Oakland Raiders: AFC West

Well, ESPN.com’s first in-season Power Rankings are out, and the reviews are not good for the Oakland Raiders.

The Power Rankings results have the Raiders ranked No 32. Yes, I vote. No, I didn’t place the Raiders 32nd. I think that ranking is a bit low. I have a difficult time thinking there aren't four or five teams in worse shape than the Raiders as we start this season.

I think the Raiders have better depth on both sides of the ball and better overall talent. I can see Oakland getting better as the season continues, especially if rookie quarterback Derek Carr excels early. We will follow the rankings throughout the season, but I’d be surprised if the Raiders stay at the bottom of the rankings for the long haul.
Late in the preseason is often when NFL teams consider extending potential free agents offers in an attempt to secure them for the longterm and ending any question of the team’s commitment to the player.

Wisniewski
If the Oakland Raiders are considering making such a move, they need to do so with Stefen Wisniewski.

Wisniewski is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next March. As a second-round pick in 2011, he has developed into one of the Raiders’ most reliable players.

“He’s a good, young, tough player [who] should be extended and should be a building block,” ESPN scout Matt Williamson said. “He’s not an elite center, but he’s well above average.”

He’s the type of player teams keep around. If the Raiders were to let Wisniewski test free agency -- as they did with fellow young starters, Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston this year -- they’d be in danger of another team swooping in on him. That, of course, was what happened with Houston and Veldheer.

Keeping Wisniewski is a very achievable task for Oakland. He will command a solid contract but not a salary-cap killing deal. And, of course, Wisniewski is all Raider. He is the nephew of former Raiders’ superstar offensive lineman and coach Steve Wisniewski. In that 2011 draft, it was all but assumed that Lil Wiz was going to end up as a Raider. It’s only natural he remains one.
Examining the Oakland Raiders' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Carr has been impressive, even as he holds onto the ball too long in the pocket at times.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

Legacy George Atkinson III seems a safe bet for the practice squad.

FULLBACKS (2)

Reece has flashed his pass-catching abilities in camp. Olawale has flashed his speed.

RECEIVERS (6)

Does Moore being listed third on the depth chart put him on the roster bubble? Keep an eye on the Butler vs. Juron Criner battle. Mike Davis and Seth Roberts are also practice squad candidates.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
David Ausberry's knee injury makes him a candidate for the injured reserve/designated to return list, meaning the Raiders have an immediate need for bodies at tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

Not much movement here since camp opened. In fact, none at all in this corner.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This week, seventh-round draft pick Shelby Harris, listed second at a defensive end spot on the depth chart, takes the place of third-year DE Jack Crawford.

LINEBACKERS (6)

With Kaluka Maiava missing most of camp with a strained hamstring, let's replace him with Filimoeatu ... for now.

CORNERBACKS (6)

A new prediction -- DJ Hayden never practices in the preseason and opens the regular season on the PUP list.

SAFETIES (4)
Usama Young has been on the PUP list all camp long.

SPECIALISTS (3)

No questions needed.

No nerves for Carr in NFL debut

August, 10, 2014
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What, Derek Carr worry?

 The Oakland Raiders’ future franchise quarterback has been around the NFL since he was a pre-teen, going over game film with his older brother David, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. So yeah, even if the rookie was making his NFL debut in the Raiders’ exhibition opener Friday night in Minnesota, the younger Carr insisted there was no anxiety.

“It was everything I thought it would be,” Carr said after the Raiders’ 10-6 loss, in which he releieved starter Matt Schaub in Oakland’s fourth series. “It was a lot of fun.

“Oh no, there weren’t any nerves. The nerves stopped a long time ago.”

Carr, the Raiders’ second-round pick, played five series. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 74 yards and was picked off once. His roll-out pass to the left was thrown a bit too hard off the tip of fullback Jamize Olawale’s outstretched fingertips and into the arms of safety Kurt Coleman. Carr’s passer rating was 47.4, compared to the 56.2 authored by Minnesota rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who was taken four picks ahead of Carr and also relieved his team’s starter.

“I just try to challenge myself a lot, too,” Carr said. “I want to continue to get better at those little things. Those things matter. The quicker you can get in and out of the huddle, the more time you have on the clock to see what’s going on.

“Like I said, I have a lot to work on, but from that aspect, I liked what we did, and I just got to keep growing and getting better at it.”

And in case you were wondering if the Raiders had any designs on getting Carr some reps with the first-team offense in any of the three remaining exhibition games, coach Dennis Allen had a sobering answer.

“Yeah, it’s not really part of the plan right now,” Allen said. “We’ll obviously evaluate everything as we move along, but the plan is to work Matt Schaub as the starting quarterback, and I think he’s done a good job in doing that.”

No debate: Schaub is Raiders' man

July, 25, 2014
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NAPA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen couldn't have been more definitive when asked about his starting quarterback. He looked a visitor in the eyes and without hesitation declared: "It's Matt."

To reinforce his point, he bugged his eyes and stared the visitor in the eyes even more intensely before repeating himself: "It's Matt. Matt's our quarterback."

For all the talk about rookie second-round pick Derek Carr mounting a serious challenge for the starting job, Allen is firmly committed to veteran newcomer Matt Schaub.

"I'm really excited about Derek Carr," Allen said. "I think he's got a chance to be a top-level quarterback in this league. But he's young, and he's a rookie. That's a tough proposition in this league. I know we've seen some guys that have been able to have some success as rookie quarterbacks, but I've also seen some opportunities where guys have had a chance to sit in behind a veteran quarterback and watch and learn and go on to have successful careers."

There's no doubt Carr has won over the staff more quickly than your typical first-year signal-caller might. He has size and arm strength and has displayed accuracy and a command of the offense as well as the huddle.

