Raiders looking, but can't find a weakness in Broncos' defense

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 - 7:51 am

ALAMEDA – With a quick turnaround before tonight's game against the Denver Broncos, the Raiders got an early jump on their preparation.

Reports the coordinators study before game-planning were ready immediately after the Raiders' loss to Cleveland on Sunday, said offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who went straight from the game to the practice facility to look for holes in the Broncos' defense.

There was a slight complication with that thinking, though.

"There isn't one, and we've looked," Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said Tuesday. "It's a very solid group. They cover well on the outside, they pressure the quarterback, they're very good against the run. There's not a young guy you want to take advantage of."

The Raiders experienced that firsthand in a 37-6 loss in Denver on Sept. 30. The Broncos held Palmer to his lowest quarterback rating of the season (73.4) and running back Darren McFadden to an average of 2.6 yards on 13 carries.

The Raiders converted on just 1 of 12 third-down situations, and the Broncos held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game – a key statistic with quarterback Peyton Manning staging a career renaissance.

Manning, an MVP candidate after missing last season after neck surgery, threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns. And that was Week 4, well before the Raiders started their current five-game losing streak, during which they're allowing 37.8 points a game.

Still, Broncos coach John Fox insisted that game, which the Broncos led 10-3 at halftime, could have turned out differently – as could tonight's game at Coliseum.

"These things are fragile. They all take on a different personality," Fox said on a conference call. "In my experience, it's hard to beat someone twice. Heck, it's hard to beat someone once in this league."

Fox pointed out that the Raiders have moved the ball well with their eighth-ranked passing offense. The running game has shown signs of life in recent weeks, and McFadden appears ready to return after a four-game absence.

Palmer, meanwhile, is still on track to challenge the franchise record for passing yards (4,689) and attempts (618), but even a banner day might not matter if the Raiders can't fix what's ailing them on defense.

The Raiders have allowed 441 yards a game during their losing streak. They rank 25th against the pass and 28th against the run.

Especially hurtful have been big plays resulting from flubbed assignments or missed tackles. The Raiders allowed eight plays of 20 or more yards to Cleveland on Sunday, and their season total is now 58 – or 23 more than the Broncos have allowed.

"We just have to work together to understand why and how," defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. "We have to take better angles down the field is some of it.

"Some of (the big plays have happened while we were in zone defense), and they've happened in every call known to man, so it's a continuing process to have the guys understand where their help is and have guys understand how to take angles and go from there."

It doesn't get easier against Manning and the Broncos, who have won seven games in a row and already clinched the AFC West. Much of the game-planning occurred without coach Dennis Allen, who flew to Texas to be with family before his father, Grady, died early Tuesday. Allen is expected to be on the sideline tonight.

Safety Michael Huff told Denver media this week the Raiders "know that nobody is giving us a chance, so for us to go out there and pull an upset like that, that would obviously not turn our season around, but it would give us a little momentum going into these last few games."

The next game is still 10 days away, but the Raiders wouldn't mind getting a head start.

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