AFC West: Tony Romo

Double Coverage: Raiders at Cowboys

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
7:00
PM ET
Romo-RoachAP PhotoTony Romo's Cowboys host Nick Roach and the Raiders in a Thanksgiving Day duel.
IRVING, Texas -- For the second time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders meet on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys won the 2009 matchup 24-7 with Tony Romo throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns and Miles Austin catching seven passes for 145 yards. Since that game Austin has had more yards in a game just twice.

ESPN.com's Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you this week's holiday version of Double Coverage.

Todd Archer: The Cowboys are bad in most areas defensively, but they have given up 200 yards rushing in three games this season. The Raiders' strength, from afar, seems to be their running game. What makes it so good and how has it differed with Terrelle Pryor out?

Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Todd, it's not just Pryor being out, but also Darren McFadden, who has missed three straight games and four overall with a strained right hamstring. He said Monday night he hopes to play after practicing (limited) for the first time since Nov. 1. The run game, though, has not missed a beat with underrated Rashad Jennings picking up the slack. In the past four games, he has run for 413 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In fact, the running game has been so surprisingly solid without McFadden and Pryor that the play-action pass game has picked up with undrafted rookie Matt McGloin under center.

Speaking of passing games ... no doubt Tony Romo can rack up stats, but has he decided to assume more of a leadership role yet as the QB of America's Team, or is that just not in his makeup?

Archer: He has developed over the years as a leader, but there's no question that this has been "his" team the past three seasons. He is the veteran. He is the guy the Cowboys look to. The guys on this team now don't know of the Romo who burst on the scene in 2006 or had to deal with the Terrell Owens stuff. He's the guy who led the lockout practices and has been the big voice in the room. This year he has been given the added responsibility of being more involved in the game plan. The Cowboys' past two wins have come on last-minute drives led by Romo to beat Minnesota and the New York Giants. I don't think there's anybody questioning his leadership anymore. And if they did, well, the $106 million extension Jerry Jones gave him in the offseason should be more than enough proof to those guys that this is Romo's team.

Let's stick with the quarterback theme. Before the Cowboys lucked into Romo, they ran through a ton of guys after Troy Aikman's departure. Is there any reason to believe McGloin or Pryor can be a solution or do the Raiders need to go after one of these guys in next April's draft?

Gutierrez: Well, the way I put it earlier in the season, before Pryor hit his purported ceiling and sprained his right knee, robbing him of his greatest strength (running) while accentuating his biggest weakness (passing), if Pryor was not the Raiders' Mr. Right, he was their Mr. Right Now. McGloin is a pure quarterback, a pocket passer whom Dennis Allen prefers for what he wants to accomplish offensively. It's hard to give Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie much credit for their evaluation of QBs, though, what with their misses on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson, not caring much for Pryor early on and then, similar to the Cowboys with Romo, stumbling upon McGloin. But it's hard to see them going all in with the undrafted rookie from Penn State, too. At least hard at the moment. Unless McGloin continues to improve and wins a few games, it would behoove the Raiders to draft another QB if they see one as a can't-miss prospect. I know, I know, they really wanted USC's Matt Barkley but Philadelphia traded in front of them so they traded back and selected Wilson. Oops. There is no doubt, though, that this Raiders regime prefers McGloin as a prototypical QB over the more electric Pryor.

No matter who is under center for Oakland, though, the Raiders' QB is going to have to keep an eye on DeMarcus Ware. Is he rounding back into shape as a dominant pass-rusher, or is he more decoy as he rehabs from his quad strain?

Archer: I think he's still feeling his way through it. The fact that he made it through the Giants game healthy was a plus. He has been dinged up in just about every game with stinger and back strains earlier in the season before the quadriceps injury. We'll see how he fares on a short week, but the defense is a lot better with even the threat of Ware on the field. Jason Hatcher had two sacks against the Giants at least in part because of the attention Ware received. Ware has talked about wanting to make up for lost time. He has five sacks so far, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year in 2005. Thursday would be a good time to look like the DeMarcus Ware of old.

This game is a homecoming of sorts for guys like Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Kevin Burnett and Tony Sparano, but it's a real homecoming for Dennis Allen. How is he perceived in Oakland and will McKenzie be more patient with him than, say, Al Davis would have been?

