Date: Monday, Nov. 5
Time: 6:00 p.m. Pacific
Site: Network Associates Coliseum
Series: Raiders lead, 51-31-2
Streak: Broncos, seven games
Raiders hope to break Broncos' hold last time Broncos 27, Raiders 24, Nov. 13, 2000 at Mile High Stadium. Minus running back Tyrone Wheatley, who was out with an ankle sprain, Oakland ran 57 passing plays, to just 18 rushes. Quarterback Rich Gannon did his best, completing 30 for a career-high 382 yards, but Jason Elam's 41-yard FG as time expired handed the Raiders their 11th loss to the Broncos in their previous 12 tries.
After an 11-yard TD pass from Brian Griese put the Broncos up by 14 with 13 minutes to play, the Raiders battled back with a 1-yard TD run from Zack Crockett and a 22-yard pass from Gannon to Tim Brown with 1:06 remaining to tie the score. But Griese quickly completed four straight pass for 42 yards to set up the winning kick. broncos
Early in training camp, the Broncos professed their last two seasons had been an anomaly. Reloaded with more depth than any team in the NFL, they believed they were headed back to the Super Bowl after a two-year absence. Denver found out quickly these are not the Broncos of old. Their roster has almost entirely turned over since the championships, and consequently their confidence has faded. Now, the Broncos are searching for a new identity.
They have a new defensive system under coordinator Ray Rhodes, five new defensive starters, two new starters on the left side of the offensive line and a huge question mark where reliable receiver Ed McCaffrey once prowled.
Nobody — not even the players — can find the pulse of the team. They held such promise after a season-opening win over the New York Giants, then their confidence vanished with two consecutive divisional losses at Seattle and San Diego. A win against Oakland could not only salvage their fading championship hopes, but restore their swagger. broncos on offense.
A new phenomenon has struck the Broncos this season, one they never expected — the inability to run the football. No team in the NFL has rushed for more yardage than Denver over the last five years. Suddenly, that ability is gone. No one knows for sure what caused the quick downfall of Denver's running game, but there are plenty of symptoms.
The offensive line misses its veteran left side and the superior blocking of receiver Ed McCaffrey. Then there's the ever-changing health of running back Terrell Davis. And most conspicuously — the play-calling. The Broncos have quickly abandoned the run. Part of the reason they have run the ball less is because they fall behind fast and must turn to their aerial game to play catch-up. Against Seattle, they fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. But some players grumbled the game plan has not been tailored toward the running game anyway.
Asked about the team's overall dropoff in carries, tailback Olandis Gary said: "Hey, I just work here." The Broncos still rank ninth in the NFL in their ground prowess, but clearly they have slipped from the prescribed standard. Since 1997, they are 51-6 when they have more carries than their opponent, and 2-19 when they do not. Opponents have concentrated on taking away the running game. Denver running backs have only had two 100-yard rushing games all season, and one belonged to Davis before his injury.
The Seahawks held Mike Anderson to 51 yards on 17 carries. The Broncos rushed Anderson just 11 times for 50 yards against San Diego. "The West Coast offense is predicated on us being able to run the football," quarterback Brian Griese said. "When you can run, you can work for the play-action passes and the short passes. "What teams have done is make us one-dimensional. And any defensive coordinator should be able to stop a team that can only pass the ball."
Those problems have been reflected in Griese's statistics. Not only is he nursing a sore shoulder, but his quarterback rating has slipped with each successive week to 85.5 after six games. After throwing 19 touchdowns and four interceptions all of last year, he has already thrown eight picks this season. He has been sacked 15 times behind what was once an impenetrable offensive line.
Key Matchup: Broncos RG Dan Neil vs. Raiders DT Darrell Russell.
Neil has battled a high ankle sprain for three weeks. Russell must eventually find his way into the lineup. He has something to prove after nearly getting traded to the New York Jets. Seattle's John Randle earned three sacks crossing the injured Neil three weeks ago. The health of his ankle is critical.
How to beat the Broncos offense:
The Seahawks and Chargers put on a clinic for other teams on how to beat Denver. They crowded the box with eight or nine players. When the frustrated Broncos took to the air, defenses allowed the short passes - but never let anything get behind them.