But young quarterbacks are prone to lows as well as highs. For instance, on Friday Carr made several beautiful throws and showed an ability to correctly go through his read progressions. But he also forced a pass down the seam that was picked off and he lost the football on a botched exchange from center. Those types of mistakes often are the difference between winning and losing -- and Allen and the Raiders can't afford a third straight 4-12 season.

So rather than live with Carr's potential growing pains, the plan is to ride with Schaub, an 11-year veteran who is coming off his worst season as a starter. In 10 games last season with Houston, he threw 14 interceptions -- including a pick-six in four consecutive games -- and only 10 touchdown passes. His passer rating of 73.0 was a career low as a Texan.

"It wasn't all on Matt; there were other factors involved with it," Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "But the bottom line is he's the guy pulling the trigger and making the decision to let the ball go in that situation, so he took the heat. We looked at it as an anomaly. It would've been different if there had been a drop-off year by year, but I don't know if you can look back and find another quarterback who fell off as dramatically as he did in the history of the game. So we view it as just one year."

The Raiders' blueprint for success includes running the football, playing solid defense and winning at situational football. It's a formula that places an even greater premium on ball security, which often is an issue with young quarterbacks. The staff has no plans to rush Carr onto the field, even as Olson says "the game has not been too big for him" to this point.

There figures to be a vocal groundswell of public support for the former Fresno State star if he plays well in the preseason, similar to what happened last year when fans clamored for the younger and more athletic Terrelle Pryor over veteran newcomer Matt Flynn, the designated starter. But unlike in that situation, don't look for the youngster to unseat the veteran in Week 1.

Look in Allen's eyes. Listen to the tone of his voice. Both leave no doubt: Matt's his quarterback.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC West

July, 24, 2014
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It seems like a football eon ago that then-Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sized up the potential AFC West race and called the San Diego Chargers “kind of the measuring stick.”

That statement came before the 2010 season as the Chargers had won the previous four division titles. It’s also right about the time the winds of change began to roar in earnest in the division, when the foundation was set for what has happened since.

The Kansas City Chiefs won the division in '10. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired McDaniels after a 4-12 season marred by Spygate and hired John Elway as the Broncos’ top football executive.

Since then, the Broncos have won three consecutive division titles, one featuring the national phenomenon that was a Tim Tebow-led read-option offense, and two with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. And the Broncos' crushing February Super Bowl loss notwithstanding, they are coming off a record-setting 2013 with Manning returning and a free-agency haul that included pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos are poised to be in the league’s championship conversation again.

The Chiefs think they are ready for more, the Chargers were the only team in the division to beat the Broncos last season, and the Oakland Raiders, after a flurry of offseason moves, believe -- at least LaMarr Woodley believes -- they can be a playoff team.

NFL Nation reporters Jeff Legwold (Broncos), Eric D. Williams (Chargers), Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Gutierrez (Raiders) look at how the AFC West division race will shake out this season.

First Down

What will the Broncos' record be and why?



Jeff Legwold: Look at the Broncos' depth chart, and on paper -- yes, the dreaded "on paper" distinction -- they are better than they were when they finished 13-3 and played their way into Super Bowl XLVIII last season. After the crushing loss in the title game, they didn't go quietly into the offseason. They put together a solid draft class with two potential immediate contributors in cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. They were also one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, reeling in Ware, Talib, Ward and Sanders. If Ware and Talib, in particular stay healthy (Talib has never played 16 games in a season), Denver's defense will be vastly improved alongside a record-breaking offense that figures to again pile up points. The Broncos finished with five defensive starters on injured reserve last season, and many of the players who were starting on defense down the stretch will be backups this season. Their trek through the NFC West to go with road games against the Patriots, Jets and Bengals gives them a potentially brutal schedule. They could be better than they were last season and not have the record to show for it. That is why 12-4 would be a quality piece of work.

Eric D. Williams: Denver will take a natural slide from its impressive 2013 campaign, but still come out on top of the AFC West at 11-5. Like the rest of the division, the Broncos face a much tougher schedule, with the season opener at home against Indianapolis and games at Seattle, at home against San Francisco, at New England, at St. Louis and at Cincinnati all potential losses outside the division. Though the defense should be better, free-agent additions Talib, Ware and Ward still have to mesh with the rest of that unit. Offensively, Denver's revamped line must do a better job of protecting Peyton Manning.

Adam Teicher: 12-4. It's a bit much to expect the Broncos to match their 13-3 record of last season. A schedule that includes two games against the Chiefs and Chargers and singles against all teams from the NFC West plus New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati almost guarantees that Denver won't get to 13 wins. But a slightly diminished regular-season record doesn't mean the Broncos won't win the AFC or play in the Super Bowl again. From this vantage point, it's an upset if any team but the Broncos represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.

Paul Gutierrez: Sure, no one takes a Super Bowl beating like the Denver Broncos, whose five losses on Super Sunday are by a combined score of 206-58. But in the modern world of the rich getting richer, the defending AFC champs simply got better. Adding a trio of big-name free agents in Ware, Talib and Ward will only make the defense more sound. And the addition of Sanders, who will replace the departed Eric Decker, should help the Broncos' record-setting offense continue to hum along under the direction of Manning. The Broncos are primed for another division title with a 12-4 record, with tough games at Kansas City, at San Diego (the Chargers won in Denver last season), at New England (the Patriots won in OT last season) and at Seattle (remember that 43-8 pasting the Seahawks put on the Broncos in the Super Bowl?).


Second Down

What will the Chiefs' record be and why?



