2012 AFC West Preview (cont.)
What the Broncos do best: It remains to be seen, but moving the ball figures to rank high on the list now that Manning is directing the offense.
With Tim Tebow at the controls the final 11 games last season, the Broncos finished 25th in scoring and had the most lopsided offense in the league, ranking first in rushing attempts and last in passing attempts. That won't happen with Manning, a four-time league MVP whose Indianapolis offenses ranked in the top four in scoring nine out of his 13 seasons. Manning also attempted 500 or more passes in all but two of his seasons.
What the Broncos need to improve: The run defense.
Denver ranked 22nd against the run last year and allowed five of its final six opponents, including the postseason, to gain at least 140 yards on the ground. New coordinator Jack Del Rio made run defense a point of emphasis during training camp, but the results were spotty in the preseason.
Which Bronco needs to step up: Ty Warren, defensive tackle.
He could be a key to the run defense after missing the past two seasons because of injuries. If Denver can put teams in 3rd-and-long situations, it can turn loose end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Von Miller, who were central to the unit having the 10th most sacks in the league last year.
Predicted record: 8-8.
The Broncos' early schedule is brutal, as six of their first eight opponents were participants in last season's playoffs. That, combined with limited depth on defense, will relegate them to .500.
What the Raiders do best: Run the ball with a healthy Darren McFadden.
The former Arkansas standout was leading the league in rushing with 612 yards last season before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. In his last 19 games (not including the two-carry outing in Week 7 last season) he has run for 1,769 yards and averaged a staggering 5.3 yards a carry. McFadden also is a talented receiver, and new coordinator Greg Knapp plans to expand his role in that area.
What the Raiders need to improve: The passing game.
Carson Palmer couldn't develop a rapport with two of his top three projected wideouts because Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford missed most of camp with injuries. Consequently, Palmer was forced to lean on rookies Rod Streater and Juron Criner, who despite their talents are still feeling their way. The only wideout with significant NFL experience is Darrius Heyward-Bey, who led the team in catches (64) and yards (975) last season.
Which Raiders needs to step up: Rolando McClain, middle linebacker.
Oakland's run defense has been porous in recent seasons, and McClain, the eighth pick of the 2010 draft, is part of the reason. After a promising rookie season, he took a step back last year because of injury and off-field issues. He needs a strong season for the Raiders to challenge for the division title.
Predicted record: 8-8.
First-year GM Reggie McKenzie inherited a tough situation. The Raiders were farther over the cap than any other team, and did not have a draft pick higher than the fifth round before receiving two compensatory selections in the third round. Both of those issues hurt Oakland's depth. Look for it to show late in the year.