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It's now week 4 and the Raiders come into Denver with a 1-2 record and needing a victory. Despite being under .500 the Raiders enter this game feeling confident after a hard fought win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Denver on the other hand is 1-2 and coming off a loss to the Texans that wasn't as close as the 31-25 score suggests. That does not mean Denver is going to tuck their tails and run away. In fact the Broncos are favored in this game by a robust 7 points.
This is a divisional rivalry and therefore one of the most important games of the year. The difference between 1-3 and 2-2 is huge and that's not even mentioning that a win could result in a tie for first place in the AFC West. A tie for first place is what would happen for the winner of this game if the Chargers lose to the Chiefs on Sunday.
The Broncos are going to have to play this game without starting MLB Joe Mays. He has been suspended one game and fined 50K for an illegal hit on Texans QB Matt Schaub. That should help the Raiders to open up a few extra running lanes for Darren McFadden. They have a capable back up in Keith Brooking, but at 36 years old Brooking has lost more than a step or two. Look for the Raiders to exploit that match up, especially if they can get Brooking matched up on DMC in the passing game.
Another reason to expect a heavy dose of Darren McFadden is his recent history against the Broncos. DMC has been outstanding in his last 3 games against Denver averaging 144.6 yards per game and a staggering 7.7 ypc average. If that wasn't reason enough to expect a lot of DMC there is also the fact the Raiders are decimated at the WR position.The Raiders will play with only 3 healthy wide receivers in Denarius Moore, Derek Hagan and Juron Criner. Rod Streater is questionable with a neck injury he suffered in practice Friday and will be a game time decision.
Even being undermanned at the wide receiver position, the Raiders need to continue their chemistry in the passing game. Carson Palmer was excellent against the Steelers while showing off his best Peyton Manning impression in the no-huddle offense. Palmer looked good calling adjustments at the line and running Greg Knapp's offense last week and it would be even better to see him do it again this week. After a very questionable start to the season the Raiders showed what they can do in Greg Knapp's offense and need to continue to build on that performance.
The Raiders are likely to use the tight ends more in this game, especially since Brandon Myers appears likely to play. With the WR corps depleted and the likely run-heavy game plan the TE's are of vital importance to the offense. They're going to be on the field for most offensive alignments and need to be efficient in both the run and pass game. Add to that Marcel Reese being involved more and you get a lot of big bodies bearing down on the Denver defense. The Raiders main goal in this game has to be to impose their will on the Broncos.
Denver on the other hand has to be salivating while looking at the weak Raiders secondary they will be facing. Peyton Manning is going to be very dangerous in his no-huddle offense and he has the weapons to do some real damage. This is not the ideal match up for the Raiders considering Michael Huff is starting at cornerback alongside Pat Lee. It is not the ideal situation anywhere to have Peyton Manning running his no-huddle on you but it is even more suspect when you have your safety starting at cornerback instead due to a lack of depth.
Expect a lot of movement at Denver's line of scrimmage in an attempt to confuse the Raiders lackluster corners. Imagine that; Peyton Manning making adjustments at the line! If the Raiders expect to win this game they are going to need to get some pressure on Manning and not fall prey to his pre-snap adjustments.
Perhaps to the rescue for the Raiders is newly signed DE Andre Carter who was signed this week to bolster the pass rush. However an impact from Carter in this game is probably asking too much from a player that has been in Oakland only a week, will be a situational player only, and is coming off a major surgery.
The Broncos have shown a tendency to get overpowered inside so what the Raiders really need is Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour to collapse the center of Denver's line. If the Raiders can get Manning uncomfortable in the pocket they can force some turnovers out of him. That is extra important because Oakland needs to force turnovers in Jason Tarver's "bend but don't break" defense. Those turnovers will be easier to get from an antsy Manning rather than one that has all day to throw. If he does have all day to throw the ball this will be a really tough game for the Raiders to win.