Raiders bring confidence into meeting with Broncos
OAKLAND – Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos know firsthand how much emotional boost a team can get by pulling a victory from out of nowhere on the road in the NFL.
That’s what has the Broncos concerned heading into Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, who overcame 57 minutes of offensive ineptitude last week in Kansas City to mount one drive that gave them a 13-10 victory over the Chiefs.
“That gives you some confidence,” McDaniels said. “You come to work and you kind of have a bounce in your step and you’re ready to go and try to build off what you accomplished the last week.”
That’s just what happened for the Broncos after they won their opener in Cincinnati with the “Immaculate Deflection.” Unable to reach the end zone for more than 59 minutes, Denver pulled out the 12-7 win when Brandon Stokley caught a deflection by cornerback Leon Hall and completed an 87-yard touchdown reception with 11 seconds remaining for a stunning victory.
The Broncos (2-0) followed that with a 27-6 victory last week against Cleveland and are looking to start the season with three straight wins for the second straight year when they visit Oakland (1-1) on Sunday.
The Raiders pulled their own escape act last week in Kansas City. After being unable to move the ball almost the entire game, JaMarcus Russell shook off a 3 for 18 start to complete four of his final six throws to set up Darren McFadden’s 5-yard run with 1:07 left that gave Oakland the victory.
The comeback put a bright spot on a rough start to the season for Russell, who has completed just 35.2 percent of his passes through two games.
“Sometimes it covers a lot of things up, you know what I mean?” Russell said. “But at the same time, around here, we want to get those things fixed so we can do more of that earlier in the game.”
Russell and Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton entered this season with plenty of skeptics. Russell had yet to reach the expectations that come with being the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, and Orton had to deal with questions about replacing Pro Bowler Jay Cutler.
Orton was acquired from Chicago after a feud between Cutler and McDaniels led the first-year coach to make a trade that angered many Broncos fans. By winning his first two starts without committing a turnover, Orton is doing a good job of winning over those fans.
“I was extremely excited when the trade happened,” Orton said. “I’m happy to be here in an organization that wants me. They’ve been great so far. I’m just going to do everything I can to be the most prepared guy on the field and help our team win.”
The two wins to open the season also has to be gratifying to McDaniels, who not only traded a Pro Bowler in Cutler but also suspended Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall during the exhibition season.
“We know we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of improving to do, but we all came here for one reason and that’s to play the games during the course of the season and I love doing that,” he said. “I think our team has responded really well and has gotten off to a pretty good start.”
It has not been that type of start for Russell, who has put together two of his worst games to open the season. Russell has completed just 19 of 54 passes for 317 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Russell has been widely off-target on many of his throws, with some sailing way over receivers, others landing before reaching their feet, and others coming nowhere near a player in an Oakland uniform.
“Until we start producing on Sunday, the confidence level won’t come back,” passing game coordinator Ted Tollner said. “His attitude has been good. He’s bought into what we want to do. We were making progress and then there’s a big bump in the road.”
The Broncos are still concerned with Russell. McDaniels pointed out how well Russell played late last season when he completed 61.2 percent of his passes over his final seven starts, and that when he has completed passes they’ve gone for big yards this season.
Safety Brian Dawkins called Russell a “big dude” who can use his big arm to get the ball to any spot on the field.
“I don’t worry about his completion percentage at all,” Dawkins said. “We just want to make sure we’re where we’re supposed to be. His arm can get it to wherever on the field he needs to be. We have to make sure we have deep coverage.”
Russell was at his best last season against the Broncos, going 27 for 37 for 332 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in splitting the two games. But this is a different Denver defense under coordinator Mike Nolan.
The Broncos have allowed just 13 points the first two weeks, generating lots of pressure with the 3-4 alignment that Nolan ran so well as a coordinator in Baltimore.
“They’ll pressure you from everywhere,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said. “It reminds you a little bit of Baltimore. With Mike Nolan being there you’d expect some of that. Anyone on the field can come after you, whether it’s a corner or safety or any of the backers. They have a renewed attitude and it shows.”
– AP sportswriter Pat Graham in Englewood, Colo., contributed to this report.
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