Legwold: There is an air about this team; the Chiefs seem comfortable with where the roster was at the end of the 2013 season going into 2014. They were not all that active in free agency, though they took some swings at a wide receiver or two, including Emmanuel Sanders. If they are the team that went 9-0 before the bye last season, then standing pat is just fine, but if they are the group that went 2-5 down the stretch, then they are not catching the Broncos. They have shuffled the offensive line and seem likely to lean on running back Jamaal Charles again on offense, but they lack pop on the outside, especially if receiver A.J. Jenkins can't lift his game. The defense is solid in the front seven, but in a division with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, cornerback Brandon Flowers' release might be the move that eventually stings the most, especially if young cornerback Marcus Cooper, a player Manning targeted repeatedly last season, is not up to the challenge. It all has the look of a step back from last season's 11-5 to 9-7 with the NFC West on everybody's schedule in the division.

Williams: I predict Kansas City falling to 8-8 in 2014 for a couple reasons. The Chiefs lost two of their five starters along the offensive line in Branden Albert and Geoff Schwartz to free agency -- a position group that depends on continuity. Kansas City could struggle to protect quarterback Alex Smith, along with getting enough push to spring loose the talented Charles. Second, look at this season's schedule. Last season, Kansas City vaulted to a 9-0 record in part by facing backup quarterbacks like Jeff Tuel, Case Keenum and Terrelle Pryor. This season, four of Kansas City's first six games are on the road, including stops in Denver, Miami, San Francisco and San Diego. The Chiefs will be fortunate to be at the .500 mark after that treacherous stretch.

Teicher: 8-8. Kansas City faltered down the stretch last season, winning two of its final eight games. The Chiefs then watched several significant regulars leave through free agency. The Chiefs have holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield that they failed to adequately address. That doesn't mean they won't be playoff contenders. Despite the lousy record, the Chiefs quietly finished last season as one of the NFL's better offensive teams. They might be able to score enough points to overcome a shaky defense that couldn't hold a 28-point lead in last season's playoff loss against Indianapolis.

Gutierrez: Are the Kansas City Chiefs the team that made history by becoming the first in NFL modern annals to follow up a two-victory season by winning its first nine games the following season, or are they the club that lost six of its last eight, including a heartbreaking 45-44 wild-card loss to the Indianapolis Colts? Momentum being what it is, and with the Chiefs having a so-so draft coupled with departures of the likes of Albert, defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, plus a tough schedule, they seem to be on the way back down. As in a 7-9 record. Tough stretches that include games at Denver, against New England, at San Francisco and at San Diego early, and against Seattle, at Oakland, against Denver, at Arizona and at Pittsburgh late will truly tell the Chiefs' tale, even as Charles continues his ascent as one of the game's best all-around backs.


Third Down

What will the Chargers' record be and why?



Legwold: In his first year as Chargers coach, Mike McCoy helped get quarterback Philip Rivers back on track -- though Rivers never really conceded to being off track -- and the Chargers were able to fight through injuries, hand the Broncos their only home loss of the season, and earn a playoff spot. McCoy figures to try to keep Rivers cocooned in a low-risk approach on offense -- their leading receivers in terms of catches last season were a tight end (Antonio Gates) and a running back (Danny Woodhead) -- with a heavy dose of starting running back Ryan Mathews if he can stay healthy. Defensively, new cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers should help the secondary. As they continue their makeover in the second year of the current regime, most personnel people in the league believe the Chargers are still lacking enough athleticism, especially on defense, to make a significant push in the division race. Add up four games against the NFC West to go with New England and Baltimore and it looks like a 7-9 campaign.

Williams: If they can stay relatively healthy, the Chargers should finish at 10-6 and return to the postseason for a second straight season. San Diego is the only team in the AFC West projected to have all 11 starters on offense return in 2014. Rivers will be given even more freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage and run the no-huddle offense, which should result in more favorable matchups for the Chargers. But we know San Diego's offense can put points on the board. The key for the Chargers will be improved play in a revamped secondary that includes first-round selection Verrett and free agent Flowers, along with a more potent pass rush with the healthy return of Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram.

Teicher: 8-8. The Chargers might be the division's most interesting team. San Diego is the team most capable of catching the first-place Broncos, but also has the best chance of getting caught by the last-place Raiders. If Rivers plays as well as he did last season, it's not out of the question that San Diego wins the AFC West. Like Denver, San Diego might have a better team than it did last season. Signing Flowers filled a big need. But a tougher schedule will keep the Chargers out of the playoffs this time.

Gutierrez: San Diego, under a rookie head coach in the offensive-minded Mike McCoy, won four straight games to end the regular season and sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, and another 9-7 campaign seems to be in the works, even if the Chargers look to be better in 2014. Some of McCoy's moves did have many fans scratching their heads, but there is no debating he was instrumental in Rivers' NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning season. The Chargers added bruising running back Donald Brown to join lightning-quick Ryan Mathews and are excited to see what their receiving corps, highlighted by second-year wideout Keenan Allen, can do if Malcom Floyd is healthy. No, it's not the halcyon and high-flying days of Air Coryell, but with tough games at Arizona, Oakland, Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco, and with New England coming to San Diego, the Chargers will take it.


Fourth Down

What will the Raiders' record be and why?



Legwold: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has the look of a potential foundation player in the Raiders defense. If things go as the Raiders hope, he should be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year because he's going to get plenty of snaps. But overall this team has put its immediate fate in the hands of veterans with far less of their career in front of them than in their past, led by quarterback Matt Schaub. Raiders coach Dennis Allen keeps saying Schaub is a top-10 passer in the league, but Schaub has always seemed to lack that kind of confidence in himself. But front-seven additions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew are certainly risk-reward moves the Raiders need to work. Tuck is 30, Woodley is 29 and Jones-Drew, who has missed 11 games combined in the past two seasons, just turned 29. The depth chart is still thin, particularly on defense, and an injury or two will have a ripple effect. The schedule's second half also includes two games against the Broncos, two against the Chiefs, and games against the 49ers and the Rams. It all looks like a potential 5-11.

