Raiders-Broncos: Matchups to watch

November 5, 2011, 8:37 pm
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ALAMEDA -- The Raiders have a full-fledged new starter at quarterback in Carson Palmer. A new veteran slot receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh. And while Sebastian Janikowski's status is in doubt thanks to his strained left hamstring, there is no truth to the rumor that Jim Breech is in line to kick for Oakland against Denver.Yes, the in-season transitional Raiders have been catching heat for picking up so many former Cincinnati Bengals of late -- Chinedum Ndukwe, anyone? -- but their focus is squarely on the Broncos.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:
Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain (55) vs. Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15)TALE OF THE TAPEMcClain: 6-3, 255, Alabama, second season
Tebow: 6-3, 236, Florida, second seasonThe Most Polarizing Figure in the Country and the Most Enigmatic Player in Raider Nation are sure to meet on the field, what with Tebow's proclivity for running up the middle of the field. The question, then, is will McClain's balky right ankle give him the mobility and agility to neutralize Tebow before he gets into the secondary?"There's certain things we'll do with (McClain) and again, he's been doing this for a couple of weeks," said Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "We get a feel for him during the week, even with the limited number of reps, how much can we give him? He was the first one to tell us in the last game, 'I've got to stop.'"So again, those are things we kind of judge during the week. I don't get into the injuries; I kind of let that be a gameday situation and we go with the feel and how he's ready to go. And our guys are ready to step up. If he can't go, the next guy's ready to go and we don't blink an eye."That McClain practiced Friday for the first time in weeks should be a good sign that he'll be able to play. After all, he has not missed a game since injuring the ankle at Houston on Oct. 9. Even if he's been limited.Besides, McClain's knowledge of Tebow -- they were SEC rivals in college -- should play a part as well as anything he can bring physically."I have a lot of respect for him," Tebow said of McClain. "I think he's a very good player. I really enjoyed playing against him in college. I feel like we had a great rivalry going, but with a lot of respect, and hopefully we'll continue that."Other matchups worth watchingRaiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (85) vs. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24): Is there any doubt lingering that Darrius Heyward-Bey is the Raiders' No. 1 receiver? He is on pace to becoming the first wideout to lead the Raiders in receiving since Ronald Curry in 2007.And as such, DHB is starting to garner more respect from opposing defenses. Which is why seeing the Hall of Fame-bound Bailey lining up opposite him should not surprise anyone and, really, be seen as a sign of respect for the maturing third-year pass catcher.And not just on the field. Heyward-Bey is becoming a leader in the receiving corps that is charged with keeping the young and impressionable group on the same page, what with so much roster turnover in the past few weeks."I mean, for me, it's easy," he said. "Because you see guys come and go in this league all the time. I mean, every Tuesday there's people coming in here working out. Everybody's job is on the line. They bring guys in all the time so, it's normal in this world for us."Seeing a guy whose bust will soon be in Canton defending you? Yeah, that's normal now, too.Raiders vs. chemistry issues -- Speaking of all that roster turnover, surely the locker room chemistry is being tested. But just how important is such a non-tangible topic?"Very," admitted Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "I think it has a lot to do with everything, but I think part of that chemistry is communication by the head coach to the players. And I think if you're fair and you're honest, they might not agree with it, but as long as you're honest with them and you tell them why you do things, why it's this way, why we go about conducting our business in a certain way, they will respect that."I think if you're phony and you don't keep it real with them, I think that's how you lose your locker room."Jackson also said he's addressed that in the locker room recently."I tell them every time I make a decision because this is their football team, and I let them know exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it," Jackson said. "And I think thats important so nobody goes over to the laundry room and have a sit-down where nobody knows what's going on. We don't have that here."We put it all out on the table and tell it how it is. Like I say, everybody might not like it, but I think they respect it because it's coming from the right place. It's honest, it's up front and we don't hide anything."