There has been much dicussion among fans and the media about Peyton Manning's diminshed skills this season. He may not be the player he was a few years ago, but I don't think that it will matter much versus the Raiders on Sunday. Lets talk about the Raiders defense and what we can expect come game time.
The Raiders defense is once again very basic. They don't call more than a handful of coverages. The thing that really popped out at my when I reviewed the Steelers vs. Raiders game film from last weekend is the number of zone coverages that the Raiders used. They didn't use as much man coverage as in seasons past.
They occasionally attempted to surprise Roethlisberger with an unexpected blitz or coverage rotation. Beyond that, they ran the defense they were showing. This meant easy money for Big Ben and the Steelers offense and it showed in Ben's stat line after the game, 36 of 49 with 384 yards and 4 touchdowns. I expect Manning to put up similar numbers on Sunday.
The Raiders seem to rely on the same philosiphy as the Tony Dungy defenses with the Colts and Bucs. They are going to drop into coverage and force the offense to execute to sustain drives. They aren't going to blitz very often and will rely on their front four to create pressure on Peyton Manning.
I believe there are two reasons for this style of defense. First, they don't have much talent at cornerback. After the departure of Stanford Routt and Nnamdi Asomugha, they are relying on the likes of Pat Lee, Shawntae Spencer and Joselio Hanson at corner. Not exactly an elite crew. Second, they do have some talent on their defensive line. I will talk about the defensive line a little bit later.
The player that I believe makes this defense go is safety Ty Branch. In my opinion, Branch is one of the most underrated players in the NFL and adds some flexibility to this defense. Expect to see number 33 flash accross your screen early and often on Sunday. He is the type of player that has a nose for the ball and always seems to be in on the play. In a nut shell, he can do it all. He is the movable chess piece of this defense.
I think the Raiders do a good job of moving Branch all over the field to make plays. He can play deep zone coverage. He has the speed and coverage abilities of a cornerback so he can line up in the slot and cover a receiver. This allows the Raiders to stay in there base defense against a 3 wide receiver formation. He can cover a TE or running back out of the back field. Branch can also line up as an in the box safety and blitz the QB and make plays against the running game. Branch is the answer to the receiving tight end. Possibly the most interesting match up of this game will be Branch versus Tamme and Dreessen.
As I stated before, the Raiders rely primarily on their front four to create pressure on the QB. This defensive line also has a few under rated players. Richard Seymour may be on the wrong side of 30 but he can still be a disruptive force. Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston are a talented pair of defensive ends that are capable of wrecking havock off the edge. The Denver offensive line will need to be on their A game to keep these guys away from Manning.
At the same time, Peyton Manning needs to be Peyton Manning. He needs to make quick reads and throws to help keep the pressure off of the offensive line. He needs to take what the defensive is giving and put togther some scoring drives early in the game. The Bronco offense can do themselves a huge favor by getting in rhythm early in the game, unlike the last two weeks.
The bottom line, expect Manning to have a game more similar to week one than the last two weeks. And, unless there is a complete failure by the Bronco defense, expect the Broncos to get back into the win column.