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Raiders, Colts taking different paths in opener

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From page B1 | September 08, 2013 | Leave Comment

INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck went from No. 1 overall pick to playoff starter in one season.

Oakland is still searching for that guy.

It’s as striking a difference on paper as it is on the field.

“I think he’s obviously set to be one of the top quarterbacks in this league,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I think this guy is just a really good player. He’s got a strong arm. He’s very intelligent. He knows where to go with the ball. He can throw the ball accurately. I’ve been real impressed.”

Don’t get Allen wrong. He likes his own guys, too.

But neither Terrelle Pryor nor Matt Flynn has been a full-time NFL starter or started a playoff game, and Allen isn’t about to reveal which one will start against the Colts.

Along with Oakland’s quarterback quandary, here are five things to watch Sunday.

Stay in line: One reason Pryor is the likely starter is that he’s more mobile – something the Raiders desperately need. Yes, Flynn has been battling a sore right elbow and did not look great during the preseason. But the bigger problem in Oakland has been the offensive line. Rookie Menelik Watson, a second-round pick, starts at left tackle. Left guard Lucas Nix made the team last season as an undrafted free agent and was inactive for 15 of 16 games. The lack of experience on the left side could be a major problem if the Colts use five-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis over there. The opposing pass rush is likely to be a long-term problem this season, but Pryor at least can keep defenses off-balance with read options and his ability to scramble.

Different defense: For years, the Colts were criticized for not being big enough, tough enough or aggressive enough on defense. Times are changing. Indy signed six veterans in free agency, and five are expected to start – defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean Francois, linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry. When the starters played during the preseason, they looked fast and aggressive – two components coach Chuck Pagano knows he must have in the 3-4 defense he brought from Baltimore. But, as Pagano noted, the Colts kept their defense pretty basic in August. So Sunday will be the first time Colts fans will get to see the whole defensive package.

He’s back: One Raiders highlight should be the return of Charles Woodson. The 2009 defensive player of the year entered the league with Oakland in 1998 then signed with Green Bay as a free agent after the 2005 season. Now, a much older Woodson has come back at a new position — safety. The chess match between Luck and Woodson, the No. 4 overall pick in a draft that also included Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, should be interesting. While Luck tries to improve his completion percentage and interception totals, the crafty Woodson may just try to bait Luck into a mistake. If he does, Woodson could wind up tying one or two NFL records. He needs one interception return for a score to equal Rod Woodson’s record (12) and one defensive score to match the mark shared by Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper (13).

Power on: Pagano and new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton have been promising a stronger running attack. It didn’t really turn out that way in the preseason. So why will it be better now? Well, the Colts should have all of their offensive line starters back, and they should be at full strength in the backfield. Don’t be fooled by the depth chart, which lists Vick Ballard as the starter, Donald Brown as the backup and Ahmad Bradshaw at No. 3. Bradshaw is likely to play more than Brown and perhaps take on a larger role than Ballard, too, depending on just how healthy Bradshaw’s surgically repaired right foot is. Colts coaches are likely to limit Bradshaw’s carries since he didn’t play in the preseason. But the combination of two strong backs — Ballard and Bradshaw — should definitely keep Indy’s ground game in sync and on schedule.

Just for kicks: Kicking fans should enjoy this contest between two of the NFL’s most reliable and longest-tenured specialists, Adam Vinatieri and Sebastian Janikowski. Vinatieri owns four Super Bowl rings, two of which he delivered with winning kicks in the final minute. He needs five extra points to pass Lou Michaels for second on the Colts’ career list. Janikowski has been battling a right calf injury, but if he plays he would tie Dave Dalby (205) for the fourth-most games played in Raiders history. Both teams should be in good shape — if they need a late kick.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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