First-year head coach Dennis Allen has had a tough year, his team is 3-9, his defense is terrible and he lost his father earlier this week. Allen was away for two days to be with family while his team prepared to face Peyton Manning and Von Miller on a short week.
The Broncos are 9-3, have wrapped up the AFC West and have nothing to play for except for playoff seeding. When these two teams met in Week 4, they were both 1-2, and the Broncos proceeded to crush the Raiders 37-6.
This is the first time this season that the Raiders have faced a team for the second time. It will be interesting to see what adjustments the coaching staff makes and if they have any impact on the outcome of the game.
Primary Talking Point for Week 14
Oakland’s running game has improved on the back of Marcel Reece since Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson went down with high-ankle sprains. Both McFadden and Goodson are expected to be back on Thursday, which presents a challenge for offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
How do you divide the carries and touches between the three? Does McFadden get a full load in his first game back, or do you work him in slowly? Would trying to for an even split be effective? And what about Goodson?
Knapp has been criticized for running his zone scheme that hasn’t suited McFadden’s strengths, and that criticism could be re-ignited this week if he doesn’t figure out how to maximize the effectiveness of all his backs. It’s a perilous tight rope that ends poorly more than it ends well.
The Raiders are healthier than they have been all season. McFadden and Goodson are listed as probable, along with several others, and they all should play. Only Richard Seymour (knee) has been declared out, with Philip Adams (concussion) and Jack Crawford (toe) the only other two players questionable for the game.
The last time the Raiders were even close to this healthy was coming off the bye week, when they took the then-undefeated Atlanta Falcons down the wire. The Raiders are a team without much depth, and they have a chance to play significantly better with all the starters are in the game.
Players on the Rise
The Raiders have been the victim of poor offensive and defensive line play this season, but one player on each side of the ball have really played well over the past couple of weeks.
Center Stefen Wisniewski is really doing a good job executing the zone-blocking scheme, and he’s been even better in pass protection. With Wisniewski playing better, the running game has been better, and that is no coincidence. Sandwiched between two weaker veterans is a tough assignment, and Wisniewski has quietly put together a three really nice weeks in a row.
With Seymour out of action, Desmond Bryant is getting a chance to start at defensive tackle. Over the past three weeks, Bryant has five quarterback hits and seven hurries according to ProFootballFocus (pay wall).
He’s not being rewarded with sacks, but Bryant is making the grade as a pass-rusher. Bryant’s pass rush impacted his ability to stop the run until last week when he put together a complete game. If Bryant can continue to build on the last few weeks, he could earn himself a starting job in Oakland or elsewhere next season.
Stat Trends: Offense
Could it be that the Raiders actually progressed instead of regressed offensively last week?
It appears that way, as the Raiders improved across the board. It is small, mostly incremental improvement, but as least the offense didn’t continue to decline.
The improvement in the running game is the most welcome sign for the Raiders. Reece and Jeremy Stewart led the Raiders to 5.0 yards per carry last week, which increased the season average to 3.8 yards per carry.
The big question: Can the offense sustain the success with more carries, against better defenses and with McFadden at running back instead of Reece? Thursday night will be a big test against a Denver defense that does everything well.
Stat Trends: Defense
The defense is still bad, but it didn’t get any worse statistically last week. There is still an awful lot of red on this graphic, which indicates that the Raiders are among the six worst teams in those categories.
There’s also no light green or green, which would indicate an area of strength. Oakland’s best defensive statistic is fumble recoveries, which have a lot to do with luck.
After 2011, the thinking was the defense couldn’t be much worse, and somehow, it is. It can only be described as complete and total failure. Of the 11 defensive starters, only a few could be spared when Reggie McKenzie starts making changes in the offseason.
With Manning coming in this week, things aren’t likely to get better, but at this point, the Raiders really can’t get much worse. The Raiders have allowed more points than any other team, and there’s nothing worse than last.
When you consider the slight improvements offensively and a defense that has bottomed out, the Raiders have actually improved slightly since last week. The offensive line is playing better and the defensive line has been rushing the quarterback better, so it’s not just a statistical improvement that was generated in garbage time with the Raiders trailing by two scores.
The Raiders are due for a good performance, and what better time than against Manning at home on national television? This team desperately needs to show some life headed into 2013, or McKenzie is going to have to take drastic measures to get things on the right track.