Offensive Player to watch Wide Receiver Rod Smith Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 200
Never before has the Broncos offense been so reliant on one player. But in the wake of Ed McCaffrey's injury, receiver Rod Smith has emerged as their only clutch player. Smith led the AFC with 51 receptions for 599 yards and five touchdowns through Oct. 21. He's done it without an able complement on the other side, watching teams roll their coverage toward him, if not facing an outright double-team. Smith caught 14 passes in a victory against Arizona earlier this year, tying the team record. But he has developed into more than just the on-field leader; he has also assumed leadership in the troubled locker room.
Broncos on Defense When the Broncos arrive in Oakland for their pivotal divisional matchup, Raiders fans will recognize a wide-bodied, run-stopping machine at left defensive tackle for Denver: Chester McGlockton. The free-agent signee has dramatically helped Denver improve its run defense.
Everyone remembers the beleaguered unit allowing Corey Dillon's NFL-record 276-yard game last year. Now, Denver ranks 10th in run defense. McGlockton has been a success while battling a nagging knee injury. When the Broncos signed him, they envisioned him taking double-teams away from right DT Trevor Pryce. It's only been a partial success. McGlockton heads for the sideline on obvious passing downs, and his replacement, veteran Leon Lett, has been a disappointment. Pryce still faces those double-teams.
At defensive end, free-agent import Keith Washington won a starting job in training camp and has been able. He has consistently put pressure on quarterbacks, but has gotten beaten to the corner by quick tailbacks. Kavika Pittman, Washington's right-side counterpart, has been invisible. The team is still adjusting to Ray Rhodes' simplified defensive system, and looking good while making the transition.
They have given up the occasional big play — a 60-yard touchdown run to Shaun Alexander — but overall have dramatically decreased their risky behavior. The simplified system has won the praise and respect of the players.
The Broncos once again reloaded their defense, signing three new free-agent starters and using their first three draft choices on defensive players. Second-year players Deltha O'Neal (cornerback) and Kenoy Kennedy (safety) claimed starting jobs in the secondary. O'Neal reveled in his four-interception game against Kansas City, but teams continue to pick on the first-year starter. Kennedy has become an impact safety and sure tackler, something his predecessor, Billy Jenkins, was not.
Key Matchup: Broncos LB Bill Romanowski vs. Raiders TE Roland Williams.
Romanowski is in the best shape of his life, and playing better than he has the last two years. He'll not only be responsible for working against Williams, but containing Oakland's versatile rushing attack. Romo has flashed the speed to the sidelines this year, and his effort has never been questioned. Williams has been good for two catches a game thus far and its important he occupies the attention of the 14th year linebacker.
How to beat the Broncos defense:
After getting the attention of the linebackers with the running game, the Raiders would do well go to work out on the corners with the pass. So far the Denver secondary has been an all-or-nothing unit, giving up yardage but coming up with their share of turnovers. But he Patriots connected with their wide receivers 18 times in last week's matchup with the Broncos and if Rich Gannon stays away from poor decisions, he'll do well against this young secondary.
Defensive Player to watch Linebacker Ian Gold Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 223
Sitting behind Romo on the bench, this second-year LB is still learning, but his speed has been too much for Denver to ignore. The Broncos place him on the field in obvious passing situations as a hybrid linebacker-defensive end and unleash him on the quarterback. Although he has just one sack, the role has allowed him to pressure and hurry quarterbacks all year.
What began as a strength for the Broncos turned into an embarrassment over the last month. A blocked punt helped Seattle finish off the Broncos, 34-21.
Against San Diego, Denver allowed the opening kickoff to be returned 88 yards for a touchdown. Billy Jenkins and Travis McGriff paid for the errors with their jobs; both were waived on the Tuesday following the San Diego game. The Broncos expect to get better on coverage with the return of fullback Detron Smith, a potential Pro Bowler on special teams. The Broncos should also see the return over blazing rookie Kevin Kasper, who led the NFL in return yardage before an ankle sprain sidelined him for one month.