News, notes, quotes and observations Thursday as the Raiders prepare to face Indianapolis:
— Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has recovered nicely since his three-game stretch which (gasp!) actually removed him from the race as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Manning threw 11 interceptions in three games, the Colts were on the cusp of not making the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and the one of the league’s ambassadors as well as an advertising icon seemed to be on the downside of a brilliant career.
Not so fast.
Indianapolis is back in control of its destiny, having beaten Tennessee (30-28) and Jacksonville (30-24) with an 8-6 record, during which time Manning is 54 of 74 for 548 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The two-time defending league MVP will give way to Tim Brady or Michael Vick this year, but it probably has as much to do with an injury-ravaged supporting cast than signs of slippage from Manning.
“Somebody asked me if I was in a slump, and I said, well, yes, maybe I was,’’ Manning told the NFL Network after beating the Titans. “But I’d been on about an eight- and a half-year streak before that.’’
Manning already has career highs in attempts (608) and completions (407) with two games to play and is completing 66.9 percent of his passes.
The Colts are running the ball better of late, but have struggled on the ground and have often played from behind, necessitating an offense even more pass-heavy than usual.
Beyond the sheer numbers is Manning’s ability to dictate the pace of a game. He’ll dominate the game from the line of scrimmage, tricking defenses into having too many men on the field. He can run a two-minute drill to come from behind or a four-minute offense to kill the clock with equal effectiveness.
“I think when you play Peyton Manning, you’ve got to do what you do best,’’ defensive coordinator John Marshall said. “It’s been my experience that you can almost screw yourself up. You can almost get too much into disguising and trying to trick him with this coverage or that.
“Once you go through a series with him you’re not going to trick him anymore. He’s wired into you. So you’ve got to go out and play. You get matched up and play.’’
Here’s how Manning assessed the Oakland defense talking to Indianapolis reporters:
“It’s a pretty classic Oakland Raiders defense. Very aggressive, some great athletes all over the field, a lot of speed, a lot of size. They are playing with a lot of momentum. The Jacksonville game could have easily gone their way. They’re playing at home, are right in thick of the playoff chase as we are, so I know it’s going to be a tough ballgame.’’
— Indianapolis had a 129-yard rushing game from Donald Brown against Jacksonville and gets Joseph Addai back this week, giving the Colts at least a semblance of balance.
But for the most part, it’s been Manning controlling the ball through the air with perennial Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne (99 receptions, 12,47 yards, 5 TDs) and a revolving cast of other receivers.
Austin Collie (54 receptions, 649 yards, 8 TDs) was ruled out for the season after his third concussion and the Colts lost standout Dallas Clark (37-343-3) earlier in the year. When Clark went down, Jacob Tamme was plugged in and has 53 passes for 486 yards.
“I think as long as you’ve got No. 18 driving the car, you can never let your guard down,’’ cornerback Stanford Routt said. “One thing that makes him such a Hall of Famer is that he makes his receivers better.’’
— Turns out Marshall was the defensive line coach in Indianapolis in 1987 when Cable was a replacement player offensive lineman for the Colts.
How good was Cable as a player?
Marshall first said he couldn’t remember, then caught himself, “He was great. Dominant. Big, dominant man.’’
It was so long ago Cable’s memory needs work. He said in a conference call the Colts won all three replacement games, while they actually won two of three.
— Punter Shane Lechler and Richard Seymour, both with hamstring strains, although it sounds the odds of seeing Lechler Sunday are better than seeing Seymour.
Right tackle Langston Walker also didn’t practice and will take a concussion test Friday morning, Cable said.
Lechler has been on the field and took turns throwing to defensive backs today. Seymour wasn’t round during the media window either Wednesday or Thursday and hasn’t been seen in the locker room during media availability.
Cable said of Lechler, “I feel good about it right now. How sure I am, we’ll see tomorrow or Saturday. But I know he’s improving and I feel good about it.’’
As for the level of optimism regarding Seymour, Cable said, “That’s kind of touch and go, still.’’
Those who were limited at practice included cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle), and wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins (ankle). Players listed as injured but with full participation were tight end Zach Miller (foot), cornerback Chris Johnson (groin) and safety Mike Mitchell (ribs).
Cable wouldn’t commit to Nick Miller as his punt return specialist over Higgins, although he had a 22 yard return against Denver. The Raiders are ranked 25th in punt return average at 7.3 per return.
“We’ll see where we are with both of them on Sunday but I thought he did a nice job for sure,’’ Cable said.