Gutierrez: The jury, so to speak, is still out on Allen in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. Of course, when the Raiders win a game, he's the man. When he loses, the fans turn on him and start pining for Jon Gruden ... again. But isn't that the nature of the beast? Even Allen himself said this was a results-oriented business. Of course, he was referring to the quarterback position at the time, but it still applies. Make no mistake about it, Allen is McKenzie's "guy" and he's going to roll with him and have patience with him. The plan coming in was to give Allen at least three years to right this ship and really, the only thing that could damage Allen's chances of lasting another year would be if the team quit on him, like it did last November before playing hard again at the end. Then again, it might not be McKenzie's choice. Owner Mark Davis is a more patient owner than his father and wants McKenzie to handle all football-related decisions. But a year after stating he was fine with just about anything but regression, Davis wants progress. Stagnancy won't cut it, either. So, stay tuned.

Sticking with the coaching theme, is Jason Garrett in Jerry World for the long haul, or was Jerry Jones' support merely the dreaded vote of confidence?

Archer: Jerry has publicly backed Garrett, but he's also been a guy who's said, "Just because I say something, doesn't mean it's true." I do know this: He wants Garrett to be the guy. He desperately wants it to work. I really believe that. He believes in Garrett's approach and how he builds a team. Garrett will provide some blow-back to Jerry but not as much as, say, a Bill Parcells. Garrett knows what makes Jerry work and knows how to work around it to a degree or push Jerry in a certain direction. Honestly, Cowboys fans should want the Garrett deal to work out because it might be the best combination to mitigate the bad parts of Jerry and keep the good parts of Jerry.

American underdog vs. America's Team

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
8:00
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IRVING, Texas -- America loves an underdog. But will America’s Team afford Matt McGloin the same sentiment on Thanksgiving Day?

No doubt taking on the Dallas Cowboys in a nationally televised game on a national holiday will be the biggest stage yet for the Oakland Raiders' undrafted rookie quarterback out of Penn State. So you have to wonder if the moment will be too big for him.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMatt McGloin knows the Raiders must improve on third down and in the red zone.
Unless, of course, your name is Matt McGloin.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said Monday night. “I’m sure everybody has grown up watching that game with their families, and to be a part of it is something special. We’re all looking forward to it. We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a tough atmosphere for football, but we’ll handle it, we’ll work on it the next couple of days and we’ll be prepared.”

In two starts, a win at the Houston Texans and a last-second loss to the Tennessee Titans, McGloin has thrown for a combined 457 yards and four touchdowns on 37-of-64 passing (57.8 percent), with one interception.

And while Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said he has yet to see McGloin play -- he must have tuned out in the preseason -- Romo does share a lineage with him, so to speak. Romo’s phone also remained silent during an NFL draft.

“I always root for the undrafted kids that come up and then have a chance to play and play pretty well,” Romo said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters on Tuesday. “I think that’s always exciting and good for the league, and I wish him the best.”

Except for this week, of course.

Because, really, with Romo and his weapons of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin -- Dallas has the NFL’s No. 12-ranked passing offense -- McGloin and the Raiders are going to have to match the high-scoring Cowboys’ pace. Not to mention, defensive end DeMarcus Ware seems to be rounding into shape in an injury-filled year.

“They’re a good defense,” McGloin said. “A lot of good players on that defense. We’re definitely aware of all those guys.

“Regardless of who you’re playing, the objective is to score points when you get in the red zone and we didn't do too good of a job on that Sunday, so that’s something we have to work on the next few days, especially against Dallas. That offense has been doing some good things this year, so it’s crucial when we get in the red zone we have to score touchdowns.”

Against Tennessee, the Raiders settled for six field-goal attempts (Sebastian Janikowski missed two) and scored one touchdown in a 23-19 defeat. But that one touchdown was textbook tough-guy, with McGloin holding onto the ball until the last possible moment before unleashing a perfectly placed ball to Marcel Reece down the left sideline for a 27-yard score.

McGloin was positively clobbered on the play.

“I saw the celebration,” McGloin said with a grin. “That’s a play we've been running for a long time there and Marcel is a guy you can trust is going to be there and you know he’s going to run a good route and sometimes you have to give them an opportunity and go up and make a play. He made a great play.

“Sometimes you've got to stand there and take that hit. I’ll take that hit every time for a touchdown.”

