Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders: Complete Week 10 Preview for Oakland

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIINovember 7, 2014

Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders: Complete Week 10 Preview for Oakland

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Despite another loss, the Oakland Raiders are coming off of their best all-around performance of the season. As difficult as last week's matchup was, this week's game will be even tougher, when they host the Denver Broncos.

    While Oakland has struggled in every area, the team's biggest weakness has been defending against the pass. The Raiders have looked very bad in this phase of the game throughout the season, and that was against quarterbacks named Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick. On Sunday, they'll have to try and figure out a way to slow down one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning.

    The Raiders are second to last in the NFL with only eight sacks. While the Oakland pass rush has improved since Tony Sparano took over as interim head coach, the impact plays still aren't there. But to stop Manning, the Raiders are going to have to figure out a way to get into backfield and sack him—or at the very least make him uncomfortable and throw off his timing.

    Even without the pass rush making an impact, the Raiders can still hope to minimize Manning's effectiveness by simply keeping the ball out of his hands. Unfortunately, this is another area where Oakland has struggled badly. Per TeamRankings.com, the Raiders are last in the league with an average time of possession per game of only 26:14.

    The offense has had trouble picking up first downs and staying on the field, but this is going to be crucial to slowing down the potent Denver attack.

    The Raiders have their work cut out for them, but the team has steadily improved over the past four weeks. Denver is the clear favorite, but Oakland certainly has a chance to come away with a win if it can find success in a few key areas.

    Here's a full breakdown of Sunday's game. Kickoff is at 4:05 p.m. ET live from O.co Coliseum.

Oakland Raiders Week 9 Recap

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    When the Raiders went on the road to take on the Seahawks, no one asked whether Seattle would win. The question was by how much. And after two quarters, it looked like that would be the case as Seattle raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead.

    But in the second half, the Raiders showed that not only were they capable of keeping up with the defending Super Bowl champions, they were capable of beating them. Seattle had to secure an Oakland onside kick with less than two minutes left in the game to sneak out a 30-24 win. 

    The Raiders outscored the Seahawks 21-6 in the second half, and the contributions came from everywhere. The swing in momentum began with a blocked punt courtesy of reserve defensive end Denico Autry that was recovered in the end zone by Brice Butler.

    The defense fed off of this, and it played better than it had all season. It held the Seahawks to only six points in the second half, and it was able to consistently get off of the field and get the ball back into the hands of Derek Carr.

    While it was another tough day offensively in which the Raiders struggled to pick up first downs and stay on the field, it was able to cash in on the good field position provided by the defense and special teams.

    Carr found Mychal Rivera in the end zone twice. The Raiders haven't made too many trips into the red zone this season, but Carr and Rivera showed against Seattle that when the offense does get there, it has the ability to come away with touchdowns.

    Still, while the team had much to be happy with, there are still some glaring problems. A key factor in Oakland's big early deficit was turnovers. This team isn't good enough to overcome self-inflicted damage, but that's what it had to do.

    The Raiders had three turnovers—two interceptions and a fumbled kick return—on three consecutive possessions. Once again, Oakland did as much to beat Oakland as the opposition did.

    But the most worrisome issue is the continued struggles of the running game. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew combined for 18 yards on 15 carries, an average of 1.2 yards per attempt.

    For Oakland, the problems running the ball have now become a "chicken or the egg" question. Are the running backs not producing because they're not getting enough touches, or are they playing themselves out of more carries?

    Whichever it is, the team has to find something at least resembling a solution. The pass-heavy approach has turned this into a one-dimensional offense. While Derek Carr has played well enough, he's not capable of carrying the offense alone. Without a rushing attack, defenses are able to sit back and wait for Carr, making it much tougher for him to find open receivers.

    Despite the loss that has the team now sitting at 0-8, Oakland's second half against Seattle was the team's best all-around performance of the season. Special teams made plays, the defense made stops and the offense scored points. For one half, the Raiders looked like the team fans were hoping for before the start of the season.

    Now, Oakland has to learn to play that way for four quarters every week.

News and Notes

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    Stat of the Week: 18.9

    Oakland's issues running the ball this season have been well-documented, and there's no question that a lack of carries is a major factor. Per the Associated Press' Josh Dubow, the "Raiders 18.9 rush attempts per game are lowest in NFL since at least 1932."

    That's not just bad. That's historic, all-time bad.

    You can blame the running backs for Oakland's awful rushing statistics. You can blame the offensive line. You can blame offensive coordinator Greg Olson and his play-calling. But the truth is that no matter how you look at it, that's nowhere near enough attempts for any rushing attack to be successful.

