Broncos, Ball struggle in run game

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
SEATTLE -- The search for some semblance of balance has the Denver Broncos' offense a bit out of whack.

Three games into the season and the Broncos are averaging just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, they have just one rushing touchdown and in three games they have not had a run play go longer than 23 yards against defenses primarily constructed to stop the Broncos from doing something else.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsThe Seahawks shut down Montee Ball and the Broncos running game, with Denver gaining just 36 yards on the ground Sunday.
“We all just have to get better,’’ said Broncos running back Montee Ball following the 26-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. “It all starts up front, but then us as running backs have got to do a better job. Personally I have to hold on to the ball. I have to get that corrected.’’

The Broncos are not looking for some sort of 50-50 split between run and pass. But they are looking for what they tab as “efficient’’ runs, those rushing plays that secure first downs, no matter the down and distance, or runs that go for at least four yards.

Well, in Sunday’s loss the Broncos converted just one first down on a run play and just six of their 20 rushing attempts in the game went for at least four yards. It was a particularly grueling day for Ball.

The player the Broncos believe is ready for the lead role in their run game fumbled the ball away on the team’s first offensive play from scrimmage against the Seahawks. By halftime he had just 19 yards rushing on 10 carries and finished the day with 38 yards on his 14 carries.

Also Sunday Ronnie Hillman rushed for 2 yards on his two carries combined and C.J. Anderson rushed for minus-3 yards on his two carries. All in all it has taken at least some edge off the Broncos' play-action passing game because opposing defenses aren't having to commit additional players to the line of scrimmage to slow Denver's running game.

Asked following the game how he would grade himself, Ball was honest and quick to the point.

“Right now, not too good at all,’’ Ball said. “It’s early on and we are getting better, making improvements. We are going to make things happen in the backfield, change some things up probably and get this thing rolling. We’re most definitely committing to it. It’s just some things are not going well for us. We knew this was going to be an ugly game, two great teams playing. I think this is going to make us better.

On the game-opening fumble, Ball added: "I can’t blame anyone else on that. I let a lot of people down right there."

The Broncos had particular difficulty handling the interior of the Seahawks’ defensive line. Seattle defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Kevin Williams finished with a combined three tackles for loss in the game.

“We play disciplined, team football,’’ said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

Offensive woes do in Broncos defense

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
SEATTLE -- The Denver Broncos spent lavishly in free agency to buy a defense with enough of an edge to give them a chance in a rematch of the NFL’s title game and enough on-field toughness to push them back into a Super Bowl.

That defense opened the season with fourth-down, game-saving plays in each of the Broncos' first two victories before Sunday's trip to the grown-up table that is a game at CenturyLink Field. But in the reap-what-you-sow department, the Broncos' offense couldn’t find its rhythm for most of Sunday, leaving the defense with too many short fields and in too many bad spots. In the end, when the Broncos really needed one more dig-in series from the defense, the tank was empty.

And with that the Seahawks escaped with a 26-20 overtime win.

“We didn’t play our best today," wide receiver Wes Welker said of the offense. “And ultimately we came up short because of it."

Bottom line is the Broncos needed to force one more punt in overtime, get one more third-down stop from its revamped defense that had done so much in the first four quarters, and they didn’t get it. The Seahawks won the coin flip for overtime, kept the ball 13 plays, went 80 yards and ended the game when running back Marshawn Lynch plowed into the end zone from the 6-yard line for the win.

On the drive, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for 21 yards, including 5 yards to convert a third-and-3 and 5 yards to convert a third-and-4.

“We forced a fifth quarter, our offense got it going, we just have to find a way to get off the field in overtime," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "They just executed in overtime and we didn’t. We needed one more play in overtime. ... Ultimately it’s about win or lose, it’s either win or a loss. We’ve got nothing to be happy about."

But to beat this Seahawks team -- in this stadium, with the vaunted 12th man screaming at your every move -- every team walks a fine line. The Broncos’ inability to crank things up on offense until it was almost too late may be what ultimately did in the Denver defense. The miles are on the odometer, after all, whether they come in the first 15 minutes or in the game’s last 5 minutes, 46 seconds.