Alas, McGloin could stand to improve on converting third downs. The Raiders made it on their first three in Houston and then went 2-for-15. Against the Titans they converted their first two and then went 1-for-8. McGloin completed his first two third-down passes against the Titans before missing on his last seven throws on third down.

“Just keep at it, keep improving, watch more film if we have to,” he said. “Continue to work the routes, the reads, communicate with guys. Just more of the things we’re already doing. Just continuing to preach it and work on it. Obviously it’s not a lot of things that are difficult there, but like I said, we’re right there, we just have to work out the kinks.

“We’re that close. As frustrating as it is, it’s good to see how close we are. … It’s only a matter of time before we break out and have a big game.”

Underdog or not.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 5

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos51-48 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday:

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning and the Broncos used a balanced offensive attack to beat the Cowboys in Week 5.
No runs: It’s easy to lose track of some things when two quarterbacks combine for 920 yards passing in a single game. But the Cowboys, despite all of the aerial heroics by Tony Romo, still made the mistake everybody has made this season -- they still kept giving the ball back to Peyton Manning. The Broncos' defense did not face a running play in the fourth quarter Sunday, even after the Cowboys had some limited success running against the Broncos’ nickel package earlier in the game. Overall, 11 of the Cowboys' 14 rushing attempts came against the Broncos' nickel and they gained 41 yards in those runs.

Missed opportunities: After four games of fairly solid work tackling, Broncos defenders had their share of difficulties against the Cowboys. They missed tackles, took poor angles and in the case of cornerback Tony Carter on a 79-yard catch-and-run play by Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams in the fourth quarter, didn’t wrap up when trying to knock the ball free. All in all, add it to the rather long list of defensive question marks.

Stay with it: Perhaps everyone is jaded by what Manning does each week -- 20 touchdown passes and counting after five games to go with back-to-back 50-point outings -- but Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase actually found a way to be somewhat balanced in this wild roller coaster of a game. When all was said and done, the Broncos had put 51 points on the board and wound the clock to make the winning kick as time expired. They ran it 31 times to go with Manning’s 42 pass attempts.

Battered and bruised: The Broncos have one more game before Von Miller returns from his suspension, Champ Bailey has yet to play this season and now the defensive attrition has reached a troubling rate. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) and cornerback Chris Harris (concussion) all left Sunday’s game and did not return. Cornerback Omar Bolden, who already has dealt with a shoulder injury this season, also looked as if he aggravated it making a tackle late in the fourth quarter as well. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, coming off allowing 506 passing yards to Romo, may not even know who’s available this week until Saturday.

What to watch for: Broncos-Cowboys

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
12:55
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will take their points factory on the road this weekend, heading to Texas to face the Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. And while some of the Cowboys defenders got their competitive hackles up a bit this week, saying they were “sick’’ of hearing about Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, they may not like looking at him all that much either.

With that in mind here are some things to consider:

More of the same: There have been 10, 400-yard passing games already this season and the Cowboys are the only team to have surrendered two of them -- 450 yards to Eli Manning in the season opener and 401 yards to Philip Rivers Sunday. The Cowboys have an active front four under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. As Kiffin has always done, they attack the A gaps hard, often working the spaces between the guards and the center. Dallas has speed at linebacker, though Ernie Sims is expected to move into the weak-side linebacker spot this week in place of Bruce Carter.

The issue is in the secondary, particularly when the Cowboys are pushed into the nickel formation. Orlando Scandrick will be in the slot when the Broncos go to three wide receiver sets and Scandrick will face Wes Welker. There will be big-play potential there for the Broncos and that will be one of the matchups to watch in the game. The Cowboys have used Scandrick on the outside in their base defense as well, replacing Morris Claiborne at times at the right cornerback spot. Claiborne has not played with confidence and has often been late to locate the flight of the ball, particularly when running stride for stride in man coverage.

Few quarterbacks pounce a lack of confidence anywhere in the pattern like Manning. The Chargers also repeatedly had success lining up tight ends and running backs wide, pulling the Cowboys linebackers out of the middle of the field and putting them in coverage assignments in the intermediate and deep routes. Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was targeted 10 times Sunday by Rivers and the Cowboys did not defend one of those passes as Gates finished with 10 catches. The Broncos could have similar success if they go to an open formation with tight ends Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas lined up wide.