Williams: With the addition of several quality veteran players in free agency on both sides of the ball, Oakland has a chance to reach the .500 mark for the first time since 2011, but I have them finishing 7-9. With an emphasis on running the football led by backs Jones-Drew (who is returning home to Oakland) and Darren McFadden, Schaub should play better. Defensively, with the addition of first-round selection Mack and veteran defenders Antonio Smith (defensive line), Tuck and Woodley, the Raiders should be improved. The concern for this veteran team will be how consistently it finishes teams in the fourth quarter in order to preserve wins in close games.

Teicher: 6-10. The days of hopeless desperation are coming to an end in Oakland. The Raiders won't be the pushovers they were last season. But they are still not ready to compete with their AFC West rivals. Schaub won't be the answer at quarterback. Instead, he will be another in a long line of failures. Going to rookie quarterback Derek Carr won't solve their problems, at least not this season. By 2015, the Raiders will be a factor in the AFC West race. But despite a major free-agent spending spree, they will still drag the bottom in 2014.

Gutierrez: In the immediate aftermath of the NFL schedule being released back in April, I saw a 5-11 season for the Raiders. Now, after the draft, organized team activities and minicamps? I'll go 6-10. Doesn't sound all that impressive, I know, but it would, technically, be improvement for third-year coach Dennis Allen after consecutive 4-12 seasons. Yes, the Raiders did rebuild both lines with talent and, on the defensive side of the ball, championship pedigree. And they are going with a new quarterback in the battle-tested Schaub. Plus, the veterans Oakland brought in via free agency all have chips on their shoulders. Truly, this is the most talent Allen has had at his disposal. Still, Oakland has the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, and until it proves differently, it's hard to imagine the Raiders winning more than six games. Where might they scratch out six victories? Let's start with home games against Houston, Miami (in London), San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City and Buffalo and go from there.

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Top free-agent roundup: AFC West

March, 10, 2014
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The AFC West produced three playoff teams and the eventual AFC title winner in the Denver Broncos, so it should come as no surprise that many top free agents come from the division. Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez, Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams break down the top 15:

1. Branden Albert, Chiefs offensive tackle: Kansas City won’t franchise him this year. Albert will get a nice contract elsewhere.

2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos cornerback: He’s not yet 30 and still a top-tier athlete.

3. Eric Decker, Broncos wide receiver: Productive in scoring zone, will be one of the biggest wide receivers on open market, but rarely faced opponents’ top cornerback in Broncos offense.

4. Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive end: Better suited to the left side because he’s not the prototypical speed-rusher.

Moreno
5. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos running back: Has had multiple knee surgeries, including one on a torn ACL in 2011, but he runs with passion, is solid in pass protection and a productive receiver.

6. Jared Veldheer, Raiders offensive tackle: Didn’t have a very good season in 2013 but would attract some attention as a free agent.

7. Geoff Schwartz, Chiefs guard: Was a free-agent find for Kansas City last season. Can play right tackle if needed.

8. Jon Asamoah, Chiefs guard: A better pass-protector than run-blocker. He will be only 26 in July.

9. Shaun Phillips, Broncos linebacker: He’ll be 33 in May but showed last season that he can still be an effective situational pass-rusher.

10. Zane Beadles, Broncos guard: For a movement-based front, he’s a smart, durable option who played in every game while with Denver.

McCluster
McCluster
11. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs wide receiver/punt returner: Hasn’t had a huge impact on the offense in Kansas City, but he will be only 26 in August.

12. Robert Ayers, Broncos defensive end: Had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s a late bloomer.

13. Tyson Jackson, Chiefs defensive end: Like Ayers, he had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s figuring it out as well.

14. Tracy Porter, Raiders cornerback: He’s versatile enough to cover the slot receiver, and he had one of his better seasons in 2013.

15. Kendrick Lewis, Chiefs safety: He’s only 25 but was a better player earlier in his career. He hasn’t been the same since a shoulder injury in 2012.

Pro Bowl selections: Oakland Raiders

December, 27, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece was named Friday night to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season.

He was the only Raiders player selected for the NFL's reimagined all-star game, which will be played Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Reece, who was a receiver in college, has played in all 15 games for Oakland this season and has started 14 games -- 13 at fullback and one at tailback when Rashad Jennings, Darren McFadden and Jeremy Stewart were all injured. Reece responded with a career-high 123 yards rushing against the New York Jets that day, including a career-long 63-yard run for a touchdown.

On the season, the 6-foot-1, 255-pound Reece has rushed for 218 yards on 46 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt, and he has also caught 31 passes for 320 yards. His 10.3 yards-per-reception average is third-best among NFL running backs.

"First off, it's an honor to be recognized amongst the elite players in the NFL," Reece said in a statement. "I just want to say thank you to my family and my teammates for allowing me to be myself and play at a high level, and also say thank you, last but not least, to the Raider Nation for showing their continuous support throughout the season and my career."

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
videoOAKLAND -- Rookie tight end Mychal Rivera and cornerback Mike Jenkins suffered concussions in the Oakland Raiders' 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

And with such a short turnaround before the Thanksgiving Day game at the Dallas Cowboys, their availability is in serious doubt.

Rivera was hit on a helmet-to-helmet blow by Titans free safety Michael Griffin downfield on a ball Rivera nearly held onto for about a 30-yard gain. Instead, Griffin was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul and might just have a FedEx folder with a fine in it at his locker this week.

Jenkins, meanwhile, was injured tackling Titans running back Chris Johnson early in the fourth quarter after a six-yard pickup. Jenkins was replaced on the field by Chimdi Chekwa.

Linebacker Kevin Burnett also could not finish the game. He suffered a contusion to a quad in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Miles Burris, who was making his season debut after offseason knee surgery. Burnett had a game-high 11 tackles, with half of a sack.