The Broncos rushed for 15 yards on 14 carries in the first half. On running back Montee Ball's longest run of the opening half -- 9 yards on the team’s first offensive play -- he fumbled. That put the Seahawks on the Broncos’ 23-yard line and the Denver defense held Seattle to a field goal.

After the Broncos answered the Seahawks’ field goal with one of their own on the possession following Ball’s fumble, their offense went punt, punt, punt, kneel down to end first half, punt, punt, punt, punt and punt.

The Broncos didn’t put a touchdown drive together in the second half until Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. returned an interception to the Seahawks’ 19-yard line with just more than 11 minutes remaining in regulation.

“Offensively, we have some things we have to fix just from an execution standpoint," said quarterback Peyton Manning. “And I have to play better as well."

The Broncos made a fight of it Sunday, the offense did go 80 yards in 41 seconds, with no timeouts, to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. And like you would expect for a team with designs on big things, everybody took the blame when it wasn't enough.

But three games into this young season and the Broncos, like some kind of struggling pitching staff, are still looking for their first complete game.

“There really isn’t a second-place prize, a honorable mention or anything like that," linebacker Von Miller said. “We got better [Sunday] … but unfortunately we didn’t get the win."
SEATTLE -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after Denver couldn’t close the deal in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

  • Broncos defensive tackle Marvin Austin played Sunday, just two days after his father, Marvin Sr., 49, died from injuries he suffered in a car crash last Sunday. “I know he was looking down,’’ Austin said following the loss. “We fought the way he would have wanted us to ... but I know he’d be saying he wanted us to win too.’’ Austin finished with two assists on tackles in the game as he played in the defensive line rotation. Marvin Austin Sr. was in an automobile accident in Selma, N.C. last Sunday. Austin Sr. was one of four people hospitalized Sunday after the accident. Austin Sr. suffered serious injuries when he was ejected from the vehicle. Marvin Austin has said he will wear “Austin Jr.’’ on his jersey for the remainder of the season, following the team’s Week 4 bye.
  • Wide receiver Wes Welker, in his first game since he suffered a concussion in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans and had been re-instated from what was originally a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, finished with six catches for 60 yards. As a player with three concussions in the last 10 months, Welker took some exception to being leveled on Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor’s interception in the fourth quarter. Welker was behind the play when the hit happened and he talked to referee Bill Vinovich immediately following the play. “I asked the referee about it, and he said ‘well he caught the ball first, right?’ so it’s your call. It is what it is, nothing you can do about it.’’
  • Broncos tight end Virgil Green doesn’t catch the ball much in the Broncos offense, but when he left Sunday’s game with a concussion he suffered on special teams in the first half, quarterback Peyton Manning thought it changed things for the team’s offense. “I thought Virgil Green’s injury was significant ... it limited us a little bit formation wise that we were going to try to do ... so we changed a little bit when Virgil went out.’’ Green will be evaluated more on Monday, but is expected to be under the league’s concussion protocol. The Broncos do have a bye next week.
  • The first play on offense has not been a good thing for the Broncos against the Seahawks. In Super Bowl XLVIII center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball past Manning for a Seattle safety. Sunday, running back Montee Ball ran for 9 yards on the team’s opening play on offense, only to fumble the ball away at the Broncos’ 23-yard line. Four plays later the Seahawks had a field goal and a 3-0 lead. “I was trying to do too much,’’ Ball said. “I was trying to jump around, that didn’t work too well for me, I have got to run the hole.’’
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- In the absence of the injured Jamaal Charles, the Kansas City Chiefs knew they would have to operate their offense smartly Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. They have no one else with the all-around abilities of Charles, so they would have to spread the ball around and hope quantity could make up for quality.

The Chiefs did that in their 34-15 victory at Sun Life Stadium. Seven receivers caught at least one pass and Knile Davis rushed for 132 yards.

But the best idea the Chiefs had was to get a little-used running back by the name of Joe McKnight involved. McKnight, playing mostly in passing situations, led the Chiefs in receptions (six), receiving yards (64) and touchdowns (two).