Protect the edge: Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware was not full speed for much of the Cowboys loss against the Chargers because of a back strain and has dealt with stingers to his neck and shoulder area this year -- he has said publicly he has had them since 2009. But Ware still represents the biggest challenge to left tackle Chris Clark since he was moved into the lineup for the injured Ryan Clady. Chargers coach Mike McCoy, who was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012, and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt used a variety of two-back and two tight formations to slow down the Cowboys rush. McCoy also used Ware’s desire to get up the field against the veteran defensive end at times, using a kick-out block to get Ware out and send a running play to Ware’s inside shoulder. The

Broncos have been effective out of their two tight end look and have protected Manning well overall, but nothing slows down an aggressive front like a good run game. Kiffin’s philosophy through the years has always been for the defensive linemen to play the run on the way to the quarterback, so an offense that can turn some of the defensive linemen will find some gaps.

Rushing Romo: The Broncos see a more cautious Tony Romo at quarterback this season and they believe it has increased his effectiveness as well. For the most part Romo has gotten the ball out quickly and has completed 46.4 percent of his passes to the team’s running backs and tight ends -- DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten each have 21 receptions. “He’s has had this thing where he’s turned the ball over in the past in tough situations,’’ said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. “He’s not doing that this year. That is probably the biggest difference in the offense from the previous offenses I’ve seen from them. He’s playing great.’’

The Cowboys have moved veteran Brian Waters into the lineup at right guard and have a rookie at center in Travis Frederick. The Cowboys handled the Chargers’ four-man rush for the most part, but San Diego repeatedly created pressure when they added at least one more rusher to the formation. The Broncos have largely rushed four this year, but when they’ve gone to five, they have been highly efficient. They have six of their sacks and two interceptions this season when they have rushed five. The Cowboys have used Romo on rollouts at times, to give him a little more time to escape pressure from the middle. Romo has most often rolled to his throwing hand. The Cowboys also have used a flip-flop approach in the play-calling at times, running out of pass looks and throwing out of heavier formations.

Special-ness: The Broncos have scored three times on special teams already in four games, including a blocked punt for a score last Sunday against the Eagles. Before Thursday night’s Browns-Bills game, the rest of the league had scored four special teams touchdowns combined in the season’s first four weeks. Some personnel executives in the league consider the Cowboys’ depth chart to be thin after the starters and the impact of that can often be seen on special teams. The Broncos will likely have a chance to make a play on those units.

Make some room: Even with all of the fireworks in a record start for the offense, the Broncos still haven’t always made room in the running game when they want/need to. The Broncos have had 37 run plays this season go for two or fewer yards -- that’s 30.8 percent of their rushing plays on the season and they have had six carries for negative yards in four games combined. To consistently keep Manning clean and to close out games should they need to in the weeks ahead, they’re going to need more than that.

Five keys: Cowboys at Chargers

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
11:25
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Good morning. The San Diego Chargers face an important home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. At 1-2, the Chargers need to keep pace with AFC West leaders Denver (3-0) and Kansas City (3-0) by taking care of business at Qualcomm Stadium.

Here are five keys for the Chargers as they attempt to crawl back to the .500 mark.

Contain Murray: It’s no surprise the Cowboys are 10-0 when running back DeMarco Murray rushes for 100 yards or more. When the Cowboys can run the ball, Tony Romo isn’t forced to make every crucial play on offense, and the Cowboys don’t turn the ball over as much. However, the Chargers have only given up one 100-yard rusher in the past 10 games at home. So limiting Murray’s touches and not allowing explosive plays from the Cowboys’ running game will be priority No. 1 for San Diego’s defense.

Don’t let Dez Bryant or Jason Witten beat you: Of course, this key is easier said than done. But the Cowboys do come in the game short-handed, with Miles Austin out due to a hamstring injury. So expect the Chargers to bracket Bryant and Witten, and force guys like Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar to beat them.

Force some turnovers: It’s time. Most know the Chargers have only generated one turnover this season, one of three teams with one turnover or less through three games (Houston and Pittsburgh are the others). However, San Diego has had its chances. The Chargers have forced three fumbles, and recovered none of them. I think that will change, with the Chargers creating at least two Dallas turnovers on Sunday.

Run the football: The Chargers likely will be without left tackle King Dunlap (concussion), left guard Chad Rinehart (toe) and right guard Jeromey Clary (clavicle) on Sunday. All three players did not practice this week. So how will a patchwork offensive line deal with DeMarcus Ware and a Dallas defensive front that has totaled 13 sacks through three games? Run the football and force Ware to make some tackles in the run game. Ryan Mathews needs at least 20 touches.