Also, running back Rashad Jennings, who rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries, left the game with a stinger but returned, as did receiver Rod Streater, who took a blow to his hip.

The Raiders may receive some offensive help this week as Raiders radio broadcaster Greg Papa said “all indications” are that running back Darren McFadden, who has missed the last three games with a strained right hamstring, will play against the Cowboys.
Terrelle Pryor and Jamaal CharlesUSA TODAY SportsThe Raiders are reborn with Terrelle Pryor under center, but the Chiefs have been flawless this season and are looking to end a six-game home losing streak at the hands of their division rival.
The Kansas City Chiefs last beat the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 19, 2006. The 17-13 victory was secured only in the final moments, when safety Jarrad Page intercepted a pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks in the end zone.

Since then, the Raiders have won six straight games in Kansas City. The 5-0 Chiefs and 2-3 Raiders have exceeded expectations, which could make for an interesting game Sunday when the teams meet in Kansas City.

Here, ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez take a look at the matchup:

Teicher: It only seems like forever since the Chiefs have beaten the Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. What chance do you think Oakland has of making it seven in a row?

Gutierrez: Indeed, the Raiders are riding a six-game winning streak in Kansas City, their longest such streak in this rivalry that stretches back to the dawn of the AFL in 1960. The last time the Chiefs beat Oakland at Arrowhead was on Nov. 19, 2006, when Aaron Brooks, who rocked No. 2, was under center for the Raiders and Larry Johnson was busy rushing for 154 yards and two TDs. That 17-13 loss, ahem, helped the Raiders solidify that No. 1 overall draft pick the following spring, a pick that became JaMarcus Russell, who also wore No. 2. But I digress. Things have changed in Oakland as far as optimism regarding QBs wearing No. 2, and that's where Terrelle Pryor comes in. He was not allowed to wear the number coming out of college but switched back to his old Ohio State digit this year. Al Davis' final draft pick has brought an excitement to a fan base thirsting for it. Pryor can extend plays and if the defense can bottle up Alex Smith, I would not be surprised if Oakland made it seven in a row in Middle America.

Speaking of Smith, from the outside looking in it appears as though he should be the toast of the town in leading the Chiefs to that 5-0 record. But have there been rumblings about his being a one-dimensional game manager? Did fans not read the scouting report, or is it all much ado about nothing?

Teicher: Fans are difficult to please. The Chiefs, to their credit, have tried to play to Smith's strengths by using in large part a shorter passing game. Smith, to his credit, has mostly done what has been asked of him. The Chiefs have opened up their passing game in the past couple of weeks by going downfield more. Smith has thrown only three interceptions and really just one could be pinned on him, so he's not putting the Chiefs in bad situations. The Chiefs trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time this season in last week's game against Tennessee and Smith responded by taking the Chiefs on what proved to be the winning touchdown drive, so he delivered in the clutch in his first try. One area where Smith needs to improve is completion percentage. With so many short throws, he needs to be way better than 58 percent. That's an area of growth for their offense.

Pryor is off to a nice start for the Raiders but has any opponent tried to pressure him like the Chiefs no doubt will? If not, how do you think he responds?

Gutierrez: The Colts tried to pressure him in the opener, and he responded with 112 yards rushing -- a record for a Raiders quarterback. Granted, much of that came on zone-read option plays, though he was able to take off for long runs on busted coverages when Indy overloaded the pursuit. Truly, his mobility and ability to extend plays has made a makeshift offensive line look pretty solid. Lately, though, teams have been putting a spy on him and his rushing totals have gone down. And really, while the Raiders want him to use his athleticism to make things happen, they don't want him running for his life, either. I'm curious to see how he responds if the Chiefs make it a priority to stop him from rolling out to his right, which is where and how he made a lot of his plays Sunday night, when most of the rest of the country was sleeping. Pryor's play has been surprising, especially to general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen. The raw talent was there, but how quickly it's come together has been impressive to watch.

Same thing in Kansas City, I suppose. After all, the last-place Chiefs did have six Pro Bowlers a year ago. How has Andy Reid been able to get the Chiefs to buy into his system and philosophy so quickly?

Teicher: That's been one of the more underrated things he's done. He walked in with instant credibility as the most accomplished head coach almost all of the current players have been under, at least while they were with the Chiefs. That helps. But unlike with several of their other recent head coaches, there's been no whining or complaining about how bare the cupboard was or what a lousy situation he inherited. He just rolled up his sleeves and got to work like a pro does, and I think a lot of players saw that as a refreshing change. Players recognized they had a lot of talent here that was just waiting for some competent direction. They were receptive when they received it.

Looking at Oakland defensively, I can't figure out how the Raiders don't allow more points. I know they do a very good job against the run, but the Raiders haven't forced a high number of turnovers and opposing quarterbacks are completing a high percentage of throws with a high passer rating. How do you explain the way Oakland is playing defensively, and who are some of the defenders playing well?

Gutierrez: It's the epitome of the bend-but-don't-break philosophy ... and being patient. True, entering Week 5, the Raiders had yet to have an interception. But then they picked off Philip Rivers three times. Four of his completions of at least 16 yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders led by 10 and were in a prevent defense. Just don't call it that to the Raiders. Dennis Allen prefers "situational" defense. Hence, a lot of Rivers' completions and yardage came in what the layman would call "garbage time." Individually, Charles Woodson has been more than the Raiders could have hoped for when they signed him -- he's been their best overall player. Against the Chargers, he had an interception and a fumble scoop and 25-yard run for a TD. Lamarr Houston has made the transition nicely from left defensive end to the right side. He leads Oakland with three of its 13 sacks. Nick Roach has been solid at middle linebacker, a far cry from the bust that was Rolando McClain. Even rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden flashed Sunday night, picking off Rivers in the end zone after a rough go of it against Keenan Allen. Observers were wondering when Hayden -- the No. 12 overall draft pick the Raiders loved so much they would have taken him third had they not been able to trade down -- was going to make an impact play.

