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Next Day Notebook: Playing How They Practiced

Posted Oct 1, 2012

A strong week of practice helped the Broncos defeat the Raiders, the defense enjoyed playing with a lead and running back Willis McGahee cracked the 100-yard mark for the 32nd time.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A lot more goes into the outcomes that fans see on Sundays than what happens for 60 nationally-televised minutes.

Game day is just the end result of a full week of practice and film study. Head Coach John Fox said that the Broncos' success Sunday against Oakland began long before kickoff.

“I think it all started Wednesday when we started preparing for this game -- it’s just (the) ultimate of team sports but it relies on a lot of individuals,” Fox said. “Guys kind of looked in the mirror and practiced better and for that we played better.”

The 37-6 win over the Raiders -- the team’s most complete victory of the season – followed the team’s best week of practice so far.

“I thought we had a good week of practice—probably had our best week of practice,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “That is something we really emphasized. That doesn’t always guarantee that you will play well on Sunday, but it gives you a better chance. We were more efficient during practice about finishing drives and doing the little things right. It certainly transferred to today. We are going to need that again next week and beyond.”   

Though the team was pleased with the way its execution in practice translated to a key victory over a division rival, the Broncos realize that Week 4 is in the past. The attention has already been shifted to the upcoming opponent, New England, which will demand another full week of quality preparation.

“The biggest difference was I think, the way we prepared in practice,” linebacker Keith Brooking said. “The attention to detail, I thought, was better than it has been all year. Not that we weren’t doing that before, but it was better this week than it’s been all season long."

LEAD BENEFITS DEFENSE

In losses to Atlanta in Week 2 and Houston in Week 3, the defense played well enough to prevent big early deficits from getting out of hand.

But the script was flipped Sunday, as a flurry of third-quarter offense allowed the Broncos defense to play from ahead instead of behind.

After taking a 10-6 lead into halftime, Denver’s defense set the tone by forcing Oakland to go three-and-out on its first possession of the second half. The Broncos responded with a touchdown followed by another three-and-out for the Raiders. Soon, a blocked punt had set up another touchdown that made it 24-6, and the defense could see Oakland’s defenders wearing down.

“We knew the way our offense was playing – just the way they were able to sustain drives – that their defense, you could tell they were kind of sucking wind over there,” Brooking said. “We were talking about before we went on the field, ‘Hey, let’s get that (Oakland) defense right back out on the field.’ Three plays or less, meaning three-and-out or cause a turnover before that. We were talking about that. We wanted to continue to play that way.”

With the scoreboard in their favor, Denver’s defenders were able to be the aggressors Sunday against Oakland, keeping the Raiders off the scoreboard in the second half and allowing only 74 yards of offense after halftime. Cornerback Champ Bailey attributed part of that success to the offense’s ability to maintain possession. 

“When they keep the ball for 40 minutes, it is great for us because we know that we are not going to be exhausted out there,” Bailey said. “It’s giving us points, and when you can play with the lead, it gives you all types of opportunities in the pass game.”

McGAHEE GETS GOING

Prior to Sunday’s game, the running back attracting most of the headlines was Oakland’s Darren McFadden, who had enjoyed a number of big games at Denver’s expense over the past few years.

But despite a rib injury suffered in Week 3 against the Houston Texans, it was Willis McGahee who stole the show. McGahee became the NFL’s active leader with the 32nd 100-yard rushing game of his career, gashing the Raiders for 112 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries. But McGahee was less pleased with his personal milestone than the team’s 37-6 victory.

“It’s just another 100-yard game,” McGahee said. “We have a lot more games to go and hopefully there will be plenty more. But other than that, I’m just happy to get that win.”

Much of McGahee’s success was due to strong play from the Broncos’ offensive line, which helped the team rush for 165 yards on 38 carries, a big factor in the team’s 37:25-to-22:35 edge in time-of-possession.

“Again, a lot of what the running back gets is what the people in front of him do so it goes hand in hand,” Fox said. “I thought we blocked better, we finished blocks better so your running backs are going to be more productive when you get better blocking.”

Another factor in McGahee’s big day was the offensive balance. Manning completed 30-of-38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, effectively spreading the ball around, including a total of nine completions to McGahee and fellow running backs Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball.

“The passing game helped out a lot,” McGahee said. “We complement each other. The run complements the pass. The pass complements the run. It’s just the fact of us getting that mesh going on with the run and pass, just trying to be balanced.”