“He gives you a lot of options when he’s back there," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You got to see that today. That’s why we kept him."

The Chiefs kept McKnight as a fifth running back despite having Charles, who by himself figured to consume a huge portion of the playing time. The decision looks brilliant now. McKnight certainly didn’t win the game by himself, but it’s likely the Chiefs wouldn’t have defeated the Dolphins without him.

McKnight’s first touchdown, an 11-yard catch-and-run, came in the third quarter after the Dolphins had gotten to within four points of the Chiefs. His second score, on a 4-yard reception, came in the fourth quarter and extended a six-point Chiefs lead into a 12-point advantage.

Suddenly the Chiefs have some offensive possibilities even without Charles. Maybe the best thing about his injury is they now know they can survive or even thrive without him.

The running back spot was a two-headed monster for the Chiefs. Davis pounded away with 32 carries, though he also fumbled twice (one lost) and will have to correct that before the Chiefs can truly trust him.

Then there’s McKnight, who proved his worth as a receiver against the Dolphins. The Chiefs will soon also have Charles and De'Anthony Thomas, a rookie whose world-class speed needs to be put to good use.

“We’ve got a good group," quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think there’s a reason we kept so many of them. I think you can see that now. They all have something to offer."

Sorting through the options at running back will be a pleasant problem for Reid. Where the Chiefs once relied to a ridiculous extent on Charles, they no longer have to do that.

“We have all these running backs," Reid said. “It’s hard to dress all of them.

“I do like the other guys too. I’d like to dress all of them every week. You can do that sometimes and you can’t other weeks."

The point is Reid now has flexibility. Davis at least knew he was going to be a big part of things against the Dolphins.

“We knew we’d give him the ball some," Reid said. “I didn’t put a number on it."

McKnight’s involvement was a revelation. He became a necessary component with Charles out of the lineup. One of Davis’ weaknesses, in addition to his fumbling habit, is as a receiver.

That’s McKnight’s strength.

“We’re just trying to keep things rolling while Jamaal is out," McKnight said.

Their mission was successful in their first try without Charles.
BUFFALO -- Donald Brown said he hadn't carried the ball that many times during a game since his days as a star running back in college at the University of Connecticut.

Well, he better get used to it. With Ryan Mathews out for at least four more weeks with an MCL sprain in his right knee and Danny Woodhead suffering an ankle injury that could potentially end his 2014 season, Brown is the last man standing in the San Diego Chargers' three-headed monster rotation the team touted during training camp.

[+] EnlargeDonald Brown
AP Photo/Bill WippertDonald Brown, the last running back standing from the Chargers' heralded training camp rotation, carried 31 times Sunday.
Brown earned every one of 62 yards on an NFL-high 31 carries. His longest run was 14 yards, but there were a whole lot more 1- and 2-yard runs. The 31 carries were the most for a San Diego running back since LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 131 yards on 31 carries in San Diego's 27-0 win over Oakland on Sept. 11, 2006.

It was just another day at the office for Brown.

"I feel good," Brown said. "I'll probably be sore, but whatever it takes to get a win. We knew it was going to be a grind, and it was."

The 31 carries by Brown was the most he carried the ball in a football game since Dec. 6, 2008, when he rushed 34 times for 189 yards in UConn's loss to Pittsburgh.

Brown also finished with a team-high five receptions for 27 yards. He touched the ball on 36 of San Diego's 63 plays.

"He stepped up big," Chargers receiver Eddie Royal said. "Donald was huge for us, just the way he runs the ball. I mean, he's a physical runner. He can get those tough yards, and you need a running back like that.

"We kind of missed that with Ryan [Mathews]; he's our physical back, but Donald stepped in there and got those tough yards."

Some NFL observers questioned Chargers general manager Tom Telesco's thinking for signing Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million deal as the team's top free-agent acquisition during the offseason. But fast forward to September, and the move appears prophetic for Telesco, with Brown ready to step in as the team's every-down back until others can get healthy.

"You look at the offseason and I didn't wonder -- but some people wondered -- why we went out and got another back," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "They got a couple backs, and thank goodness we did. That's already shown to be a good move here early in the season."