Finish: San Diego coach Mike McCoy has preached finishing this week. Cornerback Derek Cox said the coaching staff broke down practice to four quarters, emphasizing the importance of finishing strong during the final portion of practice. The Chargers have either led or were tied at the beginning of the fourth quarter in all three contests this season, but have only won one of them. San Diego has to figure out how to protect a lead if the Chargers are lucky enough to get one against the Cowboys.

Here are few links to check out this morning.

Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus offers three things to focus on in the Cowboys-Chargers matchup. McGinness: “(DeMarco) Murray poses a problem for opposing defenses because he has the ability to run around you or straight through you, with 10 missed tackles forced already this year. Add to that his 10 missed tackles forced as a receiver, and his average of 2.88 Yards After Contact Per Carry, and it’s not surprising to see him at the top of our Elusive Rating rankings this early in the year, with an ER of 77.8.”

Bill Simmons of Grantland picks the Chargers over the Cowboys. Simmons: “It's the Somebody's Blowing This Game In The Most Agonizing Way Possible Bowl! Did you know the AFC is 11-3 this season against the NFC? Please add that to the long list of things I was dead wrong about heading into this season: The NFC is much better than the AFC.”

ESPN’s Calvin Watkins writes that Dallas defensive coordinator Bill Callahan has developed a good rapport with quarterback Tony Romo.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego takes a closer look at the passing of the torch for the Spanos family, owners of the Chargers.

What to watch for: Broncos-Giants

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
7:00
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It can be tough to follow such a high-end opening act, but that is the Denver Broncos' task this week as they make their first road trip since an Aug. 17 preseason game in Seattle.

“And our last outing wasn’t too positive,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox about that 40-10 loss to the Seahawks. “I think we’ve got a little bit to learn from that.’’

By the time Broncos jog onto the field Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it will have also been 10 days since Peyton Manning carved out another slice of football history -- and carved up the Baltimore Ravens' secondary -- with seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 opening victory. So, in that light, here are some things to consider about the third, and perhaps last, time Peyton will face his brother Eli’s team:

  • What comes after seven? Manning tied an NFL record with his seven passing TDs against the Ravens and became the first player to reach that mark in a game since 1969. Tough to top that. The Broncos would like to run the ball a few more times -- and a lot better -- against the Giants than they did against the Ravens, but Manning will still put the ball in the air plenty. The Giants have some uncertainty at cornerback -- Prince Amukamara suffered a concussion in the opener against the Cowboys -- and their linebackers struggled in coverage against Dallas. That’s a recipe for Manning to push the ball up the sidelines at times, especially out of play-action, and work the middle of the field with tight end Julius Thomas or Wes Welker. Running back Knowshon Moreno, who has the running back of choice in the three-wide-receiver set, figures to be busy in the passing game as well -- Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo completed 18 passes to his backs and tight ends, who consistently found room in the short to intermediate zones.

  • [+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
    AP Photo/Paul JasienskiDenver center Manny Ramirez could get a stiff test from the Giants' interior defensive line.
    Four of a kind. The Giants have always believed in the benefits of a four-man rush to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks -- “That’s been true going all the way back to when I was coaching there,’’ Fox said. That allows the defense to use seven players in coverage in these pass-happy times -- and it's especially true for a Giants team with some uncertainly in its defensive back seven and that likely needs to play it a little more conservatively. Against the Cowboys, with end Jason Pierre-Paul still working his way back from offseason back surgery (he played 50 snaps in Dallas), the Giants did most of the consistent damage when they won on the inside. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins, a combined 628 pounds, repeated pounded away at Cowboys rookie center Travis Frederick. The two also made life difficult for right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, so much so many in the league believe recent signee Brian Waters will be manning the position the next time the Cowboys play. The Broncos struggled at times against the Ravens' defensive front, particularly in the run game on the interior. The Giants figure to test left guard Zane Beadles and center Manny Ramirez plenty.

  • Short and not so sweet. The danger in all of the up-tempo frenzy going on in the league -- and the biggest reason the jury remains out on all of it -- is what it does to a defense when the team’s offense doesn’t get a first down when running at warp speed. The Broncos had a 48-second three-and-out possession in the second quarter against the Ravens, to go with a 59-second possession in the fourth quarter. “We have to avoid that,’’ said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “When we go to our up-tempo stuff, we have to make sure that we’re staying on the field and put the (opposing) defense in a bad defense.’’

