Oakland Raiders (0-4) at Denver Broncos (3-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer SERIES: 92nd meeting. Raiders lead series 53-36-2 but are 5-17 since Mike Shanahan became Denver's head coach in 1995. Last win 28-25 in Denver was Nov. 28, 2004 as Kerry Collins completed 26 of 49 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns and Jerry Porter caught 6 passes for 135 yards and three scores.
2006 RANKINGS: Raiders: offense 32nd (9th rush, 32nd pass); defense 10th (29th rush, 2nd pass). Broncos: offense 18th (4th rush, 30th pass); defense 12th (17th rush, 13th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Raiders' running game has shown signs of life in recent games, and Oakland will need RBs LaMont Jordan and Justin Fargas to move the chains and create manageable third-down situations. The Raiders can't afford to fall behind against the Broncos' stout defense, especially with QB Andrew Walter sporting a 5.8 fourth-quarter passer rating. Walter will have a difficult time working against Broncos CBs Champ Bailey and Darrent Williams without committing devastating turnovers, so Oakland's best chance is to run the ball effectively and rely on the short passing game. The Broncos' offense has been anything but dominating, so the Raiders have a chance to drag them into a low-scoring affair. But Oakland's run defense, which is third-worst in the league allowing 150.3 yards per game, must find a way to contain RB Tatum Bell and help control field position.
FAST FACTS: Raiders: Have a seven-game losing streak against AFC West teams. ... Have lost by 10 or more points 20 times in their past 52 games. ... Are the last team to win in Denver (Nov. 11, 2004). Broncos: K Jason Elam has 25 points -- the rest of the team has a combined 24. ... Have a 12-game home winning streak.
PREDICTION: Broncos 21-12
--SS Derrick Gibson, does his best work close to the line, made his first start of the season against San Francisco as the Raiders opened in nickel defense.
--LG Barry Sims, who signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 1999, made the 100th start of his career last week.
--K Sebastian Janikowski has yet to miss a kick this season. He is 5-for-5 in field-goal attempts and 4-for-4 on extra-point attempts.
--CB Duane Starks was ill and missed practice Thursday. He is listed as probable.
--KR Chris Carr, who returns kickoff and punts, will be pressed into action at cornerback if Duane Starks cannot play this week due to illness.
Broncos: --CB Champ Bailey likely won't be moved around the field to shadow Oakland's Randy Moss this week. Bailey has stuck to the left side since midway through last season and is comfortable not moving around the field.
--FB Cecil Sapp is listed as probable on the injury report with a toe injury. Sapp has practiced all week and will play Sunday.
--WR Quincy Morgan had a good day returning kickoffs against Baltimore. As he gets more comfortable with Denver's scheme, he should make an impact on special teams.
--RB Tatum Bell caught two passes against Baltimore, even though he isn't a great receiver out of the backfield. The Broncos usually use their fullbacks on passing plays more than Bell.
--WR Javon Walker ran the ball twice against the Ravens. The Broncos want to get Walker, a dangerous playmaker, the ball as often as possible, even on an end around or two per game.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Raiders: Andrew Walter, although pulled from the game in the fourth quarter of a loss to the 49ers after a hail of turnovers, could be settling for the long haul.
Aaron Brooks, the Raiders' starting quarterback, is making gradual process on a torn pectoral muscle that doesn't enable him to throw well enough to play. The plan all along was for Brooks to start until the Raiders deemed it time to move ahead with their quarterback of the future.
With an 0-4 record a quarter of the way through the season and with no other team below .500 in the division, the Raiders are already building for next season, whether they admit it or not.
When reviewing the loss against the 49ers, Walter has tried to learn from both the good (10-for-15, 138 yards and a TD in the first half) as well as the bad (4-for-8, 26 yards, two interceptions and a fumbled lateral) in the second half.
"There were positives in the first half, so there's something to put in the bank, but you don't get any credit for it because it's a loss," Walter said. "Certainly there were a lot of negatives in the second half. In the second I had three or four bad throws. If I have six bad throws in a game, and they're not critical errors, that's not bad. I felt pretty good about the way I played. I need to eliminate the turnovers."
Walter was removed from the game, coach Art Shell said, because he was pressing and compounding his errors. Knowing that Walter has a lot of football still to play this season, Shell didn't want Walter's confidence shattered by making even more mistakes.
"It didn't hurt my confidence," Walter said. "The coach makes the decision, and as a player you have to roll with it. It's always a learning process for me. Even if we were undefeated right now, it would be a learning process."
The Raiders, of course, are the opposite of undefeated, but center Jake Grove can see a difference in the way Walter carries himself.
"I can remember one of our first two-minute drives in training camp, when he came in with the first unit," Grove said. "He was rushing things and not talking loud enough. The second half against the 49ers didn't go his way, but he was confident, loud in the huddle. Loud at the line. He definitely had poise in there.
"He had some throws get away from him, but I told him, 'We still believe in you, and we need you to win.' He's going to bounce back."
Broncos: After giving up one touchdown in four games, the Broncos feel pretty good about where their defense ranks in the NFL.
Denver and the 2000 Dolphins are the only teams since 1940 to start a season by allowing only one touchdown in the first four games.
Denver is behind Chicago, San Diego and Baltimore -- the other obvious candidates for the top defense in the league -- in yards allowed. In fact, the Broncos rank a pedestrian 12th in total defense. However, Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams wasn't worried about that ranking.
"I know the numbers don't have us No. 1 right now," Williams said. "But we've only allowed one touchdown. Teams have got some yards on us, but at the same time we feel like when it really counts, we're the best defense and we can stop anyone at any time."
Denver's streak is even more impressive because many of the field goals it has allowed have come after turnovers by the offense. The Rams got six field goals in the season opener and often started with a short field. One of Kansas City's two field goals was on a 4-yard drive. Baltimore's lone field goal was set up by a fumble in Broncos territory.
The Broncos are playing a much more basic scheme this season. They are blitzing less and letting the line get after the quarterback. The line has played well, which has allowed the talented linebackers and defensive backs to do their jobs. After a 3-1 start, the Broncos are feeling confident.
"I think we're the best team in the league, not just defense,"
defensive tackle Gerard Warren said. "If you don't feel that way, what are
you playing the game for?"
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