There has been some talk this season that Peyton Manning isn’t what he used to be, that the quarterback who won a Super Bowl with the Colts a few years ago is still a bit rusty after sitting out last season with a neck injury and doesn't have the zip on his passes that he once did.
Yet Manning – in his first year with the Broncos – looks like he’s starting to play like the Manning who wore the horseshoe on his helmet in Indianapolis, which could create a big challenge for the Raiders this Sunday when they face the Broncos at Sports Authority Field in Denver.
Last week, Manning threw for 330 yards, hitting 26 of 52 passes, in a loss to the Texans. He connected with Eric Decker eight times for 136 yards and six times with Brandon Stokley for 73. Those two wideouts, along with DeMaryius Thomas, gives Manning plenty of options in the passing game.
And, the Raiders have shown they are vulnerable through the air. Even in beating the Steelers last week, 34-31, for their first win in three games this season, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns. The Oakland secondary already has lost its starting cornerbacks this season and been forced to adjust, moving free safety Michael Huff to corner.
Expect Manning to attack an area of the Raiders’ defense that’s given up big plays to Roethlisberger and Miami’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill in consecutive weeks.
The Raiders have gotten very little in the way of a consistent pass rush this season, and took steps to improve that this week with the signing of former Patriots defensive end Andre Carter. Carter practiced with the Raiders Thursday and head coach Dennis Allen says he could play Sunday.
“We’ve got it in us to be a mentally tough team and compete and fight and keep going until the very end,” said Allen, who’s returning to Denver after serving as the Broncos defensive coordinator in 2011. “That’s what you have to do to win consistently in this league.”
Aside from Manning, the Broncos have a solid running attack led by Willis McGahee – who has had some big games against the Raiders. In his last game against Oakland, McGahee rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensively, the Raiders finally got on track last week in their win over Pittsburgh, with running back Daren McFadden picking up more than 100 yards – and now gets to go against Denver’s 23rd-ranked run defense.
Quarterback Carson Palmer also had his best game, and came up with a clutch drive at the end of the fourth quarter – with big completions to tight end Brandon Myers and Derek Hagan – to set up Sebastian Janikowski’s game-winning field goal. Palmer will likely be without wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, however, who suffered a concussion and neck injury last week against the Steelers. Denarius Moore, Hagan and rookie Rod Streater will try to pick up the slack.
One advantage the Raiders could have coming into the game is the knowledge of their head coach.
Because he coached the Broncos defense last season, Allen knows all about the team’s personnel, strengths and weaknesses.
“He had a creative mind when it comes to trying to stop somebody,” said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey this week of his former coach.
Oddsmakers have made the Broncos a 7-point favorite.