Along with Brown, the Chargers have undrafted rookie free agent Branden Oliver on the active roster and sixth-round selection Marion Grice on the practice squad. San Diego is a team that will lean on the run, so this group will now be pressed into duty moving forward.

However, the next step for San Diego's offense will be creating wider rushing lanes for the hard-running Brown and the rest of the running back group. The Chargers are still averaging a league-worst 2.43 yards per carry. San Diego needs to get back to the way they consistently ran the football last season.

"We have a lot of confidence in Donald," Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Obviously, we didn't run the ball as well as we wanted to today. The goal was to be patient with it, and you feel like we're going to break through. We'll just keep working at it, and try and get better."

Added San Diego offensive lineman Chad Rinehart: "Obviously, bringing him in as a free agent was a great call. You don't expect to use your third running back that much. And to see that he can carry the load and we can keep carrying on with the run game is great to see. But it's frustrating that the running game is not where it needs to be, or even close to that. Fortunately we got the win, but it definitely needs to improve."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 26-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

What it means: Once again, the Broncos got a good enough day from the defense to defeat the rugged, opportunistic Seahawks, but the Broncos' stars simply never came out on offense. Quarterback Peyton Manning had just 141 yards passing by the end of the third quarter, Demaryius Thomas didn't have his first catch until just before the end of the third quarter, and while the Broncos scrapped their way to overtime, those lost possessions on offense earlier in the game were a little too much to overcome.

Stock watch: The Broncos needed some kind of balance from the offense, something to get the Seahawks' safeties to have to honor the line of scrimmage. But running back Montee Ball fumbled on his first carry of the game, and it never really got much better. Ball had 19 yards rushing on 10 carries in the first half and gave way to Ronnie Hillman on some drives in the second half. The Seahawks' defense controlled the line of scrimmage for much of the day, especially in the middle of the formation, as the Broncos' run game didn't pull its weight.

Deserved better: When they waded into the offseason with the intent to fix their defense, the Broncos wanted a nastier, more versatile unit that could both get to the passer and still hold opposing run games in check. The Broncos had it all going on that side of the ball Sunday, especially in the second half. When the Broncos tackled Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in the end zone for a safety with just over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, then added a Chris Harris Jr. interception on the Seahawks' next possession, the Broncos still had a chance to win the game. By the time overtime arrived, the unit was too gassed to get the stop.

Game ball: Get out the paint and make a pile of them, but the Broncos' defense played the kind of game that can win a team a championship if it gets any kind of help. They had a couple of bobbles -- the Seahawks briefly found a little something with Lynch being used as a receiver -- but overall the group played quality situational football, kept Seahawks' wide receiver Percy Harvin in check and kept the Seahawks from using Lynch to set the tempo.

What's next: The Broncos get an early Week 4 bye and have to find a way to keep the mojo they showed on defense Sunday and rediscover their groove on offense. After fast starts in the first half of each of their two wins, the Broncos faltered on offense in the second half of those games, and the group really never found its rhythm against the Seahawks.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Oakland Raiders think they got into the end zone and answered the challenge.

But because of a questionable holding call, the Raiders were forced to try to get back in the end zone (something they didn't do on their other eight offensive drives). In the end, they couldn’t.

So, as the Raiders -- who elevated their defensive play in their 16-9 loss at New England on Sunday as they fell to 0-3 -- head to London for next Sunday’s game against Miami, they are regretting two things: The holding penalty on rookie guard Gabe Jackson that nullified Darren McFadden's 6-yard touchdown run in the final minutes and their inability to produce touchdowns.

"I thought we tied the football game or at least got to the next point of being able to tie the football game," said Oakland coach Dennis Allen, who said he saw the play in the big screen, and it didn’t appear that Jackson held. "Disappointed about that. You know, still, at the moment of truth there are times when we have to be able to make some plays. We didn’t do that enough today and came up on the short end of the stick."

Added Oakland left tackle Donald Penn: "That wasn’t a penalty. I saw it. He drove his guy down. I ran to the ref, yelling "no.'"

