By Rich Kurtzman
The Raiders are repulsive this season, especially on this current streak, where they’ve lost by a combined 93 points, or an average of 18.6. And that includes a three-point loss to the woeful Browns in Cleveland Sunday.
Not surprisingly, that losing skid all began in the same contest that star running back Darren McFadden was injured, as the men in black and silver fell into a black hole starting way back in Week Nine. They’ve yet to emerge. When McFadden was healthy, he was carrying the load of Oakland’s offense, doing more for his particular team than any other single player. He was running, receiving and scoring touchdowns and the Raiders were still in the hunt to make the playoffs, now they’ve regressed to their laughing stock of the league role.
In McFadden’s stead, Mercel Reece has stepped into the starting running back role and done OK. At 255 pounds, Reece is a big boy to try and tackle, and he loves creating contact to roll over defenders. But he’s also not nearly as smooth, quick or fast a runner that McFadden is, and has averaged a mere 65 yards on the ground in his four starts. McFadden may make it back from his high ankle sprain to play this Thursday, and if he does, it will give the Raiders back their dynamic duo of backs.
Of course, even when their star running back is healthy, Oakland is pass-first team. Coaches ask veteran Carson Palmer to throw the ball a second-most in the NFL 42 times per game, breeding mixed results. His 3,347 yards and 20 touchdowns are eighth and ninth-most in the league respectively, but he also turns the ball over far too often. Palmer’s thrown 13 interceptions and lost four fumbles—no doubt Denver’s defense is looking to add to that total this Thursday. When he does find time behind a bunk offensive line to complete passes, Palmer’s receivers find ways to make plays. Tight end Brandon Myers leads the team in receptions (69) yards (721) and is second on the Raiders with four scores. Reece is second in receptions (46), while second-year man Denarius Moore has a team-high six touchdowns through the air.
On defense, the Raiders are one of the worst teams in the NFL. To put it in perspective, Oakland has totaled a mere 14 sacks as a team, Denver’s Von Miller has 15 on his own. The Raiders also allow a league-high 31.3 points per game; a bad sign with the high-scoring Broncos offense coming to town this week. Linebacker Philip Wheeler leads the team with 87 tackles—he’s got a nose for the ball and an ability to make big plays. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy’s 3.5 sacks are a team best, while both Matt Giordano and Michael Huff have two interceptions.
Simply put, the Raiders can’t hang with the Broncos this Thursday, on either side of the ball, and it could be a big-time blowout by the end of the game.
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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.