NFL Nation: MNF1 Broncos

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

 
 Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
 Eddie Royal caught nine passes for 146 yards and one touchdown.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- How good will the Denver Broncos' offense be when Brandon Marshall returns next week?

Just wondering.

The Broncos were supposed to be at a major disadvantage Monday night in the season opener at Oakland without Marshall, who was serving a one-game NFL suspension for violating the personal conduct code.

Marshall, who last year became the third second-year player in NFL history to register at least 100 catches (he caught 102 balls), is developing into a first-rate NFL star. He and fellow third-year player, quarterback Jay Cutler, are supposed to grow old with each other. His absence was expected to hamper Denver's chances against the new-look Raiders, who were expected to have one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL.

So what did the Marshall-less Broncos do?

They rolled and introduced another weapon to the world in the form of rookie receiver Eddie Royal in the process.

"Yeah, it's a good sign, isn't it," Denver tight end Nate Jackson said. "We scored 41 points without our star receiver. That was nice to see. We get him back next week and it will be fun to see what we can do at full speed."

They will see next week against visiting San Diego. If the Broncos can continue their offensive explosion, they could take a two-game lead over San Diego, which was expected to run away with yet another AFC West title. However, San Diego was stunned on the final play of its game on Sunday, losing at home to Carolina. After watching San Diego stumble, the Broncos roared into first place in the AFC West with their decisive win over Oakland.

While Marshall sat in Colorado and watched his teammates, he saw the emergence of another Denver receiver in Royal, the team's second-round pick from Virginia Tech. Royal, who broke through as a surprise starter during training camp -- he was drafted to be a punt returner initially -- had nine catches for 146 yards. He had a 26-yard touchdown reception on Denver's first drive. Royal had another touchdown called back on penalties.

Royal's nine catches were the most in Denver history by a rookie in his NFL debut. Royal leads all NFL receivers in yardage after Week 1.

Royal picked apart Raiders right cornerback DeAngelo Hall, whom Cutler clearly was targeting. Hall was frustrated all night and he committed two personal fouls. Royal made the Pro Bowler Hall look like a rookie.

Several of Royal's teammates called him "special." They can't wait to see him pair with Marshall next week.

"We're going to be dangerous," said Denver's efficient No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley. "We have some guys who can play. When we get Brandon back we'll even be better. We took playing without Brandon as a challenge. I think we stepped up."

Cutler certainly did. He did nothing to make NFL observers think he won't be a breakout star. Entering his second full season as a starter, Cutler was brilliant Monday night. He was 16-of-24 for 299 yards and two TDs. Cutler was not sacked and did not throw an interception, following two trends he set in the preseason.

"We know how powerful this offense can be," Stokley said. "It is going to be an interesting season."

What was most impressive about Denver's offense was its strength in the red zone and its refusal to let up after building a big lead. Those were two problems that plagued Denver as it compiled a 16-16 record the past two seasons. Denver scored touchdowns in three of four trips to the red zone and scored 24 of its points in the second half against the shell-shocked Raiders.

"The problems were in the past," Jackson said. "We didn't have any problems tonight."

And that was without Marshall. No problems indeed.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- One of the reasons many skeptics thought the Broncos would struggle was its new offensive line.

So far, no worries there. It is early in the fourth quarter, and Denver quarterback Jay Cutler has not been sacked. Cutler was not sacked in the preseason this season.

Denver is essentially starting two rookie tackles. Left tackle Ryan Clady was the team's first-round pick and right tackle Ryan Harris was Denver's third-round pick in 2007. He played one offensive play last season.

Center Tom Nalen is recovering from two knee surgeries this summer and he is replaced by former Kansas City starter Casey Wiegmann. Left guard Ben Hamilton missed all of last season with a concussion and right guard Chris Kuper saw stop action in his first two NFL seasons.

However, the line has completely dominated Oakland.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- Quick thoughts midway through the third quarter:

  • The Denver defense looks much improved. It is controlling this game so far.
  • At one point late in the second quarter, Jay Cutler had 172 passing yards. JaMarcus Russell had nine.
  • The Denver run offense has not been impressive. Andre Hall, Selvin Young and Michael Pittman have all be pedestrian. So far, Denver doesn't need a big game from them.
  • The Raiders must get tight end Zach Miller more involved in the offense. He can help bail out Russell.
  • The Raiders are supposed to have one of the best secondaries in the league. It hasn't shown up to tonight as Cutler is ripping them apart and the Broncos lead 24-0.

Cutler could have been a Raider

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
12:11
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Cutler

OAKLAND -- This may be a low blow for Raiders fans to deal with as their team trails Denver, 17-0, but Jay Cutler could have been theirs.