Instead of having to decide whether to kick the PAT or go for two, the Raiders had to gear up and try to score again. They couldn’t get it done. On the next play, Oakland receiver Denarius Moore had the ball bounce out of his hands. It deflected into the hands of New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork at the Patriots' 11 yard-line to seal the game for New England.

It was another example of the Raiders not being able to make a key play. On a day when the defense improved against the run, the Raiders’ offense continued to be stagnant for the most part.

"Again, it comes down to some moment of truth plays and being able to keep drives alive," Allen said.

Added guard Austin Howard: "I don’t know (if Jackson’s hold) was a penalty or not, but we have focus on finish drives, finish plays. That’s what we have to get better at."

The Raiders were only able to muster three Sebastian Janikowski field goals. Oakland, which has scored a total of 37 points this season, has one touchdown that has not come in garbage time.

Before the Raiders’ final drive, their two other drives in the fourth quarter were three-and-outs. Oakland continues to rely on a conservative game plan with rookie quarterback Derek Carr. Though he threw downfield more Sunday than in the first two games, it’s clear the Raiders aren’t comfortable yet with letting him air it. Oakland tried to establish the ground game all day without much success for the third time this season. McFadden had little impact with 59 yards on 18 carries. He had just one carry of 10 yards. It was his longest carry of the season.

In three games the Raiders have not been able to identify any playmakers. It doesn’t help that one of the few reliable receivers -- Rod Streater -- fractured his foot Sunday and is likely out for an extended period of time.

Carr has a chance to grow. But the next step for him and the rest of the offense is to finish drives and games when given the opportunity. The reality is, the game didn’t end on Jackson’s penalty. It ended on Moore’s miscue.
BUFFALO -- A few takeaways from the San Diego Chargers' locker room after the team’s 22-10 win over the Buffalo Bills:

" Chargers coach Mike McCoy provided few specifics on the right ankle injury of running back Danny Woodhead and said the team would run more tests on the injury in San Diego tonight, and he would have an update on Monday.

ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Woodhead suffered a severe high-ankle sprain with a fractured fibula. The team has not confirmed this report.

If Woodhead and Ryan Mathews are both out for an extended period, San Diego’s running back depth will be tested. The Chargers have just two healthy backs in Donald Brown and Branden Oliver on the active roster, along with rookie Marion Grice on the practice squad.

“Hey, we’re going to keep rolling,” McCoy said when asked about running back depth. “We have to keep going, and we’re not going to make any excuses.”

" The Chargers held talented Buffalo rookie receiver Sammy Watkins to two receptions for 19 yards, a week after he finished with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against Miami. Watkins was targeted eight times. Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers finished with four tackles and two pass breakups, along with a dropped potential interception in the third quarter. Flowers said he believes the Chargers have three No. 1 corners in himself, Shareece Wright and rookie Jason Verrett. All three spent time on Watkins. San Diego’s secondary did not allow a wide receiver to catch a pass longer than 18 yards.

“Whoever lines up over you, our job is to not let them catch the ball,” Flowers said. “That’s what we get paid to do as cornerbacks, and we try to do it to the best of our ability when we’re out there."

" Eric Weddle's bone-crushing hit on Buffalo receiver Marquise Goodwin exemplifies the type of toughness San Diego wants to play with each week. So far, defensive coordinator John Pagano's unit has been effective and held teams to 18.3 points per contest.

“I asked if he was all right, and he said he was good,” Weddle said. “But any time you get a hit like that, it’s not only good for the game, but it pumps the team up. And they know when you're going to run a crosser, we'll get you.”

" Philip Rivers had on his trademark bolo tie for his interview with reporters after the game. The bolo tie was a cowboy and a cross, which you can see here.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders' 16-9 loss at New England:

Allen not pleased with call: Oakland coach Dennis Allen said he did not think rookie guard Gabe Jackson was guilty of the holding penalty he received on Darren McFadden’s would-be touchdown run in the final two minutes that could have tied the game. Several Oakland players agreed with their coach.

