ALAMEDA — The Raiders were tied for the league lead in sacks through the first two games, in large part because of their penchant for blitzing any player, in any situation, from a variety of angles.
Five of their nine sacks came from blitzing defensive backs. At this rate, the Raiders will need only six games to surpass last season's sack total of 25.
Padding that total won't be easy against the Denver Broncos, who have allowed only three sacks on 88 drop backs this season and are led by a quarterback, Peyton Manning, who welcomes the blitz.
"This is the ultimate," Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. "To be the best, you have to beat the best. This is what you want. This is why you play the game. Monday Night Football against them, doing something nobody thinks you can do? There's nothing better than that."
Tarver is the architect of a revamped defense that will start 10 players Monday night who weren't on the team last season.
He realizes that the only way to succeed against Manning is to take calculated risks that manifest themselves in the form of well-disguised blitzes and sound pass coverage.
That strategy worked well against the Colts' Andrew Luck and the Jaguars' Chad Henne. Tarver need only watch the tape from last season's game against the Broncos in Oakland to see what Manning's skill at dissecting a defense short-handed downfield.
The Raiders threw a season-high 25 blitzes against Manning and the Broncos in the teams' second meeting, with Manning completing 15 of 18 passes for 177 yards.
"It's hard to fool that guy," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "He's seen a lot. He does a great job in preparation. It'll be hard to fool him. It's going to come down to execution. We're going to have to execute our jobs."
At the same time, Allen said, the Raiders have to do something to "affect" Manning in the pocket, which means some amount of blitzing.
Left guard Lucas Nix (ankle) practiced Friday for the first time since he suffered an ankle injury. Allen said he isn't sure yet whether Nix or Andre Gurode will start Monday.
Weak side linebacker Kevin Burnett also returned to practice. He missed most of Thursday's practice with an illness.
Strong safety Tyvon Branch (ankle), left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) didn't practice Friday, and they aren't likely to play against the Broncos.
Allen said he is "leaning toward" starting Brandian Ross at strong safety Monday. Ross has worked with the first-team defense this week and declared himself "ready."
"It's the perfect time for me to make an impact on this team," Ross said. He started one game for the Raiders last season.
Tarver and Allen heap praise upon right defensive end Lamarr Houston at every turn. Slowly but surely, others outside the Bay Area are taking notice.
Houston has a golden opportunity to bolster his stature, given the Raiders play in front of a national TV audience Monday night and Broncos standout left offensive tackle Ryan Clady is out for the season with a foot injury.
Houston figures to see a whole bunch of Chris Clark, a fifth-year player making his first start at left tackle in the NFL and first of any kind since 2011.
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