When the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos square off in an AFC West showdown Thursday night, Oakland will look to avenge their week four 37-6 loss. The Broncos are riding a seven game win streak and have clinched the division title, while the Raiders have lost five in a row.
The Raiders number one priority will be containing quarterback Peyton Manning. It the teams' first meeting Manning torched the Oakland secondary for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Whether or not the Raiders can slow down the future Hall of Famer will be determined by their pass rush. With cornerback Phillip Adams and free safety Matt Giordano injured, the Raiders must pressure Manning into making uncomfortable throws. The pass rush has only mustered 14 sacks all season and was unable to get to Manning in the first meeting. That will have to change because if Manning has time, it will be a long night. Manning is so cerebral and patient that the defense must equal his intelligence to stay in the game.
With running back Willis MaGahee injured, the Denver rushing game will be paced by Knowshon Moreno. The Raiders are ranked 28th in the NFL against the run allowing 130.4 yards per game. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain will serve the second of his two game suspension and will be replaced by Omar Gaither. Gaither along with outside linebackers Miles Burris and Philip Wheeler will need to play disciplined against the run. The Raiders were plagued by missed tackles last week, which cost them in a three point loss to the Cleveland Browns. The defensive effort was better, but the execution remains sub-par. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will also provide a huge challenge for Ron Bartell and Michael Huff. Bartell was benched last week after getting beat on several big gains.
Offensively, Oakland should get running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson back after missing the last four weeks with high ankle sprains. Although McFadden only accounted for 34 yards on 13 carries in the first meeting, he has put up huge number against the Broncos historically. Fullback Marcel Reece, who took over as the starting running back when McFadden and Goodson were out, will still remain a large part of the offense. He is so versatile with a combination of size and speed that is rare at his position. Look for the Raiders to get Reece involved in the passing game because his skill set provides mismatches in coverage.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has shouldered the offensive load all year. He has already attempted 503 passes this season completing 305 for 3,532 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Although the turnovers have been a huge problem for Palmer, he has played well. Because the Raiders have trailed so often this season, Palmer has been forced to take chances to catch up. He will need to match Manning for the Raiders to hang around. In order to protect Palmer and give him a chance to make plays down the field, the offensive line will have to scheme agianst linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Both are capable of changing a game with their pass rush skills.
Last week, wide receiver Denarius Moore has benched because of his dropped pass and poor performance. Palmer will need him this week to bounce back and test the Broncos secondary. It will be interesting to see how Moore responds to the benching. If Moore can give the Raiders an outside threat, the middle of the field will open up for tight end Brandon Myers. Myers tied an Oakland single game record with 14 receptions last week. He has proven to be a reliable target for Palmer and has the ability to provide problems for the Denver defense that ranks 6th in the NFL against the pass allowing just 211.8 yards per game.
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