Streater, Branch hurt: Allen said starting receiver Rod Streater and starting safety Tyvon Branch appear to have suffered foot injuries. Both have fractures, which would likely end their seasons. The Raiders will have to add to the roster while they are in London.

Going for two? Allen hinted he might have gone for two points had the Raiders scored on final drive to make it a 16-15 game. Safety Charles Woodson was excited to hear that.

Confidence builder: The Raiders are 0-3, but they will fly to London a more confident bunch on Sunday night. Defensive end and leader Justin Tuck said the close game was a confidence builder.

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
BUFFALO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 22-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What it means: With the win, San Diego moves to 2-1 on the season. Since 2013, the Chargers are now 5-2 in East Coast games that begin at 10 a.m. PT.

Bolts create explosive plays: The Chargers had six passing plays of 20-plus yards and no passing plays of 40-plus yards heading into the Buffalo game. But that changed on Sunday. Malcom Floyd finished with two 49-yard catches. Eddie Royal had a catch for 23 yards and tight end Ladarius Green finished with catches for 26 and 20 yards.

Stock watch: With Ryan Mathews out due to a knee injury and Danny Woodhead suffering an ankle injury on the first drive, Donald Brown shouldered the running back workload for the Chargers. Brown finished with 62 yards on 31 carries and also had five catches for 27 yards. It’s the most carries Brown has had in a single game in his NFL career.

Energized Chargers: Playing the Seattle Seahawks usually leaves the opposing team bruised and battered afterward. Entering Sunday's game, teams that played the Seahawks went 6-9-1 the following week, dating back to the start of the 2013 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. (Note: That doesn't count Week 17 of 2013, when the Seahawks played the Rams, who did not make the playoffs.) While the Chargers dealt with their fair share of injuries this week, they traveled across the country and managed to earn a hard-fought road victory after defeating Seattle at home in Week 2.

Game ball: Royal scored both touchdowns for the Chargers in the red zone on 3- and 5-yard receptions. San Diego has struggled in the red zone offensively this year. Royal’s polished route running and toughness proved the difference on both plays. He finished with four receptions for 42 yards.

What’s next: The Chargers head back home to Qualcomm Stadium, where they will host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Week 4 matchup at 4:05 p.m. ET.

Rapid Reaction: Oakland Raiders

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Oakland Raiders' 16-9 loss to New England at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The Raiders were gutsy, but the reality is they fell to 0-3. The Oakland defense was better and it kept the Raiders in the game. Yet the Raiders' offense couldn’t come through when needed. Receiver Denarius Moore let a ball bounce out of his hands in the red zone, and it was intercepted by Vince Wilfork in the final seconds to seal the loss for Oakland. Again, the Raiders were better but still lost. The misery continues.

Stock watch: The Raiders' run defense improved. It allowed 76 yards on 32 carries. New England had success on the ground, but Oakland was not eaten alive in the run game like it was in the first two weeks. The Raiders allowed exactly 400 yards on the ground in the first two games. Yes, it was a league high.

Eastern time zone blues continue: The Raiders lost their 15th consecutive game in the Eastern time zone dating back to 2009. It was their second such defeat of this season. They lost at the New York Jets in Week 1. Oakland plays in the Eastern time zone once more: Oct. 26 in Cleveland.

Game ball: It goes to rookie linebacker Khalil Mack. The No. 5 overall draft pick had his best game of the season. He ate up New England left tackle Nate Solder and had a big hit on Tom Brady late in the third quarter. Mack is quickly coming into his own.

What's next: The Raiders are leaving New England and heading to old England. The Raiders fly to London on Sunday night to prepare for a "home" game against the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in Oakland’s last game before the bye.

Raiders' LB crew is beaten down

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As expected, the Oakland Raiders will be without starting linebackers Nick Roach and Sio Moore on Sunday at New England

Roach has been out with a concussion since getting hurt Aug. 22 at Green Bay. Moore suffered an ankle injury last week against Houston. Oakland (0-2) has allowed 400 yards rushing this season. Moore and Roach are two of the Raiders’ better defensive players.

Miles Burris and Kaluka Maiava will start against the Patriots. Oakland has four healthy linebackers.