Small sample size, obviously, but does the Chiefs' top pick, the No. 1 overall, Eric Fisher have the look of an impact, i.e., cornerstone offensive tackle, even as he missed last week's game with that concussion and is playing on the right side rather than the left? I know the Raiders were enthralled with him after coaching him at the Senior Bowl.

Teicher: He's off to a rough start. Fisher has been so bad at times that the Chiefs should have at least considered replacing him. He was playing his best game of the season two weeks ago against the Giants when he left the lineup because of a concussion. The Chiefs are still confident Fisher will become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. It's just taking some time. Opponents have been able to get Fisher off balance and use leverage against him, so his technique needs to be refined. He also needs more strength than a full offseason in the Chiefs' weight room would provide.

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Double Coverage: Raiders at Broncos

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
12:00
PM ET
Peyton Manning, Terrelle PryorGetty Images, AP PhotoPeyton Manning and the Broncos look to improve to 3-0 as they face Terrelle Pryor and the division-rival Raiders.
The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders open up AFC West play with a Monday night affair at Sports Authority Field at Mile High -- an 8:40 p.m. ET kickoff with the ESPN crew on hand.

The Raiders have played hard for coach Dennis Allen and sit at 1-1 after a win over the low-octane Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend. The Broncos intercepted Eli Manning four times on the way to a win over the New York Giants that moved them to 2-0.

Raiders team reporter Paul Gutierrez and Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold break down this week’s edition of a long-simmering rivalry between the longtime division foes.

Legwold: After seeing Peyton Manning twice last season, Dennis Allen certainly knows the kind of problems the Broncos create for defenses. He also knows Denver's first-year offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, very well. What does Allen think of the Broncos running their high-speed attack at altitude and the challenge it will be for a defense that got a big makeover in the offseason?

Gutierrez: There is no doubt that this will be a huge test for the rebuilding Raiders in general and Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver in particular. This is especially true with strong safety Tyvon Branch out for an indefinite amount of time with a broken leg. Not only is Branch the highest-paid Raider this season at $9.5 million, but he also started 63 of the Raiders’ past 66 games and was one of just two returning starters on defense.

While Oakland is tied for the league lead with nine sacks, five of them have come from defensive backs, and we all know how adept Manning is at picking up blitzes. So the Raiders, who will be mostly in nickel packages, will have to pick their spots wisely against Manning and that pass-happy offense while trying to get their first turnover of the season. They will need to continue to build an identity of a defense that flies to the ball, mile-high air be damned. Manning looks to be better than ever, yet there’s still the question of how his body is going to react to a brutal blind-side hit. Have the Broncos taken any extra measures to ensure that does not happen, or is that not even a concern for him anymore?

Legwold: They are concerned any time Manning takes a hit. During the preseason loss in Seattle, rookie running back Montee Ball missed a blitz pick-up and Manning took what was one of the biggest hits of his tenure in Denver. When the Broncos go to its three-wide set, the team places on emphasis on pass-protectors in the backfield. That’s a big reason why running back Knowshon Moreno has played most of the snaps when they have been in their three-wide look. But overall Manning is stronger this season. The receivers say his arm is stronger as well. Throw in his increased comfort level with the city, the team, the offense and his receivers, and you see why he has thrown for nine touchdowns in two games. Sticking with the quarterbacks, why do you think Allen went with Terrelle Pryor as the starter and what can folks in Denver expect from him?

Gutierrez: The decision to start Pryor was made for Allen. And no, I’m not talking about owner Mark Davis meddling in football affairs, although it is known throughout Silver-and-Blackdom that the Son of Al does like Pryor's potential. A brutal preseason showing by quarterback Matt Flynn forced the decision for the Raiders. I might argue that Flynn is actually a better, more polished NFL quarterback at this moment than Pryor. But with the injuries on the offensive line at the end of camp, no time for Flynn to set up in the pocket and the lack of a true No. 1 receiver, Pryor and his ability to extend plays give the Raiders the best chance at success.

He almost pulled off the upset in the opener at Indianapolis, passing for 217 yards and running for a franchise quarterback record 112 yards. Still, two red-zone interceptions were too much to overcome. He was not as electric in the Raiders’ home opener against Jacksonville but he did not have to be. Not with Darren McFadden breaking out for 129 yards on the ground. Pryor wants to be a prototypical pocket passer, and maybe that should be commended. But even his position coach, John DiFilippo, told me the Raiders want him to run. I think we’ll see more of that Monday night in Denver, especially if the Broncos bite hard on the zone read-option in trying to stuff McFadden at the line. Having said that, how adept are the Broncos at dealing with the zone read? Obviously they practiced against it a few years back with Tim Tebow there.

Legwold: You could argue it was the Broncos who really got the zone read-option rolling in 2011. It was a decision made in desperation, however, after watching Detroit devour Tebow in the pocket. So, against the Raiders, no less, they dropped the read option on the NFL world and rode it into the playoffs that year. The coaches have vast experience with it and have taken it apart on many levels when they were trying to predict how defenses would align themselves against it in 2011. Nobody else was using it, so they had to sort of predict how people would defend them because there was no real video to go on at that time.

They often played devil’s advocate when looking at the scheme and it has enabled them to be a little ahead of the curve when preparing for someone else’s version. The intriguing part will be if the Raiders keep the Broncos in base defense. Both the 49ers and Seahawks moved the ball well against the Broncos’ base defense during cameo appearances by the starters in August. But the Broncos' defense also benefits from Manning’s ability to put the points on the board, because offenses often end up in catch-up mode. In terms of the Raiders' offense overall, they lead the NFL in rushing, so how have they kick-started McFadden after a frustrating 2012 season for him?

