Manning was almost flawless. He completed 32 of 37 attempts for 374 yards and threw three touchdowns.
Yet as good as Manning was Monday night, there were a litany of other issues that were equally costly: missed tackles, blown assignments, critical penalties. There were a few hiccups offensively, but the most critical ones came when Oakland was on defense.
It all added up to a 37-21 loss that dropped the Raiders to 1-2, already two games off the pace in the AFC West.
Here’s a quick look at some of the main problems Oakland had against Denver.
No pressure, no luck
Manning was sacked just once by Oakland. He spent most of his time sitting comfortably in the pocket, waiting for the inevitable receiver to get open.
Part of the problem is that the Raiders don’t have much of a pass rush along the defensive line. Defensive end Lamarr Houston got to Manning for a sack in the second half but was otherwise kept in check.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s unit led the NFL in sacks through the first two games of the season but had to keep their blitzing to a minimum against Denver. When it did get in, Manning frequently found the open receiver.
Denver’s offense controlled the line of scrimmage most of the game, which rendered run-stoppers like Pat Sims and Vance Walker ineffective.
Zone coverages picked apart
Oakland tried switching up its coverages in the secondary in the hope of confusing Manning but didn’t have much luck against the Denver quarterback.
When it pressed the outside receivers in man-to-man, Manning patiently waited until one of his bigger targets got open. When it backed off and played a loose zone coverage, Denver adjusted its routes and went for the quick slants and crossing pattern.
It didn’t help that the Raiders had a pair of raw, mostly untested defensive backs in D.J. Hayden and Brandian Ross. Manning repeatedly sought the two defenders out, then slowly and methodically wore them out with his pinpoint passing.
Few, if any, quarterback in the NFL today runs a play-fake pass as well as Manning. The Raiders didn’t fall for every one of them, but when they did, the results were disastrous.
The Broncos first touchdown of the game came when Oakland safety Charles Woodson completely bit on a play-fake and left his man untouched in the end zone.
He wasn’t the only Oakland defensive back who struggled.
Hayden, a first-round pick in 2013, also has to become better disciplined.
Manning is also a master at using the hard count to draw teams offside. On Denver’s opening series alone, Sims and defensive end Jason Hunter were both called for neutral zone infractions.
Time and time again, Denver’s running backs slipped through big holes up front and easily made it to the first wave of defenders and got to the second level. Once the Broncos backs got to the second level, Oakland’s linebackers were knocked out of the way.
Even when they got to the running backs, the Raiders had a major problem finishing. That hasn’t been much of an issue for the past 11 years because Oakland’s defense was rarely was in a position to finish.
Overall, the Broncos rushed for 164 yards while splitting carries between three players: Knowshon Moreno, rookie Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.
In the end, it might not have mattered at all what the Raiders did to try to stop Manning and company. The veteran quarterback has seen just about every defense imaginable and never gets panicked when the plays break down.
Manning also spreads the wealth around. Three different players had at least seven catches against Oakland, while eight players had at least one reception.
That made for easy pickings for the Pro Bowl quarterback, who was sacked just once the entire night.
Manning simply operates on a different level than the rest of the league.