ALAMEDA In January of last year, Dennis Allen was the fresh-faced coach of the New Orleans Saints' secondary when Denver Broncos head coach John Fox plucked him to be his defensive coordinator.
A year later, Allen was again on the move, the Raiders making him, at 39, the youngest head coach in the NFL.
If it seemed a sharp ascent, even for a coach considered up-and-coming, Fox said it didn't come as a shock to him.
"You could tell early on, just in the interview process, that first of all he's very smart," Fox said on a conference call Wednesday. "Second of all, the way he carries himself, he's a guy with what I call the 'it' factor.
"So it did not surprise me that people looking for coaches in the league were interested in talking with him. Obviously, he and (general manager) Reggie (McKenzie) hit it off."
Allen and Fox will try to outthink the other Sunday when the Raiders play the Broncos. Both teams are looking for their first division win; the Raiders lost to San Diego in their season opener, and they will be the Broncos' first AFC West opponent.
It will be Allen's return to Denver, something he has spent about the same amount of time discussing this week as he did the significance of getting his first head-coaching win Sunday against Pittsburgh which is to say, not much.
"It will be a different feel," Allen said. "But that's another one of those distractions that you can't let take over."
That kind of verbal deflection seems natural to Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, who described Allen as promoting a philosophy of "team, team, team" since his arrival.
"He doesn't carry an ego, he doesn't walk around with an ego, and he's looking at it like it's the next game on the schedule, and that's what we're doing, too," Palmer said. "But it's got to mean a little bit extra to you if you've spent some time somewhere."
Under Fox, Allen took a Denver defense that had ranked last in the NFL in 2010 in yards and points allowed and guided it to 20th and 24th last season.
The Broncos' defense under new coordinator Jack Del Rio still has players Allen coached last year, including linebacker Von Miller, the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year. And Fox said "you can see a bunch" of Allen's influence on this season's Raiders. But neither claimed the familiarity as an advantage.
After high-scoring outputs by their last two opponents, the Raiders are 26th in points allowed the statistic by which Allen has said he most judges defensive success though their win came against a Pittsburgh team that scored 31 points.
One area in which the Raiders have improved noticeably is penalties. A year after setting NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage, the Raiders have committed only 14 penalties for 102 yards through their first three games.
Not only is that below the league averages (20.4, 177.2) so far this season, but the Raiders were more heavily penalized in their season opener last year, when they drew 15 flags for 131 yards against the Broncos.
Allen said the message to players has been simple: "Just do your job, be disciplined, do it right, don't do things that are going to cost your football team.
"I have to do a good job of bringing it to their attention, the players have to do the job of getting it corrected, and they've done a nice job of that through three games."