ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Few players in the last decade have vexed the Denver Broncos' defense quite like Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden, and it is McFadden who will be the first real on-the-ground test of the season for the Broncos’ base defense and, especially, middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
It’s not that McFadden crushes the Broncos spirits every time he faces them -- the Broncos have held McFadden to fewer than 50 yards rushing in four career meetings -- it’s when McFadden does get it going, it is a spirit-crushing event. There was ’08, when McFadden carried the ball just 10 times in a November meeting that year, for just 38 yards, yet still scored twice.
There was 2010, when McFadden rushed for 165 yards and three TDs with Denver well on the way to a deserved 4-12 finish.
Or 2011, when current Raiders coach Dennis Allen was the Broncos' defensive coordinator, when McFadden pounded out 150 yards rushing against Denver.
In his nine career games against Denver, McFadden has rushed for 723 yards, at 5.8 yards per carry, to go with five touchdowns. The Raiders wanted to see those impact plays once again, and essentially re-tooled their offense in the offseason with McFadden in mind. Allen fired former offensive coordinator (and current Broncos quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp) to move from a zone-run game to a more man-on-man look.
Knapp is a respected coach in the league, but McFadden never found a comfort level in the scheme. Asked about McFadden’s resurgence over this season’s first two weeks, 177 yards rushing on 4.9 yards per carry, Allen said:
“I think the biggest thing is, from his mindset, that he’s comfortable in the things we’re asking him to do, comfortable in the scheme. And he’s had some success in doing that.’’
Woodyard must consistently be the first to the ball and cannot allowed yards after contact. When McFadden, who still has top-shelf speed in space despite plenty of lower-body injuries in his career, has gotten it going against the Broncos the missed-tackle totals have been exceedingly high -- perhaps none higher than the 165-yard day in ’10. Defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson, Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams have to do their parts as well and keep the Broncos' linebackers clean so the linebackers can fill the run lanes and keep McFadden out of the open field.
If they don't, McFadden will simply add another problem day to the list.