Here they come to save the day. What's that? It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's an AFC West team. When we last left our faithful heroes, they were walking off the swamp land of the South with their heads hanging and their bodies trembling from the sting of a harsh defeat.
The loss has pushed the season to the brink. Another loss this week and we can send the postseason hopes of this season to the overflowing junk-yard of recent Raiders' history. Don't fear, the AFC West is here. It's the theme of the Raiders' 2010 season. The Raiders sit on the eve of destruction and they get well on the AFC West. It's time to venture to that well once more.
This is not just any AFC West team either. This is the lowly, dysfunctional, interim coach led Denver Broncos. The team the Raiders humiliated 59-14 earlier this very season. The same Denver Broncos, that until this year, seemed to be the only AFC West team the Raiders could beat. The same Denver Broncos that lost to the Arizona Cardinals last week, 43-13.
Now, I could venture deep into the stats of this matchup, but to do so would be an exercise in overconfidence. I am going to say, that the Raiders have not been on the right side of a paper matchup this lopsided since 2002. The Broncos aren't really good at anything. The passing game got off to an impressive start, but has since tapered off. They also are kind enough to be the weakest in areas in which it is not good to be against the Raiders.
They are horrible at stopping the run, they can't rush the passer, they have struggled to run and they haven't been protecting the passer. All of these little details were on highlighted display in their first meeting of the season. That blowout was no fluke.
It is because of these factors not in spite of them that I say this the biggest game of Tom Cable's career. It is a game that he is supposed to win, a game they need to win and a game he will have to keep his players from suffering a letdown. Time and again, this group of Raiders have proven to be resilient. While they have the playoffs dangling in front of them as motivation, the after-effects of the heartbreak that was the Jaguars game cannot be overestimated. Everything you need to know about that is in this quote by the Cable guy. Cable:
We have been so focused about this opportunity that we have, and we feel like it slipped away from us on Sunday. It’s over, we have to move beyond it and so it hasn’t been about those kinds of things. It’s been about staying true to the opportunity. We need some help now, but we really can control whether we’re ready for it to happen by winning football games. So our approach has been to go after this Denver game like nothing before and let it rip. That can be our only thought process right now.
"We feel like we let it slip away." This is the kind of thing that can linger. A demoralizing factor deep in the mind and body that can persist no matter what they tell themselves. All the while, they are headed into a game against a team they beat by 45 points. Playoffs or not, these circumstances could make it hard to dial in on the now.
In the NFL, you can't just show up with intensity on Sunday. You have to have it all through the week. They can talk about being ready all they want, but are they going to be 100 percent focused on this game all week?
They better be. For a coach who has been at the helm during a few too many lackadaisical performances, it is the moment of truth for Cable. He needs to make sure this team comes out with a vengeance and puts it to the Broncos, like we all know they can. They need to get off the ball and win their individual assignments with physical dominance and they need to do it from the opening gun.
If they don't, we start to venture into, "On any given Sunday" territory. One need look no further than the recent history of this storied rivalry to see how that can play out in situations eerily similar to this one. Come with me, Ebenezer as we waltz into seasons of spoiler past.
2004 Week 12: The 3-7 Raiders went into Denver against the 7-3 Broncos and edged out a 25-24 thriller. It was a game that featured one of the greatest TD catches you'll ever see by Ronald Curry. Curry, Jerry Porter and Doug Gabriel combined in that game for 16 catches 4 TDs and 296 yards (Raiders' WRs have 5 TDs this year). The Raiders lost the first game against the Broncos that year 25-3.
2007 Week 13: The 5-6 Broncos traveled to Oakland and lost to the 3-8 Raiders, 34-20. Josh McCown threw for 3 TDs and Justin Fargas ran for 146 yards. Jay Cutler sucked. The Raiders lost the first matchup 23-20 in OT
2008 Week 12: The 2-8 Raiders routed the 6-4 Broncos in Denver, 31-10. JaMarcus Russell was 10-11 with 152 yards in that game. On any given Sunday indeed! Ashley Lelie caught a 51 yard TD. Jay Cutler sucked. The Raiders lost in that season's opener to the Broncos 41-14.
2009 Week 15: The 4-9 went into Denver and beat the 8-5 20-19. The Raiders rode the three headed QB attack of Charlie Frye, JP Lossman and JaMarcus Russell to victory. In a glimpse of what we are now used to, Darren McFadden had 74 yards on just 12 carries. Jay Cutler sucked--in Chicago this time. The Raiders lost to Denver in Week 3, 23-3.
*The links are to the box scores.
That's three years in a row and four out of the previous six seasons in which the Broncos came into the second matchup against the Raiders with playoff aspirations, while the Raiders were a team playing out the string. The Broncos had beaten the Raiders in the first matchup in each of those seasons and, in every year but one, thoroughly convincing fashion. The Raiders had no business winning those games. Yet, they did, because each time the Broncos let them hang around early. This gave the Raiders the belief and motivation that they could win, while stuffing it down the throat of their rival.
The Raiders can't let the Broncos hang around. They can't let this game progress and have the Broncos thinking they have a chance to win it. They need to take it to 'em early and let them know that they'd be best served to just continue to go through their familiar routine of losing.
If the Raiders do leave that crack of daylight for the Broncos, their is one matchup they might be able to exploit. One thing has changed with the Broncos recently. They have begun to run the football. In the first 8 games, they rushed for over 90 yards only one time. In four of the last five, they have rushed for at least 119 yards. In the last five games, Knowshon Moreno is averaging 92.4 yards per game at 5.2 yards per carry.
Those are some solid numbers. The Raiders can't risk letting the Broncos begin to wear down the Raiders defense with their newfound ground game.
I am obligated by the laws of information released to the public, to mention Tim Tebow. The Broncos have named Orton the starter for Sunday, but Orton has some banged up ribs and he didn't practice on Wednesday. Tim Tebow received the majority of the first team snaps. The substitute Bronco coach has mentioned getting Tebow involved and the Broncos certainly have nothing to lose.
On the surface, playing Tebow against the Raiders defensive line and with the Broncos banged up receiving corp looks like a disaster to me. Then again, last year the Raiders beat the Broncos with Charlie Frye, JP Losman and JaMarcus Russell and a running game people had written off.