Key matchups vs Denver

Kwame Harris won't get to ease into his role as the Raiders starting left tackle, not with Denver's Elvis Dumervil coming to town for Monday night's season opener. How well Harris holds up could go a long way in determining which team wins. Find out why and about other key matchups in Michael Wagaman's weekly breakdown of Oakland's upcoming game.

KEY MATCHUPS

Oakland LT Kwame Harris and RT Cornell Green vs. Denver DE Elvis Dumervil and DE John Engelberger: The Raiders didn't have much luck protecting JaMarcus Russell in the preseason and there's not much reason to think things will change much in the regular season. Harris draws the job of trying to stop Dumervil, who had 12.5 sacks in 2007 and two more in the preseason this year. Harris doesn't have to win every snap but because it's Russell's blindside, he has to at least slow Dumervil down. Same goes for Green in his faceoff with Engelberger, who led the Denver defensive linemen in tackles last year. The Broncos figure to blitz Russell heavily so the tackles have to hold up their end for the offense to have any chance of success.

Oakland WR Javon Walker vs. Denver CB Champ Bailey: A meeting of former teammates and one-time rivals when both played in the NFC East, the Walker-Bailey matchup is intriguing from the sense that the Raiders still really have no idea what Walker can do in game conditions, a point head coach Lane Kiffin made repeatedly Thursday. They'll get to find out against arguably the best cornerback in the business in Bailey. Walker missed practice with a hamstring injury this week but insists he'll play against Bailey, a lockdown corner who is an incredibly tough draw even for a completely healthy receiver. You can probably write off the deep ball here but if Walker can work open across the middle and come underneath the safeties he has a chance to make some things happen. Because Oakland wants to establish the run early Walker isn't likely to get many chances but he needs to take advantage of them when they come.

Oakland TE Zach Miller vs. Denver LB Boss Bailey: Miller is the most reliable downfield threat the Raiders have and Russell figures to lean heavily on him throughout the season. When he isn't staying in to help block, Miller will have to find a way to shake Bailey. It's a matchup Miller should win more often than not and that's a good sign for Russell, who will need his tight end to be a safety net should the pass protection break down.

Oakland DE Derrick Burgess vs. Denver RT Ryan Harris: Oakland's two-time Pro Bowler gets to feast on the Broncos' untested second-year lineman, who spent most of his rookie season playing on special teams. On paper, it's a mismatch of epic proportions. Burgess has one of the fastest first-steps in the NFL and looks stronger and quicker than he was a year ago. Harris will have his hands full so expect the Broncos to try to help him out with a tight end or running back.

Oakland LBs Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison vs. Denver QB Jay Cutler: The Raiders want to keep Cutler in the pocket as much as possible and they'll leave it up to the front four to keep him there. But if Cutler escapes it will be up to Howard and Morrison to limit the damage. Their ability to close if he tries to scramble is key but more importantly, their ability to drop back in coverage and not bite when Cutler looks ready to run will be pivotal. The Raiders were content to let Cutler take the short completions underneath but did a find job of preventing the big play, holding him to one touchdown and four interceptions. Howard had an interception in each of the game and combined for 17 tackles while Morrison had one pick and 18 tackles in the two games.

Oakland CB Nnamdi Asomugha and CB DeAngelo Hall vs. Denver WR Darrell Jackson and WR Eddie Royal: The Broncos intend to run the ball but they also want to get the passing game going with Cutler. Losing Brandon Marshall to a one-game suspension hurts and should make it easier for the Raiders to defend the pass. Armstrong is coming off a sub-par season in San Francisco and is looking to rebound while Royal is a highly touted rookie who had a strong preseason. Oakland won't try to do anything fancy against the two; it'll be man-to-man most of the game and that favors Hall and Asomugha decidedly.

Oakland K Sebastian Janikowski vs. Denver K Matt Prater: The two will never square off against one another but given the history between these two teams it's likely one of them will decide the outcome. Janikowski only recently returned to practice after missing significant time in the season with a hamstring injury while Prater will handle field goals for the Broncos after being used primarily on kickoffs last year. Give Janikowski the edge based on his experience but his miss in the first game between the two teams last year was costly.


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