DENVER (AP) - The Denver Broncos harassed Peyton Manning last week, and for an encore, they get to face ... Charlie Frye?
What might seem from the outside like a letdown is nothing of the sort, insisted safety Brian Dawkins, who picked off two of Manning's passes, but still watched the Colts star do enough to beat the Broncos (8-5).
Dawkins said the Oakland Raiders (4-9) aren't the pushovers people might think just because their quarterback hasn't started a game in 14 months.
"We know what they like to do. They're a big, physical team. They're going to try to run the ball and take shots when they get the opportunity," Dawkins said. "And so you prepare for what they do best and whoever plays or whoever does not play should not make a difference on Sunday."
The Raiders are sure hoping Frye will make a difference.
With Bruce Gradkowski hurt, Oakland coach Tom Cable picked Frye to start over former top overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell.
The move raises serious questions about Russell, who started the first nine games of the season before being benched in favor of Gradkowski before Oakland's Nov. 22 home game against Cincinnati.
"It means he continues to develop," Cable said of Russell. "He's stands as the No. 2 quarterback for the Raiders. He's got some work to do - as do a lot of people in this organization - and he'll have a future someday."
Gradkowski led the Raiders to a pair of stirring fourth-quarter comebacks against the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, but tore ligaments in both of his knees last week against Washington.
After replacing Gradkowski in the second half against the Redskins, Russell passed for just 74 yards and failed to move the offense consistently while being booed by the crowd at the Oakland Coliseum.
Frye has not played this year and worked strictly with Oakland's scout team. His last start was for Seattle on Oct. 12, 2008, against Green Bay when he threw for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
"We don't know a whole lot about him," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey acknowledged. "He does have some tapes, being with Cleveland and now being there in the preseason. That's pretty much what we have to go off of.
"We know the Raiders are going to be the Raiders, as well. They're definitely going to run the ball and take a little pressure off of him, but at the same time he's a capable quarterback, so we have to be ready."
Frye served as the Raiders' emergency quarterback through the first 13 games.
"It will be good to get back out there with the offense and run some plays that aren't on cards," Frye joked. "I've got a lot of fire in me. I've been that crutch and that supportive guy all season, so now it's my turn to be the fiery leader."
Denver's fiery leader is Dawkins, who has his team on the cusp of the playoffs and preaching about taking care of business no matter who's under center.
"This is crunch time," Dawkins said. "You shouldn't need any one particular player to get you up for any game going forward. It's the position and where we are in the season should get you up for every game. So I understand that outside of the locker room how that can mesmerize someone to say that you don't have a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady or anybody playing at quarterback, but it does not matter this time of the season.
"The only thing that matters is getting wins against good football teams. And this is a good football team. Their record may not say it and people may look down on them. But I look at the film and what I see is a lot of speed on the outside, a running attack that can gash you at any time, and a huge offensive line that can move you off the ball. That's what I look at. I don't look at the record."
Frye has only thrown 33 passes in the last three years, but Denver's defensive backfield is a triage. Top reserve safety Darcel McBath, a rookie, broke an arm last week, and starting safety Renaldo Hill (ankle) and cornerback Ty Law (hamstring) are ailing.
The Broncos will likely try to throw a variety of looks at Frye with safeties David Bruton, Josh Barrett and Vernon Fox, who was re-signed this week, opposite Dawkins.
Denver also has issues in its offensive backfield with tailbacks Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno nursing ankle injuries and LaMont Jordan coming off a back injury.
This could all lead to an increased workload for Peyton Hillis, the forgotten man in the Broncos' backfield this season. Coach Josh McDaniels has been reluctant to use Hillis as a ball carrier, in part because fullback Spencer Larsen has been banged up and Hillis is the only other fullback on the roster.
Hillis, whose rugged running style gave the struggling offense a nasty aura last year before his season-ending hamstring injury, has just a dozen carries this season.
"I mean it is always frustrating when you are put in a position to where you are not really playing. You know, get down on yourself," Hillis said. "But you always have to look up. You have to always have to look ahead and hope for good opportunities ahead."
Such as what Frye is getting.