Denver Broncos (2-0) at Oakland Raiders (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS (Ian Eagle, Rich Gannon)
SERIES: 98th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series 55-40-2, and the teams split the series each of the last two seasons. The Broncos swept the series in 2005 and 2006, but have had some problems with Oakland each of the last two years. Last season, a shocking 31-10 loss at home to the Raiders was one reason Denver couldn't hang on to its lead in the AFC West.
PREDICTION: Raiders 18-14
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Raiders' scuffling passing game goes up against a Denver defense that has allowed only a touchdown and two field goals through two games. QB JaMarcus Russell has completed just 35.2 percent of his passes as he continues to struggle mightily with his accuracy. And until the passing game steps up, RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush are going to have tough sledding running against eight-man fronts - especially with LG Robert Gallery (broken fibula) out. Denver's goal offensively is to find a good mix between the run and the pass. Considering the size of the Raiders' interior look for RBs Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno to attack the edges. On the outside, WR Brandon Marshall is expected to often line up opposite Nnamdi Asomugha in a compelling duel.
FAST FACTS: Josh McDaniels aims to join Red Miller (1977) as the only coaches to start their Broncos careers 3-0. ... Raiders FS Michael Huff is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions.
--WR Brandon Stokley returned to practice Thursday, but was limited because of a thigh injury. There is a good chance he will be ready to play by Sunday.
--WR Brandon Marshall left practice early Wednesday because of an illness, but was a full participant Thursday. He'll be able to play on Sunday.
--G Ben Hamilton was held out of practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury. He practiced in full on Wednesday. He could still play on Sunday but probably needs to make some strides before the game.
--DE Le Kevin Smith has practiced a couple of times this week as he returns from a knee injury. Even if Smith can't go this week, he should be able to return soon and could find himself right back in the defensive line rotation.
--G Chris Kuper returned to the starting lineup last week and did not have a setback with his high ankle sprain. He has been practicing in full this week and will keep starting at right guard.
--WR Chaz Schilens is not practicing but is targeting Week 4 against Houston for his return from a broken bone in his left foot.
--T Khalif Barnes has begun to take snaps at left guard for the first time in his career to provide depth with Robert Gallery out four to six weeks with a broken left fibula.
--WR/KR Johnnie Lee Higgins was limited in practice and will return punts, play as a wide receiver and possibly return kickoffs.
--S Hiram Eugene did not practice with lower left leg strain and will not play against Denver.
--RB Justin Fargas will be active this week as a running back and may play on special teams.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Correll Buckhalter doesn't mind that he isn't getting as many carries as rookie Knowshon Moreno, who is backing him up. And Buckhalter realizes his time as the Denver Broncos' starting tailback is probably running out.
Moreno was drafted with the 12th overall pick, and might be the starter already if he didn't hold out and then miss most of preseason and training camp with a knee injury. He will likely be the starter at some point soon, but Buckhalter won't complain.
"The guy was the 12th pick of the draft -- obviously he's not going to sit on the bench," Buckhalter said. "It's a business. I understand this game."
Buckhalter wasn't bitter, perhaps in part because he knows his role won't evaporate when and if Moreno becomes the starter. Moreno got 17 carries against Cleveland -- and looked pretty good with them, gaining 75 yards -- and Buckhalter had nine. Buckhalter has played well, including a 45-yard touchdown against the Browns, so there's no reason to bury him on the bench.
Also, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy are comfortable with tailback committees and have said often that many backs will play. So any talk of when Moreno will become the starter is not too important to the coaching staff.
"I'm not going to say there's a certain date we're going to put (Moreno) as a starter," McCoy said. "Buck's done a great job for us too, so has LaMont (Jordan) and Peyton (Hillis). They've all done a good job and they all have their roles."
Rich Gannon, a fundamentalist to the core when it comes to passing a football, looks at JaMarcus Russell and sees a lot of things contributing to the quarterback's 35.2 percent completion percentage.
The former Raiders quarterback did a breakdown of the current Raiders quarterback on his Sirius Satellite Radio show, and while he said Russell's flaws can be corrected, it sounds as if there's a lot of correcting to do.
"A lot of times he falls away from his throws," Gannon said. ``He seems to bail. I think a rush up inside bothers him ... he's very upright and there's not a lot of bend in his knees. It may have something to do with his weight. He seems more comfortable out of the shotgun than under center.
"He doesn't do a good job seeing out in front of throws ... fundamentally right now, he's not very sound. His mechanics, his footwork, it's inconsistent."
After finishing last season completing 61.1 percent of his passes over the last seven games, Russell has opened the season 19-for-54, going 12-for-30 in the season opener against San Diego and 7-for-24 against Kansas City.
In both games, Russell put his struggles aside to lead touchdown drives with less than three minutes to play put the trailing Raiders in front, with the defense giving the lead back in Week 1.
Coach Tom Cable said the 60- to 65-percent range is where Russell's completion percentage should be, and pointed to the passing game as a whole.
"I think it's a little bit of everything," Cable said. "We need to be a little sharper in terms of routes and all those things and a little sharper in terms of reading it and being on time. Collectively it's an issue. It's not a one-person issue here."
Denver coach Josh McDaniels sees the low completion percentage but also notes, "he leads the league in yards per completion which has always been a big thing for Oakland because they have so many explosive players and speed on offense."
Russell acknowledged the issues with young receivers alluded to by Gannon and conceded he has a long way to go.
"I'm not where I want to be and won't be there for quite some time," Russell said. "There's always something to work on, as a quarterback or a player."
Broncos Update Community Forums