Also, starting running back Maurice Jones-Drew is missing his second straight game with a hand issue he suffered in Week 1. Darren McFadden will start for Jones-Drew. McFadden started and had 37 yards on 12 carries last week against the Texans.

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
The San Diego Chargers (1-1) travel to the East Coast to take on the Buffalo Bills (2-0) at 1 p.m. ET at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here are three things we’ll be watching for on Sunday.

1. Dial up some explosive plays: The Chargers have done a nice job controlling time of possession offensively. San Diego is No. 2 in the NFL in time of possession on offense (35:13). However, the Chargers could do a better job creating explosive plays, which makes it easier to get into scoring position. With penalties, turnovers and just poor execution, it’s hard to expect San Diego’s offense to grind out long, sustained drives every week. The Chargers have six passing plays of 20-plus yards (tied for 13th in the NFL) and no passing plays of 40-plus yards. On the ground, the Chargers have just one run of 20-plus yards (T-14th in the NFL). Offensive coordinator Frank Reich would like to dial up some explosive plays. “Each week, we as a coaching staff we look for a couple of what they would call layups -- a big gainer,” Reich said. “But they’re hard to come by in this league. A lot of those explosive plays are just made by great players doing amazing things, like what Antonio (Gates) did last week.”

2. Toughen up in the red zone: The Chargers are doing a decent job defensively, giving up 19.5 points per game (No. 12 in the NFL). However, defensive coordinator John Pagano would like to do a better job in the red zone. The Chargers have given up touchdowns four out of five times inside the 20-yard line (80 percent), which is second last in the NFL. The Bills are No. 29 in red-zone offense with a 30 percent conversion rate. “We have to do better in the red zone,” Pagano said. “We can’t do the things that we’ve been doing down there. And it starts with me. We made an emphasis on it again this week. We’ve got to make sure that they kick field goals and not score touchdowns. And we can’t have the mental lapses that we’ve had.”

3. Make EJ Manuel beat you: Offensively, the Buffalo Bills have done a nice job leaning on the run game and limiting what Manuel has to do offensively. In his second season, Manuel has been efficient, completing 67 percent of his passes for 375 yards, with two touchdowns and just one interception through two games. However, Manuel has a career 78.5 fourth-quarter passer rating. Pagano has to figure out how to contain Buffalo’s potent run game and make Manuel complete stick throws in tight windows in order for his team to win late in the game.
SAN DIEGO -- With Ryan Mathews out for an extended period with an MCL knee strain, the San Diego Chargers will have to figure out how to replace the production from a player who rushed for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns last season.

"We're definitely a better team with Ryan," Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said. "But we're also a darn good team without him, too. We've just got to find a way to get him healthy. To me, he's still one of the premier backs in this league."

While Mathews works diligently to get back on the field, the arduous task of replacing his production will be a group effort by a cadre of running backs that are considered one of the strengths of the offense.

And that effort starts with Donald Brown. The top free agent signing by Chargers general manager Tom Telesco during the offseason, Brown inked a three-year, $10.4 million deal to serve as the complementary back for Mathews.

Brown rushed just nine times for 19 yards in two games. But now the University of Connecticut product will be pressed into the every-down back role for San Diego with Mathews out.

"It will be nice to get more opportunities," Brown said. "The way I look at it, whether it's one carry or all the carries, you just have to make the most of each and every one of them."

Brown, who grew up in New Jersey, said his parents and sister will drive to Buffalo for the game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers likes the cerebral approach Brown takes to his preparation for game day.

"Donald's a super, super pro," Rivers said. "He often finds little intricacies in the plan, and asks me questions about them that I may not even have thought of, and that just tells you how hard he studies it."

While Brown handles the workload in the middle of the field, Woodhead maintains his role as San Diego's third-down and red-zone back.

Woodhead finished with 37 touches and seven touchdowns in the red zone last season -- San Diego's most productive running back inside the 20. Woodhead also leads the running back group with 67 snaps through two games.

Rivers trusts Woodhead will be in the right spot on the field, so expect his snap count and touches to increase with Mathews out.