Gutierrez: McFadden, when right, is one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL. The Broncos would be the first to attest to that fact. In nine career games against Denver, he has rushed for 723 yards, five touchdowns, and has also caught 15 passes for 120 yards and two more scores. His 5.8 yards-per-carry average against Denver is his best against any opponent in his six-year career. So what got him on track last week? Well, for one, he’s healthy (remember, he’ has never played in more than 13 games in a season). Two, and this would be my biggest criticism of Allen’s rookie season, McFadden is no longer running behind a zone-blocking scheme. He averaged a career-low 3.3 yards behind the scheme last year. The Raiders returned to a base power-blocking scheme this year.

Still, the game plan is similar in that it calls for McFadden to run into the line for negligible gains time and again in hopes of popping a big gainer. It worked to perfection against Jacksonville, when McFadden had runs of 30, 28, 26 and 24 yards. Still he had just 21 total yards on 15 other carries. McFadden has to be patient in this system. Speaking of patience, it does not look like Manning has had to have much time in developing a chemistry with Wes Welker. How well is Welker fitting into the Broncos’ scheme in his first year with Manning after six years with Tom Brady in New England?

Legwold: They have meshed quickly, as you would expect from two guys who have done so much already in their careers. The issue for the Broncos, really, is they have to be able to consistently stay in a three-wide set to use Welker to his fullest potential. When they have had some choppiness on offense to open both games, it’s because they have not consistently protected Manning while making room for the running game out of the three-wide formation. Against the Ravens and Giants, they have moved to a two-tight end look to get things going and it worked well both times. But when they move out of three-wide that takes Welker off the field. But when he’s in the game there is no situation when Manning doesn’t look for him. Welker did have three drops against the Giants. The Broncos, overall, will use him deeper down the field than the Patriots did at times. Looking at the passing game, with Ryan Clady out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury it’s a good time to ask how the Raiders' defense finds itself tied for the league lead in sacks after two games?

Gutierrez: It’s a ridiculously small sample size, but the Raiders are most definitely feeling pretty good about themselves not only being tied for the league lead with nine sacks, but being on pace for 72 for the season. Their team record since it became an official NFL stat in 1982 is the 65 they had in 1985. Remember, this unit had only 25 sacks in 16 games a year ago. So why the uptick? It’s not necessarily due to a better rush up front -- five of their nine sacks have come from defensive backs. So that means Tarver is dialing up a variety of blitzes, which the former Raiders owner despised. You might say Tarver and Allen have a class of player closer to the prototype they want in order to instill their brand of pass rush. Alas, the Raiders lost Branch on just that -- a blitz, when he was taken down by Jacksonville left guard Will Rackley while rushing Chad Henne. In fact, it looked as if the injury happened just after Branch crossed the lip of the baseball dirt infield into the grass. But I digress.

Pass rush is about technique, right defensive end Lamarr Houston told me, and it seems as though their technique is much improved … after two games. Keeping with the small sample size theme, Allen was in Denver only one year. While much was was made about Tebow, many observers say it was Allen’s defense that won the division for the Broncos in 2011. Raider Nation did not take kindly to Allen’s wide grin while shaking John Fox’s hand after the Broncos beat down the Raiders, 37-6, last year in Denver. How respected is Allen still in the Mile High City, and does he still cast a shadow?

Legwold: Anyone who was associated in the turnaround season that was 2011 carries a little more cache with fans. Things were so dismal in 2010, when they finished 4-12, had Spygate and fired John McDaniels. When John Fox arrived with his new staff, including Dennis, people treated it like the fresh start it turned out to be. Pitch in Von Miller winning defensive rookie of the year that season, Tebow’s popularity and the six-game win streak that year on the way to a division title at 8-8, no less, and folks generally think 2011 started what’s going on now.

In terms of Allen, people appreciated the improvement the team made, but given he was here just one season I don’t think fans, or even some folks in the media believe they got to know him very well. From a football standpoint, what the defense did that year often gets lost in all of the chatter about Tebow, when in fact the team continued to win games despite the offense being in the lower third in the league in scoring after going to the read-option. There were an awful lot of games when Tebow would have never had a chance to chase some late-game glory had the defense not hung in there for the first three quarters. How have people taken to Dennis there, and do people see the 1-1 start as progress?

Gutierrez: Allen has had a lukewarm reception. If the Raiders win, he’s cool, so to speak. If they lose? Then it’s all his fault for hiring Greg Knapp last year to destroy the offense. It’s like any fan base, I suppose, but as I mentioned earlier, they were really upset with Allen after that picture caught him with a big smile after last year’s game in Denver. I asked him about it at the time and Allen said he was simply caught off guard by a joke Fox told him during the postgame handshake. Fans were not having it. This year, though, there’s more of a wait-and-see approach. Even if some fans believe Allen did not want to give Pryor a fair shot at winning the quarterback gig. That’s all water under the bridge now, though, and many of the more level-headed denizens of Raider Nation believe Allen deserves at least three years to get his program up and running -- similar to a college hoops program. Unless, of course, the players quit on him this season, like they seemed to do last November before rallying late.

Legwold: Paul, great stuff. That about covers it. It should be great divisional match-up for a Monday night audience.

Will blitzing work against Manning?

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
8:00
AM ET
ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders are tied with Kansas City, Miami and Tampa Bay for the NFL lead in sacks, with nine.

That’s good news for an outfit that had just 25 all of last season. And Oakland is sharing the wealth, as seven different players have combined for the nine sacks.

It should also be noted, then, that five of the sacks have come courtesy of defensive backs, meaning the Raiders are not necessarily getting a regular push from their front four and are having to blitz frequently. But is that a bad thing?

