowing 51 of those points in the first half.
DTand Decker are dropping too many balls with DT being the main culprit. You don't earn the trust of your QB by letting the ball hit the ground when it gets to you.
Our running game is sputtering. Outside of the Falcon game where McGahee notched his 1st 100-yard game of the season, the running game has yet to make a consistent impact.
Fox/McCoy/Manning have yet to develop a cohesive game day relationship as evidenced in poor playcalling all around, conservative decisions, and a lack of offensive rhythm. Manning needs to stop wasting downs and clock with ineffective draws near the goaline, and McCoy/Fox needs to stop making the offense look like it did when Orton was here.
Manny Ramirez needs to go to the bench. J.J. Watt is a great player, but he had a field day with Ramirez on Sunday. Manny is just not good enough to be a starter and our interior line suffers greatly from his limited ability. Come back soon Kuper!
Matt Prater, for all the innaccuracy discussion that was held when the team gave him a new contract and signing bonus this offseasonhas been worth every penny. 75% touchbackpercentage this season to go along with 4/4 in FG's has Prater standing as the franchise's best kicker in career FG%. He also extended his all time record FG% from 50+ yards by nailing another this past weekend. Britton Colquitt is having a great year routinely booming kicks and pinning opponents inside the 20 and 10. He is a definite weapon for our kicking game.
WE HAVE OFFICIALS AGAIN!!!
Finally, after Monday night when a team was robbed by a horrible call, and after the commish received 70,000+ angry voicemails, and after Vegas and online casinos were refunding gamblers' money for the botched call, the NFL and referee union came to terms on their labor dispute. What did we learn? The NFL doesn't care about the quality of the product on the field until a disaster occurs and it can no longer carry on the lies and misinformation. This was truly a disgrace, not because they didn't want to give in to a union, but because the solution was to hire a bunch of low quality replacements and not train them to do the job right. Had the replacements come in and done a fine job, I could care less who was out their throwing yellow flags. Roger Goodell, whatever little credibility you had left especially after the hack job you did with Bountygate, and the persistent inconsistencies in your fines and suspensions of NFL players, is officially out the window. Everytime I hear you talk from here on out, it's gonna sound just like grown-ups sound to Charlie Brown "wah wah wah." On to the Rayduhs!
To be fair, the Raiders aren't making the same amount of mental errors as in years past. This can be attributed to head coach Dennis Allen and his no non-sense approach. One of his goals when he took the job was to instill discipline into his club and the results so far this year shows that it is working. Last year, the Raiders averaged about 10-11 penalties per game. This year they are down to 4-5 per game.
Offensively, they are a middle of the road team in yards per game and points. They are a top 10 team in the passing game and next to last in the rushing game. Darrius Heyward-Bey will be out this week after the concussion he suffered last week. Outside of a frantic comeback and spurts of points in the 4th Q against Pittsburgh (sound familiar?), they have struggled to score. Carson Palmer is putting together a solid year. Thus far he is averaging about 290 yards per game to go along with a total of 5 TD's and 2 INT's.
Defensively, they are in the bottom third in the league in all major statistical categories. Let's just say this week is ripe for getting our offense going early and often.
On special teams, they still feature a kicker/punter combination that is one in the best in the league in Janikoski and Lechler. While Lechler is in the top 10 in the league in average yards per punt, his coverage teams have allowed some big returns dropping his net average by 10 yards. There are big plays to be had on special teams.
Let's move on to my questions and keys for this game.
Will our offense get off to a fast start?
In three games and 18 offensive first half drives, our offense has just 2 TD's and 2FG's. Remember the days when after 2 or 3 possessions we'd be up 10 or 14-0? I miss those days, and so does our defense.
Will Peyton dial it in this week?