"I'm approaching this week like any other week, and that's just preparing for whenever I may get an opportunity as far as plays or whatever it may be," Woodhead said, when asked about the possibility of an expanded role in the offense. "Whenever I'm supposed to be in, the coaches will tell me I'm in. And that's really what I'm focusing on."

Finally, with Mathews out undrafted rookie free agent Branden Oliver could see his first action during the regular season. Oliver finished with 35 rushes for 161 yards and a touchdown during exhibition play, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

The road trip is a homecoming of sorts for the cat-quick Oliver, who played at University at Buffalo. Also, if active, expect Oliver to contribute on special teams.

"It means a lot, man," Oliver said, when asked about the chance at playing time. "God is good just for allowing me to have the opportunity to go back there and possibly play for the first time in my career, in the city where I spent five years playing college football. So it's great.

"Buffalo is like my second home, so it's going to be a great feeling."

W2W4: Broncos Week 3

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- New day, new year, new team. That has been the theme, all week, as the Denver Broncos have prepared to face the Seattle Seahawks.

And why not? This game is a rematch in name, but not really in depth charts. When the Broncos line up on defense Sunday in CenturyLink Field, they will start at least seven players on defense who did not play in the 35-point Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks. And defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams will be the only two defensive players still playing in the same spots as they did in that game.

“The guys who didn’t play in the Super Bowl, were hurt, or weren’t here yet, you’re always going to hope you would have made a difference,’’ said safety Rahim Moore.

And as the Broncos prepare for a Week 3 trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks (1-1), it will be the most significant test of the Broncos' hypothesis that this is a better team “on paper’’ than the one that lost this past February.

Some things to keep an eye on:
  • Against the Seahawks’ defense, the San Diego Chargers found room to work with a patient approach in terms of down-and-distance and by getting the ball out of Philip Rivers’ hand quickly. The Chargers' running backs and tight end Antonio Gates had 16 of the team’s 28 receptions combined in San Diego’s 31-20 win this past Sunday. Gates had all three of the team’s touchdowns. The Seahawks figure to adjust some, but the Broncos still have some matchups they can win with tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme to go with running back Montee Ball in the pattern.
  • The Seahawks were ruthlessly effective using their “rover’’ defensive back to limit the Broncos’ success with their bread-and-butter crossing routes in the Super Bowl. They also disrupted the Broncos’ timing on offense by manhandling the Broncos’ receivers in the 5-yard contact zone, preventing them from getting into their routes. It’s why the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, because of Sanders’ ability to get into the pattern and the difficulty defensive backs have had in jamming him in his career. The Broncos haven’t yet shown they can consistently run the ball this season, so the Broncos need to possess the ball and may have to lean on a short- and intermediate-passing game to do it. To make that work the Broncos' receivers have to win the one-on-ones.
  • Of all the things that happened in the Super Bowl that the Broncos didn’t like -- and the list was long -- perhaps the one that troubled the team most was their failure to respond to some bad things that happened early in the game. It went bad and stayed bad. The Broncos need their marquee players, from quarterback Peyton Manning on down, to find that line between focused and way too tight. The team, particularly the offense, was way too tight in the title game.
  • Left tackle Ryan Clady makes a difference for the Broncos and it should be clear in this one. Clady allows the Broncos to move the help elsewhere across the offensive front. The Seahawks sacked Rivers just once this past Sunday. Rivers did run the ball 11 times to escape pressure, which Manning will not do that often, and Seattle got to Aaron Rodgers for three sacks in their opener. Clady gives the Broncos options that they’ll need because the Seahawks figure to press the issue a bit against right tackle Chris Clark and the Broncos will have to adjust.
  • Broncos head coach John Fox has consistently said the Broncos were prepared for what Percy Harvin can do in the Seahawks’ offense and on special teams, but that “it might not have looked like it.’’ Marshawn Lynch makes the Seahawks' offense go, but Harvin is the guy the Seahawks use to swing momentum. His plays often involve misdirection and flow; the backside defenders have to be disciplined and can't miss tackles for the Broncos.