    Until Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew (or maybe even Marcel Reece and Latavius Murray) start regularly getting a lot more carries, Oakland's running game is not going to improve.

    Khalil Mack: Pro Bowler?

    How good has Khalil Mack been this season? According to many experts, the team's record and the sack total aren't an accurate representation of his play. And you can count Beacher Report's Chris Simms among those experts.

    In a recent Team Stream Now segment with Adam Lefkoe, Simms not only stated that Mack has been a good linebacker this season, he's been among the best. In fact, he believes the rookie has been so good that he's a legitimate candidate for the Pro Bowl.

    This is some really high praise for a linebacker with no sacks and no forced turnovers on an 0-8 team, but there's nothing inaccurate in Simms' argument. He notes that Mack has excelled in coverage, against the run and as a pass-rusher. He also points out that the stats can be misleading: Mack has had a few sacks negated by penalties.

    It might seem like a stretch, but that's only for those who haven't watched Mack in action. For those that have, they know that having him in the Pro Bowl discussion makes a lot of sense.

    The Secret to Slowing Down Mack Is...

    Hold. Hold on for dear life. The officials don't seem to ever see it, so you might as well.

    Yeah, I know the whole "blaming the refs" approach tends to fall on deaf ears, and that's usually for good reason. But this has been a running theme for much of the season, and watching how linemen are "blocking" Mack shows that there's at least some truth to this.

    Need some proof? Check out this quick video of an all-too-common pattern in the rookie's young career. No, it's not anything overtly against the rules, but a hold is a hold. And what Seattle Seahawks tackle Justin Britt does on that play isn't blocking—it's tackling.

    It's been so bad that interim head coach Tony Sparano sent a video of these plays to the league. It was something he was reluctant to do—that's "not the school I'm from," said the coach (via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle)—but with how often it's happen, he didn't really have a choice.

     

    Peyton Manning Loves the Raiders

    Manning has been dominant throughout his career, but what he did against Oakland last season bordered on unfair. In the two games against the Raiders, Manning had 65 pass attempts and a total—TOTAL—of eight incompletions. That's a completion percentage of 87.7 for those of you keeping score at home.

    Oh, and he also threw five touchdowns and no interceptions. Still, it's not all bad news for the Oakland defense. It did sack Manning three times, and it did hold him to minus-two yards on three carries. So that's something to be happy about.

    Needless to say, the Raiders are heading straight for a buzzsaw this Sunday. The defense has been playing better over the past four games, but it's not much improved from the defense that Manning toyed with in 2013. It's going to take a truly special effort to keep Oakland in the game. It's going to take the defense's best performance in years to come away with a win.

    Hayden's Return: Better Than Expected

    If the Oakland defense is going to have any success against Manning, the cornerbacks are going to have to succeed in one-on-one coverage. This means that after only two games back, DJ Hayden is going to have to play an integral role in the defense's game plan. Fortunately, he's shown thus far that he's up to the task.

    Against Seattle, Hayden allowed only two receptions on seven passes thrown in his direction, according to the Associated Press' Josh Dubow. He exhibited the speed to keep up with receivers and the quickness to break on the ball and make a play.

    It wasn't a perfect performance. Dubow points out that Hayden was also called for pass interference and a personal foul for taunting. Still, it was a solid effort overall. But he's going to face his biggest test since returning against the Broncos, and it's going to take an even better performance for the defense to have any success.

Injury Report

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
    PlayerPositionInjury Status
    David AusberryTE Out
    Carlos Rogers CB Doubtful 
    Gabe Jackson LG Doubtful 
    Keith McGill CB Doubtful 
    Chimdi Chekwa CB Doubtful 
    Jamize OlawaleFBQuestionable
    Justin TuckDEProbable

    Injury statuses and updates taken from CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair.

    Ausberry remains out, something the Raiders have grown used to. There's been no news on his progress, but it's likely that another season will pass with Ausberry as a non-factor.

    McGill and Chekwa remain question marks for Oakland, as neither has been a major factor this season. Even if they're able to play, they'll see limited time at most.

    Rogers and Jackson have also missed practice this week, and barring a major turnaround, both will be out against Denver.

    T.J. Carrie and DJ Hayden will step in for Rogers. Given the fact that Carrie has been on the field more often this season and has performed well, he's more likely to step into the starting lineup. However, Hayden will certainly get plenty of playing time as well—because he's played well since returning and the lack of options at cornerback won't give Oakland much of a choice.

    Khalif Barnes will step in at left guard for Jackson. Barnes has established himself as the Swiss Army knife of the Oakland offensive line. He's not great at any position, but he's always efficient. Expect him to perform well against the Broncos.

