By Rich Kurtzman
The Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos renew a rivalry that dates back to their AFL days, in 1960. In 103 all-time meetings, the Raiders lead 59-42-2, though Denver leads 12-10 over the last 11 years. It’s always been a heated, physical and disdain-filled rivalry, which is set to kickoff this again this Sunday.
The Raiders bring that physicality on defense, where they have hard-hitters at every level.
Fourth-year linebacker Philip Weaver leads the team in tackles and passes defended, with 24 and three respectfully, and even forced two fumbles to season, recovering one as well. Even though many Raiders fans were upset with the release of Kamerion Wimbley, Weaver has stepped into his role and has consistently been the the best playmaker for their defense this year. According to Steve Corkran of the Sporting News, Wheeler plays well in every facet of the game and knows how to make plays all over the field.
Matt Shaughnessy is the defensive lineman that does the most damage, totaling eight tackles and a team-leading 1.5 sacks.
And from the secondary, another youngster, Tyvon Branch is second on the team in tackles, with 22 in three games.
The Broncos have already been struggling on the run, and starting tailback Willis McGahee has bruised ribs, making his status unknown as far has how many snaps he will actually be able to take. Backups Lance Ball, Ronnie Hillman, and Knowshon Moreno—if he’s active—could see anywhere from a small amount, the the brunt of the workload, which would only play into Oaklands’ hands.
What plays in Denver’s favor is the fact that they rely on the passing game, and the Raiders are among the worst in the league against the pass. Oakland’s 26th in yards given up (794) and they are yet to intercept a single pass. Peyton Manning is almost certainly breaking down that tape now and finding the best ways to exploit the Raiders’ secondary on Sunday.
Offensively, Oakland is stronger than they seem, with Carson Palmer leading the way. They’re seventh-best in the NFL in passing yards (851) and touchdowns (5), which will test Denver’s secondary that is good against giving up too many yards but near worst with their eight passing TDs allowed.
Leading wide receiver threat Darrius Heyward-Bey is out indefinitely after sustaining a very violent hit to the head last week, which should make the Denver D’s job a bit easier. They have other capable targets though, in tight end Brandon Myers (15 receptions for 206 yards) and a trio of receivers with eight catches each.
There’s no doubt the Raiders’ offense revolves around dynamic running back Darren McFadden, who is not only the leading rusher, but receiver as well. McFadden is fast, shifty and quick while also being superbly strong.
If the Broncos have any hope at slowing down Oakland’s attack, they have to start with slowing McFadden, which will be difficult given that first and second string linebackers D.J. Williams and Joe Mays are suspended for the game.
The Broncos haven’t beaten the Raiders at home since 2007, and it’s part of the reason why John Elway called this game “huge” earlier in the week. It’s also a divisional game, making a win even more important as they would create some space between Oakland and themselves.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.