  • Three-pack. What the Giants could do with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks at wide receiver was already a significant challenge for opposing defenses. And if Rueben Randle can consistently be that third option -- all three topped 100 yards receiving against the Cowboys -- it spreads things out even a little more. The alignment to watch was one that was repeatedly effective against the Cowboys, with Nicks and Cruz lined up to the offensive right and Randle as the lone receiver to the left. The Giants consistently got all three into open space with that set. It will be a significant challenge for the Broncos' defensive backs. “Real good third option," said Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said of Randle. "I described him to our guys, he’s like a No. 2 in the league, I think he’s a legitimate starting-caliber wide receiver (who) happens to be the third guy in their rotation."

  • Be in a rush. In of the rose petals tossed at the Broncos’ feet after what was a high-quality victory over Baltimore, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that Denver did not have a sack, or hadn’t really even stressed Joe Flacco all that much in the pocket, until right tackle Michael Oher suffered a severely sprained right knee on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice with 8 minutes, 3 seconds to play in the second quarter. All four of the Broncos' sacks, including the 2.5 for defensive end Shaun Phillips, came after the Ravens had to slide protections at times with Oher out. The Giants have had their own struggles in the offensive front, but the Broncos have to find a way to get some heat on Eli Manning -- or Manning will find the soft spots in coverage.

  • Adapt or punt. You don’t spend $12 million of Pat Bowlen’s dollars on Welker if you don’t want to go with three wide receivers on offense most of the time. But the Broncos struggled mightily early against Baltimore until they went to a two-tight-end look for five plays. They found their flow, played a little bigger for a few snaps ... and away they went. They have been more efficient at times over the past two seasons out of the two-tight-end look, especially early in games. The Broncos had eight plays among the first 20 that went for one yard or fewer or were an incompletion. The first 20 snaps, including penalties, resulted in three punts. The Broncos didn’t score the first touchdown until they went to two tight ends, then got back in the three-wide set on their fifth possession of the game. They scored a touchdown on a one-play drive, in three-wide, to close out their fourth possession after they got the ball on the Ravens’ 24-yard line, thanks to a Chris Harris interception.

Progress being made in Oakland

August, 10, 2013
8/10/13
2:05
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Random thoughts from the Oakland Raiders’ 19-17 home win over Dallas:

This season is going to be all about progress for this rebuilding program. And the first step has to be looked at as positive progress.

Dennis Allen has raved about how much this team loves football. It was easy to see Friday night. The Raiders were very spirited and fought to win this game. Every unit worked hard. This is one of the more interesting teams in the league this preseason because there is competition virtually all over the field. Competition breeds fighting spirit.

That’s the best thing Oakland has going for it right now. It wants to get better. I also think that is a credit to coach Dennis Allen and his staff. This game showed the coaching staff’s message is sinking in.

Now, let’s not get too crazy. The Raiders were far from perfect against Dallas and have a long way to go. But they seem like they are on the right track as a program.

The quarterback position is intriguing in Oakland. All four quarterbacks are a question mark.

Starter Matt Flynn was decent. He wasn’t great or terrible, although losing a fumble early was not good. Flynn will be the Raiders’ starting quarterback to start the season. The question is can he keep the job all season?

And, is anyone ready to take it from him?

Backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor was interesting Friday. He clearly has improved some and that’s a testament to his major work ethic and want-to attitude. But he has his inconsistencies. He forced an interception in the red zone and still seems raw. But he also made some things happen with his feet. Pryor is exciting and there will be a place for him.

Undrafted quarterback Matt McGloin continued to impress. He and fellow rookie Brice Butler connected on a beauty of a touchdown. McGloin received pro-style coaching at Penn State from Bill O‘Brien last year and it’s paying off. McGloin was much better than fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson. Wilson was previously considered an option to start this year. Now, he’s just trying to make the roster. While McGloin is doing well, it would be difficult to think an undrafted rookie could be in the starting mix in his first year.
  • Rookie linebacker Sio Moore had a huge sack of Tony Romo. The third-round pick from Connecticut is an exciting player. The Raiders hope he can give them a much-needed pass-rush burst.
  • Taiwan Jones, who converted to cornerback from running back this year, had a solid game and worked to solidify his status on the roster.
  • There were some issues as the offensive line. The pass rush and pass defense suffered at times.
  • Marquette King closed in on veteran punter Chris Kluwe, but Kluwe still remains the favorite to win the job.
  • The running back stable looks deep, which is a nice change from last year. Rashad Jennings, Latavius Murray and Jamize Olawale all looked good.
  • None of the tight ends separated themselves in the chase to be the starter.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive back Chance Casey built on a strong camp with a good game Friday night.

