As the Raiders offense prepares to take the field in Denver a full 5,280 feet above sea level this Monday night, Terrelle Pryor and Dennis Allen both say they’re optimistic.
But going up against arguably the best team in the AFC, and certainly one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, the team faces tremendous odds.
Coming off a 19-9 victory against one of the worst teams in the league, Oakland (1-1) will need to shift their efforts from containing a mediocre quarterback to protecting all parts of the field, something Allen knows all too well. He said:
“They are a really good football team, they’ve got a lot of guys that can step in and fill a role. Anytime you can add an exceptional weapon like (Welker), who can make the possession receptions, work underneath and go downfield, it makes you that much more formidable.”
The Broncos are certainly no joke, averaging 45 points over the first two weeks while allowing just over half that. Even the loss of Von Miller, who’s suspended, doesn’t make them any less potent, according to Allen:
“They play very tough, good defense. They have played without Miller in two straight games now, and just like any team in the NFL, they have a next man up philosophy.”
Meanwhile, kicker Sebastian Janikowski leads the Raiders in points scored (18), and no single player has scored more than one touchdown despite a fairly easy offensive schedule to date.
Monday evening provides what may become the toughest game of the season for the Oakland offense, a challenge Pryor says he is ready for:
“I’m always a confident guy. I just have to play my own game, Peyton is great, but I can’t let that get into my mind. I just have to focus on my team. He’s going to make big plays, I can’t go in and say I’m gonna fire back too.”
One predictably major target that Pryor has been without, David Ausberry, may finally return after being listed as questionable on the Week 2 injury report.
Ausberry figured to be a large part of both the Raiders passing attack as well as the run game, but suffered a shoulder injury during the second week of preseason and has yet to take the field in any truly meaningful game. He did not practice Wednesday.
Mychal Rivera and Jeron Mastrud have been filling Ausberry’s role, with Rivera leading the two with five receptions to Mastrud’s one.
A return for Ausberry would be welcomed by the team, as another target would open up the floodgates of the passing attack, considering the lack of quality receiving targets afforded to Pryor.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Tyvon Branch is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula, and Mike Jenkins left last Sunday’s game with an undisclosed injury.
If Jenkins is unable to go on Monday, rookie cornerback DJ Hayden will see a large increase in playing time. If so, the game could provide a measuring stick of his progress.
Whichever type of performance Hayden turns in, being a rookie cornerback in the NFL is no easy task, let alone playing against the division’s most high-powered offense on national TV Monday night.
Something that plagues some franchises more than others at times, the Raiders have been hit in 2013 by the injury bug. First Jared Veldheer went down in training camp with a partially torn left triceps and is not expected to return until early November. Rookie Menelik Watson was the next man up after Alex Barron failed to perform the duties expected at left tackle, but Watson soon injured his MCL, an injury severe enough to warrant surgery.
Tony Pashos was signed as depth insurance, but the team remains with a glaring hole at one of the most important positions on offense until Watson and Veldheer are healthy enough to return.