Derek Carr needed help getting his jacket on after the Raiders last game, and walked slowly and stiffly from the podium after this week’s press briefing.
The aches and pains of a quarterback at the midway point of his rookie season will be subject to the NFL’s most dynamic 1-2 punch in terms of a pass rush Sunday when the Raiders host the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum.
The Broncos, 6-2, rebuilt their defense after a 43-8 pummeling by the Seattle Seahawks in last season’s Super Bowl, with former Dallas edge rusher DeMarcus Ware the star attraction to go along with strong side linebacker Von Miller.
Ware, 32, has eight sacks, two more than he had in 13 games last season with the Dallas Cowboys. His release saved the Cowboys $7.4 million against the salary cap, and the Broncos gambled Ware still had enough left to be worth a three-year contract worth $30 million.
Miller, who set the Denver single-season sack record with 19.5 in 2012, is recovering nicely from a torn ACL and has seven sacks.
Raiders coach Tony Sparano, who was on Bill Parcells’ staff in Dallas when Ware was drafted in 2005, said the Ware-Miller tandem been “affecting” quarterbacks about 15 times per game in the form of pressures and quarterback hits.
“They’re two dynamic players,” Sparano said. “It’s rare you find two on the same team like that, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
For all the issues the Raiders have had in an 0-8 season, they have been been respectable in the areas of holding their ground at the line of scrimmage and keeping Carr relatively clean.
Opponents have thrown Raiders backs for losses 13 times, the second lowest figure in the league. It’s a little deceiving in that the Raiders have run the ball infrequently, and their 8.7 percent figure of negative plays is squarely in the middle of the NFL at No. 16.
Carr has been sacked just eight times. His brother, David Carr, had been sacked 45 times on a 2-6 team with the expansion Houston Texans in 2002.
“He gets the ball off really quick,” Ware told reporters in Denver. “He knows even if you blitz him, even if you rush him, it really doesn’t matter. He’s going to dump it down to his running backs or short passes that make sure he keeps the game close.”
In a 30-24 loss to Seattle, Carr was sacked just once, but by Sparano’s count was hit “four or five” times. In the Raiders’ previous loss to Houston, Carr was dropped a season-high four times.
Even Sparano conceded the Raiders’ offensive line was soundly beaten by the Seattle defensive front, a sentiment he relayed to the players in his usual blunt fashion.
The Raiders are likely facing the Broncos without starting left guard Gabe Jackson, who didn’t practice Thursday with a knee injury. That means Khalif Barnes will move inside to left guard, where he hasn’t played this season, with Matt McCants serving as the tackle-eligible blocker in power formations.
Left tackle Donald Penn has played against Ware four times as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Ware getting three sacks in those games for Dallas.
“He looks like he’s got a lot to prove,” Penn said. “He’s playing hard and he’s getting a lot more one-on-one matchups because of Von being on the other side, and their inside inside guys are pretty good too,.”
Sparano said Carr will need to trust his protection and make good decisions, but insisted the Raiders will take some downfield shots.
“We can’t just dink and dunk the whole day,” Sparano said.
With the NFL’s 32nd ranked rushing attack, Sparano insists the Raiders will stay the course and look to get yards on the ground which would slow the pass rush.
“We’ve shown signs and glimpses (of being able to run),” Penn said. “But signs and glimpses get you to 0-8. We’ve got to find a way to get it going.”
— Cornerback TJ Carrie was limited in practice, but Carlos Rogers was out and it appears he won’t play against Denver. Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was excused for a personal matter but expected to be available Sunday.
— Raiders announced the Denver game is a sellout and will be televised locally.