Broncos must keep McFadden in check
The Oakland Raiders will be in Denver on Monday night going against the Broncos for the 107th time.
Over the years, the script has changed often, but no matter the era, seldom has there been much confusion about upcoming game plans.
When Kenny Stabler was at the controls for the Raiders, he was going to try to pass deep to Warren Wells or Fred Biletnikoff. When Jim Plunkett was the QB, he would hand off to Marcus Allen or fake and off play action go deep to Cliff Branch.
Charley Johnson was the first Denver QB to lead the Broncos to respectability against the Raiders and he did it by handing the ball to an aging Floyd Little or trying to hit Haven Moses downfield.
When John Elway was at the controls for Denver, he was tied to Three Amigos, then later to Ed McCaffrey or Rod Smith in the air or Terrell Davis over land.
There was not much doubt, no matter what era what either team was going to do — it all came down to execution.
Monday night’s matchup will be like most of the rest in this epic series, with few surprises. The two teams know what the other will be trying to do. You and I know what they are going to do.
Oakland is now being led on the field by second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who wrestled the starting job away from Matt Flynn in preseason.
Pryor is not your typical pocket passer, instead a scrambler with a big but erratic arm.
Pryor — and you can make book on this — will throw roughly 25 passes in this game and complete 13 or 14. He will also run the football on designed plays five or six times and scramble five or six times.
When Pryor is not in possession of the football, he will have handed it to Darren McFadden. This will happen roughly 20 times if the oft-injured McFadden stays on the field.
That gives the Raiders about 60 offensive plays.
Denver’s task defensively is very simple: Do not allow any cheap passing touchdowns because Pryor is not patient enough nor consistent enough to march the ball down the field with short passes.
That being done, the big key for Denver’s D will be to keep McFadden in check. McFadden has had some huge days against the Broncos, 150 yards in 2011 and 165 yards and three TDs in 2010. He has rushed for 723 yards in nine games against Denver, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Denver can’t allow McFadden to run at will and the Raiders to take huge chunks of time off the clock.
If we flip-flop possessions with Denver controlling the ball, there are also very few questions.
Peyton Manning will throw the ball two out of every three plays. He will throw it short across the middle to Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker, and he will throw wide receiver screens to Demaryius Thomas and occasionally take a shot deep.
With All-Pro starting left tackle Ryan Clady out for the season, Manning will probably throw even quicker than is his norm, at least until everyone is comfortable that newcomer Chris Clark is going to be competent in replacing Clady.
The Raiders have been nasty so far in pressuring passers, with nine sacks in two games the best total in the NFL.
Manning will have spent the week preparing for this pressure. The one surprise to look for in this matchup will be the presence of quick running back Ronnie Hillman, who may be in the scheme for quick pitches and screens out of the backfield as the Raiders attempt to pressure Manning.
However you go about handicapping this one — and Denver is a huge 12- to 14-point favorite depending on your favorite bookmaker — the Broncos will have a hard time losing it.
The Broncos have allowed their first two opponents only 2 yards per rushing attempt. McFadden will not have the huge game needed to keep the football away from Manning & Co.
And the Raiders will not be able to pressure or sack Manning enough to make a difference.
I take my 2-0 record picking with or against the Broncos and say they win it easily, although not by scoring more than 40 points as they have done in their first two efforts.
Let’s make it Denver 31, Oakland 21.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School Journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.