The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders renew acquaintances in an old-fashioned AFC West grudge match on Thursday night. Find out which side has the edge with our tale of the tape.
Denver was held to only 17 points in Kansas City two weeks ago, but responded this past Sunday by scoring 31 points in a win over the Bucs. The Broncos have now scored at least 30 points in six of their last seven games, with QB Peyton Manning having thrown exactly three touchdowns in seven of the last nine contests. Running back Willis McGahee is sidelined, but Knowshon Moreno has shouldered the load the last two weeks, running the ball 40 times for 154 yards. Denver has scored 38 and 37 points in its last two matchups against Oakland.
The Raiders can't get out of their own way right now, with QB Carson Palmer having tossed at least one interception in eight consecutive games. He did throw for 351 yards and two touchdowns against Cleveland last Sunday, but Oakland still managed only 17 points in another losing effort. Since scoring 32 points against Tampa Bay back on November 4, the Raiders have produced a grand total of 64 points over their last four games. Running back Darren McFadden is expected to play for the first time since Week 9 Thursday night.
While the Broncos offense has gotten most of the press, it's been their defense that has been truly dominant lately, allowing 23 points or less in six straight games. They've been particularly tough away from home where they've held the opposition to 3.8 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass play this season. They limited the Raiders to six points on 237 total yards of offense in their first meeting this season and the case can be made that they're playing even better as a unit now.
Oakland has had to get by with an injury-depleted defense all season, but that's no excuse for giving up over 30 points on seven different occasions. The Raiders did hold the Browns to only 20 points last Sunday, only masking the fact that they gave up close to 500 total yards of offense and allowed a pedestrian Cleveland passing attack to rack up 364 yards through the air. They're hoping to have their defensive anchor, Richard Seymour, back on the field. But after missing the last four games along with practice time this week, that's a long shot at best.
If there's one area where the Broncos haven't dominated, it's on special teams. Their return game has been average, gaining just shy of 11 yards per punt return and 23.5 yards on kickoffs. Matt Prater has been less than reliable kicking field goals, making good on only 17 of 22 attempts. Of course, he hasn't been called into duty all that often, with Peyton Manning leading the offense into the end zone more often than not.
The Raiders have been putrid on punt returns, gaining an average of just 5.6 yards per return. They've only been slightly better returning kicks, still falling well below the league average at 21.5 ypr. The good news, Oakland does have one of the best kickers in football in Sebastian Janikowski. He's 18 for 20 on field-goal attempts this season with both misses coming from beyond 60 yards.
Word on the street
"We always say people remember what you do in December. So that's what we have ahead of us. We've got a division game coming up. Hopefully, we get to 5-0 in the division. There's a lot to play for. We'll see where that leads us." -- Broncos head coach John Fox on what his team has left to accomplish after wrapping up the AFC West title last Sunday.
"Week in and week out, it's like it's the same: can't stop the run, can't stop the pass. Things just aren't going well on defense. Right now, I guess we're just a bad defense. We can't really hide it." -- Raiders cornerback Michael Huff on the current state of their defense.