Forget the "weak arm" argument for a moment. Personally, I don't think it applies anymore. I noted in the Texans recap it seemed like his range was off which would explain under and overthrows. He has plenty of juice in his arm to get the ball downfield, it is just a matter of fine tuning his accuracy. Still, even if Peyton hasn't been great in weeks 2-3, he still is 60% on the season and has our offense scoring a TD more a game in comparison to last year.
Will Decker and Thomas be reliable?
Remember the TD pass over the middle to Stokley? What you might of missed is Decker wide open down the sideline. Perhaps Manning didn't see him, perhaps Manning didn't trust him after both he and DT combined for a ton of drops. Bottom line, if you don't catch the ball when Peyton throws it to you, he will throw it to someone who will.
Will the trio of McCoy, Fox, and Manning finally work as one cohesive unit?
Manning has checked into some poor plays, McCoy has called some poor plays, Fox has to be somewhere in the background holding the reins on the "no-huddle" offense. Heading into game 4, we should be ending the adjustment period. If issues persist something has to change. We can't reign Peyton in like we have Orton or Tebow at the helm.
Will our running game become a threat once again?
I have no idea about this one. Our skill level on the interior is a huge factor as is redundant play calling. McGahee is the only back we have capable of turning in a good performance. Hillman might be able, but he isn't getting enough snaps. Lance Ball is just an average Joe, and Knowshon is still inept as a runner. If McGahee's rib injury lingers, most of the offensive workload will be on Manning which is not what I envisioned coming into the season.
Will Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, and Tracy Porter get on the same page?
Every game has featured blown coverages/miscommunications and as a result huge plays. Time to step it up guys, your success depends on playing as a unit, not as individuals. Champ can't cover everyone.
Will Keith Brooking have an effective outing in his first start of the season?
He was every bit as slow as Joe Mays was last week sideline to sideline. I sure hope Danny gets to see some time out there in coverage on 3rd down. What is with Danny not getting snaps BTW in nickel situations? I really hope this isn't "old school" pay your dues type thinking affecting things because we are not deep enough at LB to sit people that can help.
Will the defense continue its improvement on 3rd down?
The past few games, our Broncos D has only allowed three conversions on 3rd and long which was an improvement from the Pittsburgh game. We still allowed the Texans to convert 50% of their 3rd downs on Sunday. A third and less is the number to shoot for all around.
Will our front 4 take advantage of double teams on Von Miller?
Both Atlanta and Houston doubled Von Miller essentially leaving at least two other D linemen with a man on man matchup. We have to take advantage of those situations and get to the QB!
What impact will Dennis Allen's knowledge of our players have on the Raiders Offense?
The chess match especially when it comes to limiting the impact of our pass rushers will be a great matchup to watch. Dennis Allen is a smart man and can help his offense out immensely.
Keys to the Game
For the first time this season, I hope our Broncos come out firing on all cylinders on offense and defense. Though having Manning at QB helps in that we always have a shot to win the game---even down by a big number, this team is not built to play from behind especially on defense. In our first 3 offensive drives I want to see 10-14 points on the board. On defense I want a combination of three and outs and a turnover.
I want to see Manning hit receivers more accurately with the proper touch. I don't care about wobbling as long as it gets there, and when it does, I want them to hold on to it. As of right now, I'm not sure if Kuper will play, but we need him back. Our line isn't the same without him.
Defensively we need to stop allowing so many Redzone opportunities for opposing teams. As of now we have been a combination of bend but don't break and outright broke. Mays may have been suspended but I'm hoping his aggressiveness carries over to our entire squad and we start playing hard-nosed smash mouth football on defense. When I played football as a youngster, one of my coaches used to tell me to give everyone I hit a "slobberknocker"----meaning you hit 'em so hard they are left with drool running down their face;) More slobberknockers all around.
The Raiders don't scare me one bit even if their fanbase resemble something out of skid row. They are a rebuilding team trying to recover after years of mismanagement from Al Davis. Divisional games are still tough no matter the level of opponent, so let's go out and send a message to the rest of our division.
Broncos 34 Raiders 13