FB Marcel Reece catches a pass and powers his way through defenders into the end zone in 2011. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders host the Denver Broncos in primetime on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football in Week 14 action. The two teams first met in Week 4 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where the Broncos came away with a victory. The Silver and Black look to even the season series in front of a sold out home crowd.
Although team's get pumped up for primetime games, Thursday night games are difficult with the short turnaround from the previous Sunday's game. "It's definitely hard, especially Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday usually guys are still really getting into it, still coming off injuries from the last game," said DB Michael Huff. "You see people kind of sluggish, not as fast as they would be as opposed to another Sunday. It's definitely going to be a tough adjustment but they're going through it the same way we are. We just have to deal with it."
This week is especially challenging with QB Peyton Manning coming to town. "You're never really ready for Peyton Manning so it's a matter of getting on the same page and having enough coverage looks to hopefully slow down his progressions and challenging guys in coverage," said defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "That's what we need to do."
The defense will only have a few days to prepare for the veteran quarterback. "We have to find a way," said Huff. "It's tough, especially with a short week. He is their offensive coordinator. They know what they're doing. We just have to find a way. We have to step up and make plays. Leaders, like myself and Tyvon [Branch], have to find a way to rise up and make plays."
Coach Tarver is working with his defense to come up with ways to slow Manning down. "You have to have enough that you can execute your calls and he doesn't know exactly where to go all the time," explained Coach Tarver. "And then when the play is there, you better make it. In the first game, we had a lot of times where he threw into coverage and we need to make those plays. We need to make those plays. That was the difference in the game; they made more plays than us on those type of coverages. We have enough in our system to hopefully put guys in position to make plays and that ultimately is the job of the coaching staff, put players in position to make plays."
Every coach and player understands that Manning is elite. "I think it's his preparation," said DE David Tollefson. "You never see a situation that Peyton is in where he's pressed or feels like there's a sense of urgency or he doesn't know what's going on. That's a unique trait for a guy in this league because so many things are so frantic. You're trying to get something done on defense, offense or special teams, and you're just so hard pressed to get something done you feel like you force it. Whereas, with Peyton, it feels so day-to-day type business for him. That's the hard thing with him is it's tough to put a game plan together and surprise him with something because he's seen it all."
In order to be ready for Thursday, the team is doing its best to take advantage of the time it does have. "Obviously preparing for an opponent like this with a short week, you've got to take advantage of every minute you have," said QB Carson Palmer. "You have to get extra reps, you have to get extra film study in, and try to get as prepared as you can for Thursday."
The Denver defense is ranked third in the NFL in yards allowed per game and top 10 in both passing and rushing defense. "There isn't one [holes in the defense] and we've looked," said Palmer. "It's a very solid group. They cover well on the outside. They pressure the quarterback. They're very good against the run. There's not a young guy that you want to take advantage of. It's just a very solid group from spot one to 11."
The biggest challenges on defense are LB Von Miller and DE Elvis Dumervil. "They are elite pass rushers. They are very good," said offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. "Their  sacks with 58 [Miller] and eight sacks with 92 [Dumervil]. So you have to come up with some ways to help the tackles, no pun intended, to protect the quarterback, because they do present a big issue on the edge. In both circumstances, they do a good job schematically, moving 58 around to try to get one-on-one matchups with your tackle. It's our responsibility on offense to help find a way to help the tackle out, whether it be through chip or slide the protection his way. At the same hand, you've got another guy the other way. It's a tough situation to work through."
The Raiders want to come out Thursday night and match the Broncos intensity. "Physical team," said FB Owen Schmitt. "We just have to come out, be physical, play our best game to try to win this game. That's all we can do. That's all we can ask the guys, prepare as well as we can this week and come out to the game and play it like it's your last."
The Raiders want to win for Raider Nation and for the team. "Obviously I would love to give something for the fans to cheer about, but the fact of the matter is, we haven't won in five games," said Tollefson. "We need to get some confidence, get a win under our belt and really get this thing moving in the right direction. We've put in a ton of work here. Guys are working hard in the weight room, at practice. No one has given up by any means. We just have to make sure we cross all our 'T's' and dot all our 'I's' and put our best foot forward for once. We need to put a complete game out there and really show ourselves that we can do it."
A primetime division rivalry game has the men in Silver and Black energized and ready to go. "Exciting, very exciting," said Palmer. "They're on a seven-game win streak. It's a division game. There's the past, the history, between the Raiders and the Broncos. It's on TV. We're the only game on. We'll be ready to play."
"Division rival, national primetime game," added Huff. "If you can't get up for this one, something is wrong. We're looking forward to it. We're going to have a big game."