For a team that used to dominate on Monday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders sure are facing some long odds at Mile High Stadium against the Denver Broncos tonight.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos – 5:40 pm – ESPN
The Raiders are 15-point underdogs to their hated rivals in Orange & Blue, and the Broncos are the current Super Bowl favorite in Vegas, getting 5/1 odds.
Those figures are not that surprising if you’ve seen Peyton Manning picking defenses apart this season at the age of 37 just as easily as he ever has. The Bronco offense is averaging 463 yards and 45 points per game; Manning has nine touchdowns with no picks.
Last Sunday’s 19-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Oakland was 24-year-old Terrelle Pryor’s first win as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and it was just the third ever start in his pro career.
Denver’s 41-23 win over the New York Giants (and Eli Manning) on the road last week was Peyton Manning’s 226th NFL start, and his 156th win as a starter. Born in 1976, the four-time NFL MVP was runner up to Charles Woodson in the Heisman Trophy race all the way back in 1997 — when Terrelle Pryor was eight years old.
Clearly the Raiders are in over their heads when it comes to overall talent, and the mismatch is even more pronounced when it comes to experience at the quarterback position.
But styles make fights.
Oakland’s ability to run the ball and play defense may be the physical presence capable of dragging Peyton and the Donkeys down in the mud, turning this into a street fight — and giving the Raiders a puncher’s chance in a lower scoring game.
The Broncos have run out to huge leads in both of their first two games, forcing teams to pass while playing catch-up. Resulting in a league best 40.5 ypg allowed rushing, and a league worst 344 ypg allowed passing.
The Raider offense entered the weekend leading the NFL in rushing with 198.5 ypg, Pryor has rushed for 162 and McFadden has 177 yards, but the Raiders are last in the NFL in passing, with just 157.5 ypg. The Raiders had more time of possession in both their games so far, while Denver had less time of possession in both of their games.
Terrelle Pryor isn’t going to outplay Peyton Manning from the pocket, but he’s capable of gashing defenses at opportune times and extending plays with his legs. He’ll also need some help from Darren McFadden, who had a strong game against the Jaguars. The Raiders need to keep the game close and hope their improving offensive line can open up some holes for their runners, leading to some big opportunities in the play-action game.
I would be very surprised if the Raiders don’t run the ball and score some points, but this game will be won or lost by Oakland’s defense.
Denver’s thrown for 376 ypg, which is tops in the NFL, but its running for just 86 ypg (23rd), even after two blowout wins. Peyton’s receiving corps will test the Raiders’ new corners. Tonight would be the perfect time for D.J. Hayden to show his playmaking ability, because Manning is going to challenge Oakland’s top rookie.
The Raider defense has allowed just 180.5 ypg passing, which is third in the NFL, and it’s seventh against the run at 80.5 ypg. The Raiders’ nine sacks after two games tied for the league lead, a tremendous improvement after just 25 sacks in all of 2012.
The Raiders may be missing rookie linebacker Sio Moore, who sustained a concussion in a car accident Saturday morning. He traveled with the team and is listed as questionable, but the Broncos have a much larger injury concern sitting right across from the Raiders’ best defensive lineman.
Ryan Clady, who could be the best left tackle in all of football, was put on IR for the season earlier this week, and Chris Clark is protecting Manning’s blindside tonight. Undrafted in 2008, it will be the first start at left tackle of Clark’s career. Lamarr Houston is in a contract year, and he led the NFL in QB pressures entering the weekend playing right defensive end for Oakland, after starting his career on the left.
Manning is famous for having one of the quickest releases ever, although the Raiders have been very creative with their blitzes and five of their nine sacks have been recorded by defensive backs. We may see the Broncos giving Clark extra help with tight ends staying in to block, or running backs chipping on the left side, and Oakland’s aggressive defensive coordinator (Jason Tarver) taking advantage with some blitzes from Manning’s right.
This isn’t Peyton’s first rodeo, but I do think this physical Raider team is better suited to beat the Broncos than several teams one would objectively call superior to the Silver & Black. Pryor and McFadden need good outings, a couple mistakes by Peyton Manning may be a lot to ask, but a game-changing play from Charles Woodson resembles a reasonable request.
It will require a spirited team effort to spoil the Broncos’ home cooking in their Mile High kitchen, but the Raiders do arrive at the Monday Night party with many of the necessary ingredients to make that happen.
~ Donkey. It’s what’s for dinner. ~