Mailbag: Berry-Weddle revisited

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
12:00
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Weekend mail call:

Andrew Varnell from Boulder, Colo., wants to know what 2011 Denver quarterback would make the better starter for his current team.

Bill Williamson: You bring up a great point, Andrew. There are brewing controversies involving all three signal-callers who moved on during or after last season, a tumultuous one in Denver. Brady Quinn could push Matt Cassel in Kansas City, Tim Tebow could push Mark Sanchez with the Jets and there have been some calls for Kyle Orton to take over for Tony Romo in Dallas. I’m not sure if any of those scenarios will happen. The longest shot is Orton taking over for Romo -- I can’t see Jerry Jones pulling the plug. That said, I think Orton is the best of the three former Broncos. Perhaps Kansas City should have tried harder to keep Orton in free agency. I’d have a better feeling about him taking over for Cassel than Quinn.




Joseph McGready from Los Angeles wants to know if I still rank Kansas City safety Eric Berry over San Diego safety Eric Weddle.

BW: A lot of fans seem all hopped up over this. I had both players ranked in the top 15 in the division. It’s not like I dismissed Weddle, who is one of my favorite players. I went with Berry because he was younger and has a huge ceiling. But Weddle is a special player, too. And right now, four games into the 2012 season, Weddle has been the better player -- indeed, he has been one of the best safeties in the game. He has had a tremendous start and is a key cog in a much-improved defense. Berry is still coming back from a major knee injury. He will be great. But, yes, Weddle has been better this season, no doubt.




Todd Ouellette from Missouri wants to know what I think of Oakland defensive lineman Desmond Bryant.

BW: A lot of Oakland fans are excited about Bryant, because he has made some plays from a reserve role and because veterans Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly both appear to be slowing down. Bryant, 26, is athletic and I bet he will see more playing time as the season progresses if Oakland’s starters continue to struggle.


Kyle Orton took the Jason Campbell route out of the AFC West.

A former starter in the division, Orton has quickly decided to further his career as the backup to Tony Romo in Dallas on a three-year deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Tuesday, former Oakland starter Jason Campbell went to Chicago to back up Jay Cutler for a year.

Orton was the former starter in Denver and he started the final three games of the season in Kansas City and led the Chiefs to a 2-1 record. But Orton most likely didn’t find any starting opportunities on the market, so he went to a solid team as a backup.

Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel, who inserted Orton as the starter in his first move as interim coach last season, often praised Orton. Crennel and Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli both expressed interest in Orton.

Yet, the Chiefs likely didn’t tell Orton he had a strong chance to compete with Matt Cassel. It would be strange if Orton bypassed a chance to compete to start to take a clear backup job.

This is another indication Cassel will remain the starter in Kansas City.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting San Francisco is battling Dallas for Kansas City cornerback Brandon Carr. There is little chance Carr will return to Kansas City. The Chiefs chose instead to sign former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt last month.

If Carr goes to San Francisco, perhaps Oakland could get in on 49ers’ free agent cornerback Carlos Rogers. The Rams are talking to Saints cornerback Tracy Porter. He has been considered a possible candidate for Oakland, because he played for new Raiders coach Dennis Allen in New Orleans.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland free-agent Michael Bush tweeted that he has just arrived in Arizona. He did not indicate whether he is visiting with the Cardinals. However, with free agency open, it’s a possibility. UPDATE: Bush later tweeted that he is in Arizona to train.

NFL.com is reporting Kansas City quarterback Kyle Orton is getting interest from Washington and Dallas. The Redskins are expected to draft Robert Griffin III, so Orton would likely be a backup in both spots. Kansas City has said it would like to see Orton return and compete with Matt Cassel. If Orton doesn’t opt to stay, perhaps it is because he thinks Cassel will be the starter in Kansas City.

