Sunday’s game – now the fifth home sellout this season after only one sellout in each of the past two seasons – is a key AFC West game for both the Raiders (4-3) and the Tim Tebow-led Broncos
Broncos coach John Fox knows Darren McFadden isn’t expected to play, but he also knows it’s not likely to make much of a difference in the Raiders’ game plan against his team Sunday.
“You know when you play the Raiders you’re going to play a physical, up-front team that’s going to pound it at you, running the ball,” he said on a conference call this week. “That’s why they're second in the league in rushing.”
Stepping in for McFadden will be Michael Bush, a punishing and effective runner in his own right, and speedy rookie Taiwan Jones.
Bush and Jones should allow the Raiders to keep to form and remain a balanced attack, without relying too much on quarterback Carson Palmer, who’s now had two weeks to get familiar with the Oakland playbook and refine his timing.
Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group reported that Bush has had some of the biggest games of his career stepping up when McFadden has been unable to play. In two such games last season, Bush rushed for 104 yards vs. the Chargers and 137 yards vs. the Chiefs.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been down this road,” Bush told reporters Thursday. “It’s bad Darren got hurt and I wish he was out there playing with us, but the coach believes in me and I just have to keep this offense rolling.”
Oakland needs to keep pace with the Chiefs and Chargers, also tied atop the AFC West at 4-3, and the Broncos need a win to get back on the right track after getting blown out last week by Detroit, 45-10.
Even without McFadden, oddsmakers have made the Raiders nine-point favorites.
The Broncos also go into the game with their top running back, Willis McGahee, injured, but he’s espected to play with a broken right hand. McGahee, who practiced Thursday, has had three 100-yard games since supplanting Knowshon Moreno as the No. 1 back in Week 2.
In this season’s opener, a 23-20 Oakland victory in Denver, the Broncos ran the ball just 13 times for 38 yards, but have focused more on the run since.
“We’re going to have to do a better job of balancing the attack this time around,” Fox told reporters.
The big difference for the Broncos in this rematch, however, is Tebow at quarterback, not Kyle Orton.
Though Tebow rallied Denver to an overtime over the Dolphins in Week 7, he’s obviously a work in progress. In two starts he’s been sacked 13 times and completed just 47 percent of his passes. Tebow has been especially ineffective when being blitzed, and the Raiders are one of the biggest blitzing teams in the league.
“I think you have to go after people,” says Raiders coach Hue Jackson. “If I’m going to go down, I want to go down bombing everything.”
Offensively, the Raiders expect to see a much different Palmer from the one they threw into the fire during a 28-0 loss to the Chiefs before their bye week. Palmer, who knew few plays at the time, completed just 8-of-21 throws for 116 yards and three interceptions.
Palmer says he’s much more comfortable now, and ready to show what he can do. In addition, he’ll have former Bengals teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh – signed this week – in the receiving mix.
“I’m comfortable with the entire playbook, comfortable with the guys, comfortable with the snap count, where to stand in the huddle,” Palmer said this week.
Another newcomer also expected to see action for the Raiders is cornerback Lito Sheppard. He was signed this week due to injuries to corners Chris Johnson and Chimdi Chekwa.