If running back Darren McFadden has a strong game vs. the Colts Sunday, Oakland could be off and running. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Well, at least the Raiders have one thing to be grateful for: They won’t have to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos until Week 3.
After a national television audience watched Manning throw seven touchdown passes Thursday night in a rout of the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens, the Raiders know they have two games to get kinks in their offense and defense worked out before facing the Broncos in a “Monday Night Football” matchup in Denver on Sept. 23.
But first, the Raiders will need to get by the Colts in Indianapolis this Sunday and the Jaguars in Oakland next week. And this week’s test against the Colts will be tough enough.
The Colts don’t have Manning anymore, of course, but they have second-year standout quarterback Andrew Luck, who had a strong rookie season in his first year out of Stanford, and Luck has a dangerous receiver in Reggie Wayne, who will test the Raiders' re-made secondary.
Oddsmakers have made the Colts strong favorites, with the line growing from seven to 10½ points this past week.
Sunday will mark a coming-out party for the Raiders, with Terrelle Pryor expected to start at quarterback, nine new starters on defense and the return of running back Darren McFadden from injury.
Though most eyes will be on Pryor, McFadden might be the key to the Raiders’ offense against the Colts – and for the entire season.
The often-injured McFadden says he’s eager to get going and prove he’s back to the level he was the first half of 2011, when he was among the NFL leaders in rushing. Since that time, however, injuries – and then a switch to a zone-blocking scheme in 2012 – have slowed him significantly. Now he’s excited about running again behind a power-blocking scheme and being 100 percent healthy.
“Any time opening day comes I’m like a kid on Christmas,” McFadden told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group this week. “I feel like the best is yet to come. I haven’t played a full season, so I feel that’s what’s coming for me. … I love the offense that we’re in, being able to run downhill, so I’m just looking forward to it.”
How important is McFadden?
Well, in 2012 – when the Raiders finished 4-12 – McFadden gained 100 yards or more rushing three times, and Oakland won all three games.
If McFadden can rip off some big gains against the Colts, it will take the pressure off Pryor and keep the Indianapolis defense honest.
The Colts, too, may be vulnerable. Last season, the 10-6 Indianapolis team gave up an average of 5.1 yards per carry and ranked 29th in the league in rushing defense.
“Stopping McFadden is our major concern with the run game,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters this week. “He’s a big, fast, physical guy that can run between the tackles, he can cut it back or he can bounce outside. If you give him a crease, he’s got the speed to take it the distance. He’s a home run hitter.”
If the Raiders are going to beat the Colts – and have any chance at all of putting together a decent season in 2013 – they’re going to need those McFadden home runs.
When he’s rushed for 100 or more yards as a Raider, Oakland is 10-2. That's a pretty good batting average.