After opening against three stout defenses, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos seem to have a more favorable matchup in Week 4.
The Broncos' defense, however, might be short-handed, and that could lead to problems against an Oakland Raiders offense that appears to be finding its stride.
The Broncos try to avoid losing their third in a row Sunday in an AFC West showdown with a Raiders team seeking its fifth straight victory in Denver.
The Manning era in Denver got off to a promising start with a 31-19 win over Pittsburgh, but the Broncos have developed a disturbing trend in the last two games - fall behind by 20, rally within six and lose.
Manning didn't throw an interception in last Sunday's 31-25 loss to Houston - a positive sign after tossing three, first-quarter picks in a 27-21 loss to Atlanta in Week 2 - but he did have a career-high 26 incompletions.
He also completed 26 passes for 330 yards with two touchdowns, but 120 of those yards and both scores came in the final 17 minutes after the Broncos (1-2) had trailed by 20. Manning was also sacked three more times, bringing his season total to eight, which puts him on pace for a career-high 43.
"We have to study this tape and study what it is we're doing wrong," Manning said. "Study anything that we are doing well and try to build off that."
Little has come easy for the future Hall of Famer in the last two weeks, but there's reason to believe things could improve.
Denver's first three opponents all rank in the top eight in the NFL in pass defense, while Oakland (1-2) is in the bottom 10, allowing 264.7 yards per game. The Raiders, who are allowing an average of 29.3 points, are also one of three teams without an interception and are tied for 28th in the league with three sacks.
Oakland tried to address the pass-rush issue by signing 11-year veteran defensive end Andre Carter on Wednesday, but it's uncertain what kind of impact he'll have.
"We're 1-2 and we've got a big division game coming up against Oakland," said Manning, who has won his last three games versus the Raiders. "Division games count double, so we've got to learn from this last game and improve from it."
While the Broncos are still trying to master the comeback, the Raiders rallied from four deficits in last Sunday's 34-31 win over the Steelers. Oakland scored the game's final 13 points in the last 12:13 and took its first lead on Sebastian Janikowski's 43-yard field goal with no time remaining.
"We've got it in us to be a mentally tough team and compete and fight and keep going until the very end," said first-year Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who was Denver's defensive coordinator last season. "That's what you have to do to win consistently in this league and that's what our guys did."
The Raiders played most of the fourth quarter without wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who suffered a concussion and strained neck on a scary hit from Pittsburgh safety Ryan Mundy. Heyward-Bey spent the night in the hospital and went home Monday, but there is no word on when he'll be cleared to play.
Even without Heyward-Bey, Oakland's offense was able to march the ball down the field with the game on the line.
Carson Palmer completed 24 of 34 passes for 209 yards with a season-high three touchdowns to lead the Raiders to more points than they scored in their first two weeks combined (27).
Darren McFadden finished with 113 rushing yards after totaling 54 in his first two games. He's averaging 144.7 yards in his last three contests against the Broncos.
Denver will be without middle linebacker Joe Mays, who was suspended one game and fined $50,000 fine for a hit that dislodged Texans quarterback Matt Schaub's helmet and took off a piece of his ear.
The Broncos' appeal of the ban was denied Thursday. Listed behind Mays on the depth chart is rookie Steven Johnson, though coach John Fox did not disclose who would start at middle linebacker Sunday.
This is the first meeting between these division rivals since the Broncos won 38-24 on Nov. 6 in Palmer's first start with Oakland.
The Raiders haven't won five in a row in Denver since an eight-game run from 1965-72.
- Oakland Raiders
- Peyton Manning
- Denver Broncos