By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Saturday, September 26th, 2009 at 12:00 pm in Oakland Raiders.
We interrupt the latest sideshow and return to regularly scheduled programming, finding the Raiders with a chance to send their division rivals into a tailspin.
Check out the Broncos schedule after they play the Raiders Sunday. Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego and the New York Giants in a row before they visit the Chiefs.
Hard to see Denver winning more than two of those games unless Josh McDaniels is really on to something after a tumultuous offseason.
The Raiders will have none of that in mind as they face the Broncos. It’s how Tom Cable has approached things since taking over in the worst circumstances possible last season and why Gannon-gate amounts to nothing when it comes to what happens at the Coliseum.
“Don’t worry so much about the opponent, who they are and how they do things,” Cable said. “Let the emotion of the rivarly with the Denver Broncos handle that for you, but the focus as a football player, as a football team, is on us. Better execution. Sharper focus. More attention to detail. Us, us, us, us. That’s it.”
The Broncos come in with a 2-0 record, but closer inspection finds a fluke win in Week 1 against Cincinnati and a one-sided win in Week 2 over a Cleveland team that could easily be headed down a road to 3-13.
Figure the Raiders defense ought to be able to hold its own against a conservative offense led by Kyle Orton, who is charged with taking care of the ball and distributing it smartly and without a great deal of risk.
The Broncos have retained quite a bit of their zone blocking technique, but the truth is that other than last season’s Week 1 Monday night face plant, Oakland would have beaten Denver in three of the last four games had it not been for a Sebastian Janikowski off-the-upright special in 2007 and has beaten the Broncos decisively twice.
The Raiders’ biggest challenges seem fairly apparent _ do something positive in the passing game other than on the last drive of the game, and successfully block a Broncos defense that has changed its personality in a 3-4 defense under the direction of Mike Nolan.
On the first score, JaMarcus Russell’s passing struggles have been sufficiently scrutinized and analyzed. He can’t continue to pass at a 35.2 percent clip and there’s really no reason to believe he will. He was over 60 percent in the last seven games of 2008. He couldn’t have forgotten how to pass overnight. He’s going to come out of it to some degree.
If Russell does sharpen things up today, the shift from Robert Gallery to Erik Pears at left guard will be an area of concern. Gallery and left tackle Mario Henderson have operated side-by-side for enough games and enough practices to understand each other. Henderson knows when Gallery will be there if he allows his man to get inside. Nolan has placed Elvis Dumervill, a 5-foot-11 barrel of a pass rusher, on both sides as an outside linebacker, and can either go after Cornell Green or the suddenly weakened left side.
The Broncos have not been shy about bringing blitzers, and that includes veteran free safety Brian Dawkins.
All of which would make it incumbent on the Raiders to stay balanced (57 rushes, 56 passes through two games), avoid falling behind and get good games out of their kickers, who were nothing short of spectacular a week ago.
Could be a prime opportunity for Darren McFadden to get loose on a screen with defenders already committed to the rush, or for Michael Bush to do the same, smaller defenders scattering like bowling pins.
Beat the Broncos, and longterm its not hard to imagine them heading into Week 13 at 4-7.
Kansas City has lost 25 of its last 27 games.
After the opener, the Raiders are convinced they can beat San Diego and even Norv Turner is telling people his team isn’t all that.
It’s the AFC West.
Anything is possible.