I'm not saying JaMarcus Russell is a lost cause by any means, but Cutler is a star in the making. Oakland had the No. 7 pick in the 2006 draft and took safety Michael Huff. Four picks later, Denver traded up to take Cutler.

Many observers thought Oakland would take a quarterback in the draft, perhaps Cutler or USC's Matt Leinart, who went to Arizona at No. 10 and thus far as struggled in the NFL. Huff has been average. Cutler may be on the cusp of greatness.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- The dissapearance of Tony Scheffler was the big mystery in Denver during the preseason.

Scheffler was a favorite target of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler in their first two years in Denver together. The two had a great chemistry together.

Scheffler was buried behind journeyman Nate Jackson during training camp and in the preseason. Everyone wanted to know what the problem was.

However, Denver insiders insisted Scheffler would have an impact once the season started.
Scheffler did in the second quarter tonight when he caught a 72-yard pass from Cutler. It set up a Denver field goal to give the Broncos a 10-0 lead.

He may have been non-existent in the preseason, but when it counts, Scheffler has come through. The mystery is solved.

Meanwhile, the Oakland fans are starting boo the Raiders offense.

First quarter at a glance

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
11:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- The first quarter just ended. Here are some quick thoughts:

Denver quarterback Jay Cutler looks good. He looks in control.

Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell looks a little jumpy.

Denver's run defense ended the first quarter on a high note. It was ranked 30th in the NFL last season.

The Denver special teams had trouble for the past three years and it has been shaky in coverage so far.

The Denver new-look offensive line, with first-time starters at tackle, looks good.

Raiders sticking to plan to run

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
11:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- The Raiders were expected to rely on the ground game tonight in the season opener against Denver and, so far, there have not been any surprises.

Oakland rushed on seven of their first nine plays. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, starting his first full season as Oakland's starter, threw an incomplete pass and fumbled when hit by Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil in Denver's red zone.

The Broncos are leading 7-0 and if the Raiders fall further behind, Russell may be forced to throw the ball more than he was expected to, despite the presence of Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush in Oakland's backfield.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- Denver rookie receiver Eddie Royal is as good as advertised.

Royal couldn't have had a more impressive opening drive in his debut. The second-round pick from Virginia Tech was involved in five plays during Denver's opening drive and concluded with an impressive 27-yard touchdown reception from Jay Cutler. Royal managed to keep his feet in bounds by mere inches on the play.

With Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall out serving a one-game suspension, the Broncos will need Royal, who also ran the ball twice in the first drive, to perform well all night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- In addition to Javon Walker, there are other inactive players for Oakland.

Oakland's inactives: Receiver Todd Watkins, safety Rashad Baker, defensive end Kalimba Edwards, center John Wade, tackle Mario Henderson and third quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. Edwards is injured.

Denver's inactives: Safety Calvin Lowry, running back Ryan Torain, linebacker Louis Green, tackle Erik Pears, center Tom Nalen, guard Dylan Gandy, defensive end Jarvis Moss and defensive tackle Josh Shaw.

The only surprise is Moss. He had no reported injury, making this is a surprising move. The 2007 first-round pick finished last season injured but Oakland was expecting a lot from him this year. Yet, Moss was unproductive in the preseason. If Moss was a healthy scratch for this game, it would not bode well for Moss on a defense that hungry for a pass rush.

Casey Wiegmann continues to start for Nalen, who is coming off a knee injury. Nalen may be back in the coming week.

Setting up in Oakland

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
7:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- Just getting set up in Oakland for tonight's game between the Broncos and the Raiders.

It is still the middle of the afternoon in Oakland and it is a bright, warm sunny day. Weather shouldn't be a problem.

The stadium is far from opening but the public lot is packed with reveling, optimistic Raiders' fans.

Oakland's cheerleaders, the Raiderettes, are still in their pre-game practice. They've been on the field for about an hour. Some Oakland assistant coaches just wrapped up a pre-game workout; some coaches ran around the field and others ran the stadium in the first level.

Like every NFL stadium, there is a huge "GU" on the field. It is in memoriam of NFL Hall of Famer and the NFLPA's executive director Gene Upshaw, who died last month of cancer. The memorial hits home here since this is the field where Upshaw was a star guard and the face of the tough Oakland Raiders of the 1970s.

Here are some quick thoughts on what I'm looking for tonight:

Will Javon Walker step up and play well tonight in his first game as a Raider and his first game as a former Bronco?

Can either team stop the run?

Will Darren McFadden explode in his NFL debut?

Will Jay Cutler continue his hot streak from the preseason?

Is JaMarcus Russell ready?

Can Denver rookie receiver Eddie Royal give Cutler the boost he needs without suspended Brandon Marshall?

Can Denver tight end Tony Scheffler make a difference after not playing in the preseason much?

All of these are vital questions pertaining to the outcome of the game. We'll see how it all unfolds.

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