By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 at 7:17 pm in Oakland Raiders.
In the days leading up to the first day of training camp, I’ll review the state of the rest of the AFC West and how they match up with the Raiders, as well as all Raiders position groups heading into the first practice on July 24. Today’s entry takes a look at the Denver Broncos.
If there is one thing Mike Shanahan enjoys more than beating Al Davis and reminding him of the bonus money he insists he is owed, it is the way his Denver teams have been physically superior through their ability to run the ball.
That changed in 2007, and when Davis was tallying up the plusses and minuses of Lane Kiffin’s first season, one of the biggest things in his favor was the way his teams played against Shanahan and the Broncos.
They came within a Sebastian Janikowski field goal hitting an upright of sweeping Denver for the first time since 2002, falling 23-20 in overtime in Week 2 and manhandling the Broncos 34-20 in Week 13.
You wonder if Davis’ favorite moment of the entire season wasn’t the sight of watching Shanahan sit on the ball on Denver’s final possession, essentially saying “uncle” as Justin Fargas ran for 146 yards, the Raiders gained 175 and ran up a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
The Raiders beating the Broncos on the ground is real man bites dog stuff, as Shanahan’s 20-6 record against Oakland since 1995 has been in great measure due to Denver’s rushing superiority.
Oakland outrushed Denver 2,086 to 1,957 last season _ only the third time in Shanahan’s 13 years the Raiders gained more yards than the Broncos on the ground.
What’s more, it was accomplished with an offense in large measure stolen from the Broncos _ zone blocking, lots of bootlegs and and getting effective yardage from different running backs.
Whether the Raiders can continue beating the Broncos at their own game will be determined quickly _ Denver is at Oakland in a late Monday night game at the Coliseum in Week 1.
Denver was 7-9 in the AFC West, 1-1 against the Raiders. Ranked 9th in rushing, 11th in total offense, 19th in total defense, 30th in rushing defense.
Running back Travis Henry, a rare Denver foray into free agency for a running back, was dumped after being a no-show in the offseason program and faces a suspension under the NFL substance abuse policy.
The Broncos will run by committee with Selvin Young and free agent acquisition Michael Pittman. Fourth-round draft pick Ryan Torian of Arizona State has the classic look of a one-cut, zone-blocking runner.
Linebacker Boss Bailey, brother of cornerback Champ Bailey, joins the defense, along with San Diego castoff Marlon McCree at safety. Niko Koutovides, a free agent from Seattle, will also play a large role.
What’s to like
Quarterback Jay Cutler’s mysterious weight loss last season was solved. He has Type 1 diabetes and must constantly monitor his blood sugar. The word is Cutler not only looks healthy, but is throwing the ball extremely well and appears confident and secure, perhaps relieved he knows what he is dealing with.
Not content to go the usual route with castoffs, the Broncos used a first-round pick on tackle Ryan Clady, who was a zone-blocking terror at Boise State and a perfect fit for the system.
There was a lot of snickering when the Broncos cut Javon Walker rather than pay him a $5 millon roster bonus, only to have the Raiders sink some $16 million into him during free agency. It no doubt got louder when Walker ended up getting rolled in Las Vegas.
But the Broncos best not laugh too loud. The wideout expected to make the big plays, Brandon Marshall, sliced tendons in an offseason accident. He says he slipped on a McDonald’s bag and fell through a television set.
Considering Denver’s offseason acquisitions at wide receiver were Keary Colbert and DarrellJackson, joining Brandon Stokely, the Broncos have issues outside.
Those creaking sounds are coming from Denver’s center position. They went younger at center, signing 13-year veteran Casey Wiegmann from the Chiefs and relegating 15-year vet Tom Nalen to backup status.
Tears of joy were wept in Oakland when perennial Raider-killer Jason Elam escaped to Atlanta as a free agent. The place kickers going to camp are Matt Prater and Garrett Hartley.
There were no huge moves by the Broncos in the offseason defensively despite giving up 409 points, more than even the Raiders (398).