Oakland at Denver Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos battle in week-three of the NFL season.

Oakland Raiders (1-1) at Denver Broncos (2-0)

KICKOFF: Monday, 9:00 ET
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden
SERIES: 86th meeting. The Raiders hold a 52-31-2 advantage. Oakland comes in having swept the Broncos last year, and has won 3 of the last 4. Prior to last season, Denver had won 12 of the 14 games played from 1995 to 2001 with Mike Shanahan as head coach.
2003 RANKINGS: Raiders: offense 28th (22nd rush, 25th pass); defense 26th (19th rush, 28th pass). Broncos: offense 11th (2nd rush, 28th pass); defense 15th (14th rush, 18th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: RB Clinton Portis has started the season strong and is key to Denver setting up the play-action passes that have led to some easy touchdowns in the first two games, so the Broncos can't abandon the run as early as they did in last year's meetings. That means not falling too far behind early. The Raiders have been struggling to find their rhythm on offense, but RB Charlie Garner has been a weapon against the Broncos. He had more receptions (15) than carries (12) in the two games last season. Oakland isn't quite as explosive without WR Jerry Porter (hernia), but Denver still needs to get to Raiders QB Rich Gannon to disrupt his timing.

FAST FACTS: Raiders: Raiders LB Bill Romanowski has played in 241 consecutive regular season games. ... This will be Oakland's 56th game on Monday Night Football, the fourth most of any team, and the Raiders' 36 victories on MNF is tied for second most. Broncos: The team has won eight of its past nine home games against Oakland. ... Denver is 50-7 under coach Mike Shanahan when it has a 100-yard rusher.

PREDICTED SCORE: Broncos 27-24

   -- WR Jerry Porter (hernia surgery) out.
   -- S Rod Woodson (knee surgery) is still listed as doubtful and was surprised, saying "it would have to be a remarkable recovery ... a 13-day turnaround."
   -- RB Zack Crockett (hamstring) was added to the injury report. He is questionable but did not practice Thursday.
   -- FB Chris Hetherington (hamstring) is also considered questionable but did not practice, leaving the Raiders no fullbacks to practice with.
   -- RB/KR Ronney Jenkins (ankle) practiced only with special teams on Thursday but said he expects to play.
   -- RG Mo Collins (knee) was held out of Thursday's practice and is listed as probable.
   -- DT Dana Stubblefield (ankle) did not practice and is questionable.
   -- S Anthony Dorsett (ankle) did individual work Wednesday but was held out altogether on Thursday. Coach Bill Callahan declined to respond when asked if his condition had worsened.
   -- DE Sam Williams is practicing but is unlikely to be active for the Denver game.
   -- RB Charlie Garner, with 85 yards rushing and 151 yards receiving, has 46 percent of the team's yardage to date.
   -- Despite a big drop in his passing yardage, QB Rich Gannon has yet to throw an interception.
   -- CB Phillip Buchanon, who was the target of 14 Jon Kitna passes last week, said he hopes that trend continues. "That's more and more plays I am going to make," Buchanon said. "Look forward to a lot of interceptions, a lot of touchdowns and a lot of dancing."

   --QB Jake Plummer took half the reps with the first team and unlike Wednesday, actually aired it out a few times downfield. That's a good sign that he may be ready to play Monday night.
   --QB Steve Beuerlein looked pretty good in practice in sharing reps with Jake Plummer, and if coach Mike Shanahan is the least bit concerned that Plummer will think about his shoulder, he'll go with the trusty vet instead.
   --RB Clinton Portis practice Thursday but did not participate in contact drills. He reported feeling better, though still sore. Unlike with his quarterback, Shanahan didn't hesitate to say Portis would start.
   --DT Daryl Gardener has vowed big things Monday night, but he has practiced little. Shanahan said if he continues to make progress he'll play, but that would entail de-activating another player.
   --CB Lenny Walls grew up watching Jerry Rice in the Bay Area. Now he'll be forced to cover one of his former idols. Walls, a first-year starter, vows he isn't intimidated. He hasn't shied away from aggressive play, with seven passes defensed in the first two games.


   Jake Plummer is not 100 percent. Even if he was, the thrust of the Raiders' emphasis going into Denver would be running back Clinton Portis.
   "They have such a phenomenal running game, they can run on anybody," Raiders tackle John Parrella said. "It takes a ton of pressure off the quarterback. First and foremost, though, Portis is the guy that has really been hurting teams."
   The hurt has helped Denver get to 2-0 even though Plummer threw three interceptions in the first game and injured his shoulder in the second. Portis rushed for more than 120 yards in each game and is averaging 6.9 yards a carry.
   Last year, the Raiders never had to deal with the problem. Oakland took commanding leads in both games and when Denver had to pass to catch up, they teed off on quarterback Brian Griese.
   Portis finished with 14 carries for 50 yards in one game, 12 for 52 in the second. They were his two lowest-yield games his rookie year when he gained 1,508 yards.
   So far the Raiders' rushing defense has performed well against Tennessee's Eddie George and Cincinnati's Corey Dillon. Neither reached 100 yards. But they are different running backs than Portis. He is an edge runner with the threat of cutting back while the other two were more straight ahead, tackle-to-tackle runners.
   "We really have to play slower and watch out lanes," tackle Dana Stubblefield said. "We can't over pursue."
   "That is a huge, huge part of the game plan," linebacker Eric Barton said. "You have to run to the ball, but you can't get guys over-running the play because he is a great runner and will cut it back. When that happens, it's a lot of running room.
   "We will need to be active but we also need to be very disciplined as a linebacking crew. It is pretty much going to boil down to us tackling him. And their offensive line does a great job ... getting people on the ground and giving him a chance to see holes."

   On Wednesday, Jake Plummer admitted he couldn't' throw the ball 40 yards if he had to.
   Thursday was a different story as the Broncos' starting quarterback aired it out a few times.
   "His arm was vastly improved from (Wednesday). I don't think it's anywhere close to being 100 percent. There's some soreness there and hopefully there's no setback," coach Mike Shanahan said.
   He insisted the biggest issue wasn't whether Plummer worried about taking another hit to the shoulder, where he has a mild separation.
   "Can he go out there and function and not think about his shoulder and execute our offense and feel comfortable with it?" Shanahan said.
   If not, Steve Beuerlein, who took half the reps with the first team Thursday, would start.
   Shanahan will make a decision on Plummer, who is listed as questionable, long before game time but he likely won't announce that decision.

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