    Olawale and Tuck have been limited in practice, but this has been done as a precaution in order to avoid reaggravating their injuries. Both should be available this week.

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Mychal Rivera vs. T.J. Ward

    For two weeks in a row, Rivera has been Oakland's most effective offensive weapon. The second-year tight end has been able to consistently get open, and he's been Carr's most reliable target. If the Raiders are going to keep up with Denver, Rivera has to have another big game.

    To do that, he's going to have win his one-on-one battles against Ward. One of Denver's big offseason acquisitions, Ward was expected to solidify the Broncos secondary. However, he's struggled so far this season, and he hasn't been the defensive presence he was brought in to be. Rivera has to take advantage of this.

    Out of all of Oakland's problems this season, one of the biggest has been the inability to consistently pick up first downs. This has kept the offense from extending drives and staying on the field. But the Raiders are going to have to figure out a way to make this happen to keep up with Denver, and Rivera should be a key part of the solution.

    Menelik Watson vs. Von Miller

    Over the past few weeks, Watson has shared right tackle duties with Khalif Barnes. But according to CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair, Gabe Jackson's knee injury will likely keep him out of Sunday' game.

    This forces Barnes back inside to right guard, so Watson will have to hold the fort alone at right tackle. This means he'll have to figure out a way to slow down one of the NFL's elite pass-rushers in Miller.

    Watson has remained inconsistent. At times, he's looked ready to permanently take over at the position. But at other times, he still looks raw and inexperienced. For the Oakland offense to score enough points— something its had troubled doing all season—the offensive line has to keep Carr on his feet. How Watson performs will determine how effective Carr can be.

    Derek Carr vs. Chris Harris Jr.

    Carr is not afraid to challenge the opposing defense's top cornerback. It's a sign of confidence, but it's also a good way to get into trouble, as we saw last week against Seattle.

    This week, he's sure to test Harris, Denver's top cover man. This will be important because it will force the Broncos defense to account for every area of the field. But it's just as important that Carr not cross the line from aggressiveness to recklessness.

    Oakland's wide receivers need to do their part when being guarded by Harris Jr. They have to fight for the ball, and they need to make sure they're on the same page with their quarterback when running their routes. But it's more important that Carr not force passes just for the sake of testing the cornerback.

    The Raiders can't afford to give away a single possession against Denver. It's going to be hard enough for the struggling Oakland offense to score enough points. Turnovers will make it impossible.

    X-Factor of the Week: Khalil Mack

    As good as Manning is, he's still a quarterback, which means that a persistent pass rush can affect him as it does other quarterbacks. Even if the Raiders can't get a sack, generating some pressure will go a long way toward disrupting Denver's passing attack. And Oakland is going to be depending on Mack to make this happen.

    Although Mack has yet to record a sack, he's been a constant presence in the opponent's backfield. Even if he can't take down Manning, his ability to disrupt the quarterback's rhythm will be a huge factor. Of course, a sack or two would also be nice.

    Way back in June, NFL Media's Alex Flanagan (via ESPN.com's Kevin Patra) asked Mack which quarterback he was most looking forward to sacking, and the rookie's response was Peyton Manning. It would be fitting for Mack's first career sack to be the one that fulfills that wish.

Prediction

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Raiders will be competitive against the Broncos. They'll fight for four quarters and not give up anything easy. But the huge disparity in talent and efficiency will be too much for Oakland to overcome.

    Oakland played very well last week, but the truth is that the performance came against a Seattle Seahawks team that hasn't been playing nearly as well as it did last season.

    That isn't the case with the Broncos. Their performance in their Week 9 blowout loss to the New England Patriots was an aberration. Denver is still one of the NFL's top teams, and Peyton Manning is arguably the league's best quarterback. He's tough enough to slow down on an average day. But when he's motivated, as he will be on Sunday after being dominated last week by the Pats, stopping him will be nearly impossible. And that was against a good New England defense.

    The Raiders don't have a good defense.

    As good as Seattle might be, this is a significant step up in competition for Oakland. To make matters worse, the thing that makes the Denver offense so efficient and so lethal—a fast-paced passing game—is the thing that gives Oakland the most trouble. The Raiders don't have the depth at cornerback to slow down, much less stop, the Broncos passing attack.

    On the other hand, the things that the Raiders need to do to have success in this game—get to the quarterback, run the ball effectively to pick up first downs and stay on the field—are the two things that they've struggled with the most. This will allow Manning to develop a rhythm early and really get rolling. 

    This is a nightmare matchup for the Raiders. They'll put up a fight, but it'll be too much to overcome.

     

    Prediction: Broncos 37, Raiders 17

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.com.

    Share your thoughts and opinions on Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.

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