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Manning knows Broncos need to improve despite 4-0 start

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Three players are still active in the NFL from the 1998 draft class. Two meet Sunday: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson.

They’re even in Super Bowl rings, with one apiece. But Woodson will always have the Heisman Trophy that he won over Manning in 1997, when the then-Tennessee quarterback watched as Woodson became the first player who played primarily on defense to win the coveted award while at Michigan.

Are Manning’s memories positive? Well, what do you think?

“Not necessarily,” he said.

But the two will forever be connected, and now they meet again. And while Woodson appears to have found the Fountain of Youth with two late-game interceptions in the last two weeks, Manning comes into this game after a frustrating two-interception performance in last Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings.

This will be an interesting matchup for Manning. Oakland’s pass defense is soft, and has surrendered more gains of 20-plus yards than any other in the sport. But Manning has yet to go through a game without an interception this year, and the offense still lags in the league rankings, placing 27th in yardage per game, 31st in yardage per play, 29th in yardage per rush and 28th in yardage per pass play.

Further, the Broncos’ two giveaways last week led directly to half of the Vikings’ 20 points, including a touchdown on a short field following Anthony Barr’s interception near the end of the first half.

“The past two weeks, it wasn’t too bad. We had turnovers here and there, but I think the guys are coming along and we’re getting together,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “It’s more about just taking care of the ball and putting up more points.”

It also starts on first down, when the Broncos are averaging fewer yards than anyone else so far this season — even with Ronnie Hillman’s 72-yard sprint against the Vikings last Sunday to boost the average.

“We’re looking to get more big plays,” Manning said. “I thought we had some more explosive plays against Minnesota, but you want to avoid the negative plays. We talk about staying in phase – first-and-10 you can go to another first-and-10 or at least second-and-5, second-and-3 – not having first-and-10, second-and-10.

“I guess you’re always looking for positive plays on first-and-10.”

But the Broncos can’t be picky. They’ll take the yardage whenever and however they can find it.

“We know what we’ve got to do,” said Thomas. “The main thing is taking care of the ball penalty-wise and turnovers. If we can do that, I think we can get something going.

SERIES HISTORY: 110th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series 59-48-2. Broncos have won seven straight. The most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 1, 1978, when a controversial Rob Lytle touchdown run helped power the Broncos to a 20-17 AFC Championship Game win over the defending world champion Raiders.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Broncos CBs Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. vs. Raiders WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree: Cooper is precocious, running precise routes and consistently getting open. The tandem’s performance has helped fuel QB Derek Carr’s improvement, and while Talib and Harris continue to do well at limiting yardage after the catch, the Vikings had some success throwing at them last week, and Carr might try to do the same.

–Broncos OTs Ryan Harris and Michael Schofield vs. Raiders OLBs Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith. With Ty Sambrailo nursing a shoulder injury, the burden of containing Mack and Smith is likely to fall upon Harris and Schofield, who had some ups and downs — including illegal formation calls against each — but provided stability against the Vikings. Mack is so athletic that the Broncos might need a tight end to help chip against Mack, and Smith is quick off the edge and more quarterback hurries than anyone else on the Raiders roster.


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