NFL.com is reporting Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens will visit Arizona and the Jets. Schilens is from the Phoenix area.

ESPN's John Clayton is reporting Washington is talking to Denver receiver Eddie Royal. That makes total sense. Washington coach Mike Shanahan drafted Royal in 2008, and Royal excelled under Shanahan as a rookie.
Would Jason Campbell rather back up Jay Cutler or Carson Palmer?

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Campbell, Oakland’s former starter, is set to visit with the Bears.

He’d back up Cutler there.

Like Kansas City’s Kyle Orton (Schefter is reporting he will visit Dallas, where he’d backup Tony Romo), Campbell is clearly having trouble finding a place where he’d compete to start. I’m a bit surprised by that.

Campbell has been the victim of terrible luck. He broke his collarbone in October and the Raiders then traded two premium picks for Palmer. The Raiders are now married to Palmer. If Campbell leaves Oakland, it is clear he is looking for change of scenery rather than being open to signing with the Raiders to back up Palmer.

The Bears likely would be willing to give Campbell more than Oakland. A potential backup quarterback in Oakland is Matt Leinart. He was just cut by Houston. Oakland’s new offensive coordinator is Greg Knapp. He was previously Leinart’s quarterbacks coach in Houston.

Kyle Orton will visit Dallas

March, 13, 2012
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ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Kansas City quarterback Kyle Orton will visit the Cowboys.

He would back up Tony Romo in Dallas. This is surprising to me. I would think Orton could get a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere. But for his first visit to be a place where he would be a backup is an indication he may not currently have better options.

The Chiefs have said they would like to keep Orton and have him compete with Matt Cassel. To me, that seems like a better option than in Dallas for Orton.

Also, Miami quarterback Chad Henne is going to visit Jacksonville, Schefter reports. There has been some talk he could interest the Chiefs and Broncos. Also, if Henne ends up in Jacksonville, that could take a potential spot away from Tim Tebow in Jacksonville. The Broncos would likely call the Jaguars about Tebow -- who is from Jacksonville -- if the Broncos land Peyton Manning.

My QB Power Rankings thoughts

April, 26, 2011
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I didn’t create any waves in our quarterback Power Rankings that were released Tuesday.

All 10 of the quarterbacks I voted for made the top 10. The only variation from my poll and the final ranking was the flip-flop of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning. I had Flacco ninth and Manning 10th. In the Power Rankings, Manning was ninth and Flacco was 10th in a tie with Dallas' Tony Romo.

The only time I struggled during my ranking was at 10th place. I chose Manning because of his Super Bowl ring over the likes of Romo, Chicago’s Jay Cutler, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman and St. Louis Sam Bradford. In all, I considered 18 quarterbacks. It’s a pretty strong quarterback league these days.

I think there are seven elite quarterbacks -- New England’s Tom Brady, Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick. I think Rivers is in a good spot at No. 6. He’s clearly the best quarterback in the NFL without a Super Bowl ring and it was good to see other voters agree. Rivers was fifth on three ballots and sixth on the other five.

Kansas City’s Matt Cassel received one 10th-place vote. I considered Cassel, but I want to see more development before I place him on this impressive list.
Random thoughts from San Diego’s 16-14 home loss against Dallas:

The Chargers’ first units continued to be very strong on offense and defense.

Quarterback Philip Rivers looked very good. He was 11-of-15 for 125 yards. He did throw a red-zone interception, though. Rivers also scared the daylights of the team and its fans when he made a big tackle on a fumble return.

Hey, Rivers is a gamer. Even in August.

The offense line is still a work in progress without holdout left tackle Marcus McNeill. It wasn’t perfect and it might never be, but it seems to be coming along.

Rookie running back Ryan Mathews continued to look sharp. He had 53 yards on 12 carries. It sure looks like Mathews is going to be game-ready once the regular season starts in Kansas City.

San Diego’s first-unit defense was stout. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo completed just 4 of 11 passes for 30 yards. The Cowboys had just 54 yards rushing on 23 attempts. Dallas had just 11 first downs.

It’s early, but the Chargers seem to be a very well-tuned team at this point of the preseason.

Video: Tony Romo, Cowboys beat Chargers

August, 22, 2010
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Tony Romo throws to Miles Austin for a touchdown in Dallas' 16-14 preseason victory against San Diego.

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