By Ruch Kurtzman
When the Broncos meet up with the Raiders in Oakland Thursday, it could result in the most lopsided football game of the year. Denver possesses all-time great Peyton Manning and the No. 3 scoring team in all of football. Couple that with the Raiders’ league-worst scoring defense, allowing 31.3 points per game, and the Broncos could go “beastmode.”
But two of the men Manning will likely be throwing the ball to are injured, and their ability to play Thursday night is in jeopardy.
Brandon Stokley, who has built not only a working relationship but an off-the-field friendship with Manning over the years, sat out Sunday’s game with a bum hip. Stokley is Manning’s go-to guy when the offense must have a first down. Denver struggled without him in the slot for much of the first half.
In his place was Matt Willis, a fifth-year wideout that has contributed sparingly this season, hauling in eight footballs for 66 yards. He caught three of those last week in Stokley’s stead, and would be the most likely receiver to fill his void again Thursday. But, Willis injured his knee in the win over Tampa Bay and did not practice Monday or Tuesday either. If both Stokley—who was limited in practice Tuesday—and Willis must miss the playing field, Andre Caldwell is the next man up and the last receiver on the roster.
The Broncos could also bring in an extra tight end, like Virgil Green, who’s healthy now and could catch some passes. Denver loves the two tight end set as well, so expect both Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen to be big factors whether or not Stokley and Willis play.
Perhaps an even more impactful injury is linebacker Wesley Woodyard’s. Woodyard was helped off the field during Denver’s win Sunday and he was unable to finish the game due to a severely sprained ankle. The weakside linebacker has been the team’s best defensive player at times, certainly their most consistent one, and he’s stepped into a leadership role. This season, Woodyard leads the team in tackles with 97 total, and interceptions (3), while also recording four sacks, forcing and returning one fumble each. Whenever the Broncos have needed a play on the defensive end, Woodyard has been there, but he’s questionable to play Thursday.
If Woodyard can’t play, rumors are floating the D.J. Williams will get his first start of the season. Williams was originally suspended for failing a performance enhancing drug test for six games, and had an additional three games tacked on for a DWAI. With Woodyard injured and the thin linebacking corps becoming thinner, Williams will almost certainly play in Oakland this week.
Others listed for the Broncos are all probable including; Robert Ayers (not injury related), Green (hamstring), Chris Kuper (ankle) and Manny Ramirez (back). Ayers missed all of last week’s practices due to the death of his father, and he’s been back as a full participant in Denver’s two practices this week. As have the rest of the team’s injured players, as they’re all expected to play.
The game kicks off at 6:20 p.m. MT Thursday, and can be seen on NFL Network.
- Defensive End Robert Ayers (not injury related)
- Tight end Virgil Green (hamstring)
- Guard Chris Kuper (ankle)
- Guard Manny Ramirez (ankle)
- Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (ankle)
- Wide Receiver Brandon Stokley (hip)
- Wide Receiver Matt Willis (knee)
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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.