“You’ve got to find ways to affect the quarterback,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. “Sometimes that comes from secondary pressure. Sometimes that comes with linebacker pressure. Sometimes that comes from your up-front guys.

“We’ll mix some things up; we’ll change some things up. We’re going to continue to look for different ways to affect the quarterback. It doesn’t always have to come from bringing extra rushers.”

For now, though, that’s exactly what the Raiders are doing with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver making the calls.

“Coach is putting us in great position to make plays and guys are going out and doing it when our number’s called,” said safety Brandian Ross, author of one sack. “It’s just showed our versatility, I think.”

Then there’s this: There’s no NFL quarterback more adept at sniffing out blitzes and making defenses pay than Oakland’s next opponent in Denver’s Peyton Manning.

“That’s why we have to do a great job of disguising,” said cornerback Tracy Porter, who as 1.5 sacks. “He’s the quote-unquote master of figuring out defenses. But at the end of the day, he’s still human. He can be confused. He can be tricked.

“He can’t read every single defense that we throw out there. He can read most of them, but he can’t read all of them. And as long as he can’t, those are the ones that we need to execute.”

Besides, Porter got Manning in Super Bowl XLIV, when the two were with New Orleans and Indianapolis, respectively, with his 74-yard pick-six to seal the game for the Saints.

And yet, Porter, who was teammates with Manning last season in Denver, was at a loss for words when asked to describe how the quarterback is able to decipher defenses as he approaches the line of scrimmage.

“You’re just watching a work of art, basically,” Porter said.

Allen was Porter’s position coach in New Orleans when the Saints beat Manning’s Colts.

“It’s hard to fool that guy; he’s seen a lot,” Allen said of Manning. “He does a great job in preparation. It’ll be hard to fool him. It’s going to come down to execution. We’re going to have to execute our jobs, and the team that executes the best will win the football game.”
Running back Darren McFadden said this week he wants to remain with the Oakland Raiders.

McFadden, whose contract runs out at the end of the 2013 campaign, indicated that he will likely seek an extension after the season. If he signs with the Raiders now, he said, it could end up being a bad deal for either the team or for him moving forward. It’s a commendable thought -- but McFadden is also taking a risk.

Here’s how I see it: If McFadden, the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2008, is going to cash in with a big contract after this season, it will be with Oakland.

The only way McFadden is going to get such a deal is if he comes back from a sub-par season and remains healthy. He has missed at least three games in each of his NFL seasons. And in recent offseasons, running backs have not commanded huge free-agent contracts.

So McFadden must have a big season to draw interest, even from Oakland. I can see the Raiders walking away from McFadden if he struggles or his injury woes continue. If that happens, McFadden will still find a job somewhere, but he won’t be in demand, with teams seeing him as a running back on the way down.

If, however, a monster 2013 draws attention from around the league, I’d think the Raiders would be the heavy favorite to land him. McFadden is on record as wanting to stay; he fills a need; he is a fan favorite; and Oakland will have a surplus of salary-cap room in 2014.

In the end, it all depends on what happens on the field.

Raiders have a long way to go

August, 24, 2013
8/24/13
12:36
PM ET
Here are some non-Terrelle Pryor thoughts on Oakland’s 34-26 home loss to Chicago on Friday:

Oakland clearly has a lot of problems. Its first team was totally manhandled in back-to-back games against the Saints and the Bears. Like last week, Oakland was outclassed on both sides of the ball against the Bears. It was a total domination as Chicago led 27-0 in the second quarter. Last week, New Orleans led Oakland 17-0 in the first quarter.

I’ve always maintained that the preseason means little. But we would be na´ve if we didn't look at these lopsided games as a sign of things to come. Oakland is thin on paper, and is playing on the field that way. That type of first-team failure is difficult to deny. Again, it’s not panic time until the games start counting, but does Oakland really look prepared to compete at Indianapolis in 15 days?

Some other thoughts:
  • I think it is particularly worrisome that Oakland is getting dominated when it is on defense. This wasn’t expected to be a high-caliber defense by any stretch, but it was supposed to be better, especially in the back seven. Thus far, the first-unit defense looks overmatched. Again, it doesn’t matter in the preseason, but the Raiders need to get it in gear.
  • Fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson, a quarterback, is becoming a non-factor in Oakland. He didn’t play. Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin continued to work with the third-string. McGloin has thrown bad interceptions in the past two games, but, unlike Wilson, at least he’s getting a chance to play. Whether or not Oakland keeps Wilson will be a big storyline when the 53-man roster is determined in seven days.
  • The race between punters Chris Kluwe and Marquette King continues to be close. I get the feeling Oakland could give King the job based on potential, because he has improved his consistency.
  • Receiver Rod Streater suffered a head injury. It is not known how long he will be out.
  • Seventh-round pick, receiver Brice Butler, a standout in the first half of the preseason, did not have a catch Friday night.
  • None of Oakland’s tight ends separated themselves in the race to be the starter.
  • One of Oakland’s biggest questions, the pass-rush, continues to be an issue. The Raiders didn’t have any sacks against Chicago.
  • Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden, The No. 12 overall draft pick in April, looked so-so in his debut. He was lost sometimes, and he competed at other times. The most important thing is, he is healthy. It was his first game since having life-threatening heart surgery last November.
  • Returner Josh Cribbs is likely on the bubble. Oakland might have trouble finding a way to keep him.

Video: Bears 34, Raiders 26

August, 24, 2013
8/24/13
2:23
AM ET

 
Terrelle Pryor gave the Oakland Raiders a spark, completing 7-of-9 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, but Oakland was unable to overcome the visiting Chicago Bears' 27-3 halftime lead and lost 34-26. The Raiders fell to 1-2 in the preseason.

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